Novel Poetry: Choose the Leigh Stein Adventure

Leigh Stein makes cross-dimensional leaps in her debut poetry collection, her follow-up to a freshman novel that touts a voice relevant to an entire twenty-something year old generation. Encased in Stein’s irony and heartbroken affirmations, Dispatch from the Future does not restrict itself to ending points or starting lines, nor to definite futures or regretful pasts. With quarterly epigraphs from the likes of Horace and Albert Einstein to self-help relationship experts and Choose Your Own Adventure tales, Dispatch promises a relationship with the page, replete with confession, travel plans, affirmation, time travel, and canceled travel plans for time better spent staying indoors and reading books.

Accented by curving, unapologetic wit, Stein’s unadulterated voice ranges from the self-effacing to the self-celebrating as it permeates the collection. The movement of Part One travels from star-crossed lovers of 1941 to Stein’s own hyper-aware restlessness to not be a twenty-first century Eurydice:

“…Her husband / followed her to the underworld but couldn’t bring her back, / didn’t trust she’d follow. It was like she wanted to stay…/ I would love to come back as a faucet. Or a radiator or an ice / cube tray shaped like a dozen little fish. Everybody loves those.”

Part Two continues the poet’s excavation of personal experience but also extrapolates modern youth’s experience from the trials and heart breaks of mythical and literary figures who have also captured the angst of their generations. Derived from myth and modernity alike, the modern poet is portrayed all at once as the descendant of Horace and Ovid and the product of her own pop culture. Socrates himself haunts Stein’s sense of recollection as she proves how the young twenty-something year old can still believe that the unexamined life is not worth living. Recounting and reconfiguring myth in “The Forbidden Chamber”:

 “No matter what she does he’ll kill her, too, / and this is not only true of legends, but / also true of life; if you’re pretty, if you go / where you’re not supposed to, looking for things / not meant for your eyes, then you will have to explain / the blood on your hands…”

The collection itself manages both commentary and contribution to its own pop-culture of Nicholas Sparks novels, relationship self-help guides, and single-white-female ads in Classifieds. The seamless movement of Part Three opens with the poem entitled, “I’m Ready, Are You? – 23 (Truth or Consequences)” and surprises with confessional tones coloring otherwise wise-girl assertions of confidence, “…Friends / say I’m a helpless romantic. (You would be, too, / if you lost your entire family to a flash flood.).”

The final quarter of the collection makes a full frontal dip into the mantle of Stein’s world in order to time-leap into the future of today’s youth. Her titular series of poems adapts its own form of quickened syntax and declarative action that sharpen Stein’s witty and reflective voice into a confident razor edge that can curve through the concrete of her own past:

 “I used to have to try so hard to look / like I wasn’t trying and now look: / I’m bending to the altar wall. / This is a devotional for the living.”

Dispatch from the Future is an archaeological dig by a woman who is commenting on her life as she is uncovering it, acknowledging and then abandoning the poetic female legacy of Eurydice always getting left behind. While the reader is granted witness to Stein’s process of navigating and archiving the experience of young adulthood, he or she is also invited to participate in the finished product. In true Choose Your Own Adventure form, Stein encourages navigation rather than direction, her poetry a land of prairie rather than roads. Leigh Stein merges her own one-word devotionals and page-long lifetimes with canonical myth and literary odysseys to synthesize the modern coming-of-age experience as Poetry, whose purpose here is aptly expressed in Part Four’s “Revisionism”: “I am giving my life back to myself, only / better, brighter, faster…”

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Largehearted Boy: Book Notes - Leigh Stein "Dispatch from the Future"

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