Poet Of The Week

Leigh Stein

     April 22–28, 2013

Leigh Stein is the author of the full-length poetry collection, Dispatch from the Future (Melville House, 2012), a Publishers Weekly pick for Best Summer Books of 2012 as well as a Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection. She is also the author of four chapbooks of poetry: The Future Comes to Those Who Wait (Grey Book Press, 2011), Summer in Paris (Mondo Bummer, 2010), Least Inhabited Island II (H_NGM_N, 2009) and How to Mend a Broken Heart with Vengeance (Dancing Girl Press, 2008). Her first novel, The Fallback Plan (Melville House, 2012), was published to wide acclaim, receiving praise from Elle, O Magazine and New York Magazine, among other places. A former editorial staffer at the New Yorker, Stein has also worked in children’s book publishing and currently teaches poetry to children in the NYC public schools. She co-hosts The Book Report reading series at Le Poisson Rouge and lives in Park Slope.

Based on a Book of the Same Title

By definition of vicious infinite regression
I don’t like to talk to philosophy majors.
They have found the truth and the truth is

that there isn’t one, so on Saturdays they
wear overalls and stare at their reflections
and try to guess whose childhood was worse,

but in the end they realize they all share
the same dream of having a reason
to join the Witness Protection Program,

which disappoints at least one person, who
thought his dream was so uniquely his.
Last night I got a fortune cookie that said

I don’t get along with basically anyone,
and from the back I learned the Chinese word
for grape: putao, and it made me wonder how each

informs the other. To find out, turn to page 117.
I wonder how much longer I can live here
before I do something irresponsible like

meet a teenage boy on a Ferris wheel in 1941
or lay in the street and watch the stoplights
change from green to yellow or sit on a porch

swing at dusk and listen to Leaves of Grass
read by someone who has just worked all day
with his hands. Already on page 56 I love you

so much I just want to steal your clothes
when you’re asleep and wash them. I want
us to communicate telepathically until I am old

and suffering from dementia and can’t even
remember I know how to play piano until
a nurse tells me I do and still I’ll deny it

until she puts my hands on the keys and then
there’ll be Chopin so quickly, as the light
spills in the leaded windows and the lilies

lean in closer. By definition of vicious
infinite regression I am in front of a mirror
holding a copy of the movie based on the book

you wrote based on the parts of our life
together that I no longer remember and
looking back at me is a woman holding

a movie based on a book based on her life
and she wonders if the woman she sees
wants to die as much as she does. I keep

staring at this bruise on my leg and drawing
a blank. Last night when you called I told you
I was happy, which was true, but thinking ahead

I could be unhappy, too, if that’s what you
wanted. I could be any of a lot of things:
a wrist, a ghost, a harbor, a rope. I could

be the one who doesn’t know the language.
I could be the reason they take you first.
I could be the last person to see you alive.

–From Dispatch from the Future, Melville House, 2012.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

This poem was inspired by The Notebook (the movie), Choose Your Own Adventure books, and falling in love with someone whom you know will probably destroy you. The easiest way (for me at least) to understand an infinite regression is two mirrors facing each other, reflecting to infinity. I related to this while watching a TV screen on which The Notebook played, which is based on a novel about a man writing about his life with a woman who no longer remembers that life.

What are you working on right now?

A memoir about death and the Internet.

What’s a good day for you?

I meet my friend Claire in the morning at Red Horse Café for coffee and writing time, pick up something at the grocery store to cook later, email my friend Liz, read in bed with my cat, maybe go to yoga but more likely take a nap, answer emails, maybe go to the library and check out too many books, drink wine, cook, watch TV.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in? What do you like most about it?

I lived in Brooklyn from 2004 – 2005 (Fort Greene) and 2008 – today (Bushwick, Ditmas Park, Park Slope). Ditmas Park was one of the best places I’ve ever lived—a full-time country retreat—but in the summer of 2011 I moved into my boyfriend’s place in Park Slope. I feel kind of childless here, but I’ve adapted by showing pictures of my cat to people at parties.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.

For a little less than a year, I lived in Fort Greene, in a loft with three guys. My room was called “the teepee” because it had only two walls, a bookshelf, and a piece of canvas for a “door.” I covered one wall with fluorescent pink wrapping paper I bought at Kate’s Paperie and pretended it was wallpaper. I think I paid $500 a month for these luxurious accommodations, out of my cash earnings from coat checking at a Manhattan nightclub. Those were some good ole days. I was 20 years old, I only worked Friday and Saturday nights (until 4 or 5 AM), and the rest of the week I bought books at the Strand, read them, and wrote or made zines. I also remember eating a lot of generic fig newtons.

Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?

Dead? Probably Walt. I can read any section of Leaves of Grass at random and feel it’s living. An alive poet I favor is my friend Lily Ladewig.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

Greenlight (for selection, layout, and staff), Powerhouse (for stadium seating and events), Community Bookstore (for being there), WORD (for events).

Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

Red Horse Café (for good music), ‘sNice (for their vegan Cuban Panini).

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

Pequeña (to eat fish tacos), BAM (to see puppet shows/films/opera/dance/Cate Blanchett/whatevs), Prospect Park, Ditmas Park (to eat and drink and look at the houses), Bend and Bloom (for yoga).

Last awesome book(s) you read?

The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard. I’d recommend her essay “The Fourth State of Matter” to anyone.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate with champagne,
And what I toast to, you should recognize,
For every step you have taken with me as good as the next
     one I shall take with

Why Brooklyn?

Only borough I could imagine living in.