Leigh Stein on Archiving the Cultural Moments We Shared During the (Ongoing) Pandemic
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Leigh Stein is the guest. Her new poetry collection, What to Miss When, is out now from Soft Skull.
From the episode:
Leigh Stein: I started writing these poems in March 2020, and it’s the fastest book I ever wrote; I wrote the whole book in six months.
Brad Listi: I want to talk a little bit about the way that I experienced it when I read it, which is one of familiarity, especially as you’re covering certain cultural touch points that sort of affirm to me my own experience in the pandemic. Like there is the poem about The Last Dance, that Michael Jordan documentary, which I loved. I found it riveting. I feel like it’s a documentary that anybody could love, even if you’re not some huge basketball fan, as like a character study.
But that was just one example of what I felt like was a shared cultural experience among so many of us during the pandemic. And your collection is sprinkled with these. There were a lot of places where I found myself nodding in that way. And in a weird way, it’s comforting, because I think we can all feel sort of isolated in our routines and isolated with our screens, and this book signaled to me that, more or less, we’re all going through some version of the same shit, or I guess we currently are still going through the Delta-variant phase of the same shit.
LS: Right. There was a time where I was like, oh, no, by the time this comes out, are we still going to be talking about the pandemic? But of course we’re still inside the pandemic.
BL: I mean, even our conversation, we scheduled this conversation prior to what I would characterize as this Delta-variant surge. So in some ways, I’m kind of like, oh my god, now we’re back inside of it, whereas I thought we would be talking about it a little bit in retrospect. But we’re just not clear of it yet because people won’t get vaccinated, or there’s just too many people still unvaccinated who are spreading it.
LS: Right. And this collection of poetry, it’s really a time capsule of this certain moment. It’s not memoiristic, it’s not retrospective, it’s not me looking back at what happened. It was just literally me documenting what was happening, including in the news, but also including these cultural moments that we all kind of shared. I would say those among us who are of the laptop class that kind of watched the pandemic on Twitter, and we all watched Tiger King and we all watched Love is Blind, there are these certain cultural moments we all lived through together when we were inside our houses. And so that’s what I tried to to document in this book.
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Leigh Stein is the author of five books including the novel Self Care and the poetry collection Dispatch from the Future. She has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Allure, ELLE, The Cut, Salon, and Slate. She is a recipient of an Amy Award from Poets & Writers and The Cut named her poet laureate of The Bachelor.