What To Miss When: Poems

Soft Skull. Aug. 2021. 128p. ISBN 9781593766979. pap. $15.95. POETRY
In this collection, the Amy Award–winning Stein (Dispatch from the Future) frames her daily life around the COVID-19 pandemic with numerous references to The Decameron and The Diary of Anne Frank. Stein’s narrative loosely and lightly describes how she is sheltered with her husband in a house in the suburbs and reads novels, dyes her hair, and exfoliates her skin. She shops in a grocery store, where she hears a King George–like voice announcing the one-way aisles, and peruses the lists of the dead in the New York Times. She notes that while she is affected by the loneliness, lockdowns, and isolation of this plague year, she isn’t personally afflicted by it. Writing from a darkly humorous perspective. she uses copious examples of paradox, irony, and non sequiturs and continually drops phrases from poetry by W. B. Yeats, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, Sylvia Plath, and others. Even Jane Austen has her say, as one of the poems begins with “It is a truth universally acknowledged….” Although the allusions are distracting at times, they also add a pleasantly sarcastic tone to a subject that could weigh morosely on the reader, especially now, since the pandemic is not yet finished.
VERDICT The power in this collection lies in the way Stein serves her feelings on ice. Although she never mentions T. S. Eliot, her writing style is influenced by his notion that poetry is not a turning loose of emotion but an escape from it.
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