Leah Umansky [poet]

Author of the Mad Men Inspired collection, "Don Dreams and I Dream" [and] "Domestic Uncertainties"
Superfan of #Got #MadMen

The Next Big Thing

Last week, my friend Courtney Elizabeth Mauk “tagged” me to participate in theNext Big Thing- an online blog-chain about the writing process. (Such a fun idea!) As a poet, I believe in literary community I think this is the kind of thing that fosters writerly friendships.  TheNext Big Thingis a way for authors and bloggers to share the news about their most exciting upcoming projects.  Courtney is the author of the well-received novel, Spark, out now from Engine Books. She blogs here.

Here are my answers:

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

My first collection of Poetry, Domestic Uncertainties is out now from BlazeVOX Books. My second collection is halfway done, and, is as of now, currently untitled. It focuses on life in the digital age, science fiction and AMC’s Mad Men.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Domestic Uncertaintiestakes its name from a letter that I read in Volume Three of The Letters of Virginia Woolf.   The idea from the book came from my personal experience and, as art often imitates life, I actually consider it a memoir of love and loss. It is the story of a failed marriage. When I got divorced, I knew I had something to say – I had a story to tell – and I felt marginalized as I was the first of my friends to go through a divorce.  I wanted to narrate the pain that I felt, and ironically, I started with a new language. I made up words and forced pauses into jammed spaces. My narrative became disconnected and disjointed on the page. Slowly, it led me along the margins.

I’m also am anglophile – it’s no secret. I love the sweeping dramas of 19th century British Literature. Over time, I learned that I’m a feminist, and I enjoyed the letting that empower my work and my life. I love strong female characters and over the years, my literary heroines taught me to be strong.  Sure, it’s cheesy, but I believe it. People pick themselves up and move on.  I knew that I would, too, but the poems helped.  They helped me to make sense of what was going on in my life. They also kept me anchored to reality. The title of the collection, as well as the end poem in the book, was actually one of the first things I wrote. The title spoke to me about the uncertainties of life and love.             

                                                                       (Who knew that better than Virginia Woolf?)

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry(and/or Memoir)

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh, this is a tough one. I love everything about movies.  I have a really good eye for recognizing actors and recalling what movies they’ve been in, but I’d just name my favorites and that’s just not right.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

As a marriage falls apart, a young woman remembers herself and her voice as she looks to art for solace and strength.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I published Domestic Uncertainties, with BlazeVOX and I couldn’t be happier as I had great freedom with the book and its cover. I created the cover myself, as a collage based on Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.  Luckily, BlazeVOX  refers to itself as a “publisher of weird little books,” and of course mine is weird as it is in a large square shape.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The other day, I looked at some of the original forms of some of these poems and the first poem was written in 2006, so that’s about 7 years ago.  The manuscript itself had two or three slight revisions – a few poems cut or added here and there. The final revision was the adding of the two section breaks which guide the reader deeper into the book. My second collection has been written over the last year or so – it has been a quicker write, and it has been a bit more playful, overall.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It is always hard to compare your work to that of other writers. In the section breaks of Domestic Uncertainties, I’ve attributed quotes to Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband, and Jeanette Winterson’s  Art Objects, and The Passion. We three all share a strong female voice, and of course, the theme of love and loss.  Both Carson and Winterson have deeply inspired me for years.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

When I was completing my MFA in Poetry, (in 2004) at Sarah Lawrence College, I remember one of my thesis advisors, (and one of my favorite poets), Marie Howe asked me in a one-on-one conference, what I wanted to do with my work. I answered that I wanted to write poems like hers. When she asked why, I said because her poems made me cry.  She told me to go home and write those poems, but I couldn’t. I tried, but I couldn’t.  With these poems, I finally did. I wrote as honestly as I could, and tears came. There was no other way. 

Again, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Wuthering Heights,  inspired me since the first time I read it at 15 years old.  It taught me about love, turmoil and the heart. I always go back to the narrative of the heart because it is universal. Over time, I started keeping a list of the different writers I admired who, also, had been touched by Wuthering Heights. Ironically, they are: Anne Carson, Carole Maso, Jeanette Winterson, and Virginia Woolf, just to name a few.   All of these writers write about the struggle of relationships, and all of them use repetition and lyricism to propel their narrative. I find myself drawn to the lyrical and I think it is part of where I write from.

Writing assignments from workshops I took with the poet Patricia Carlin over the last six years at The New School helped me to go outside my comfort zone and outside my everyday language to help re-locate my story.

I think art inspires life. The poem, “Story,” is based on notes I wrote on a visit to The Barnes Museum in Philadelphia. I never thought of myself as someone who “likes art,” but that day taught me otherwise. In my putting together the book, I realized how many poems referenced art in its many shapes and forms. Then, came my interest in collage. One art clearly informed the other.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The narrative itself mirrors the physical make-up of a book.  I know, that sounds strange. I wanted the reader to see the narrative of a marriage as a story, read within the margins, (I’m a big proponent of marginalia), and then read its footnotes.   I think a reader will be surprised that they “get” it. I hope that all different kinds of readers find a way to my book because if there’s anything I love telling my students is something that was once told to me: “Poetry isn’t hard. All the poetry in the world is for you.”  It’s all for you.


Next up are the following three writers:

1. Sammy Greenspan is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Kattywompus Press. Like most poetry, hers is peopled by ghosts.

2. Mary Flanagan, is currently at work on a collection of video-game poems.

3. Lisa Marie Basile, whose new book Triste: mourning stories  (coming soon from Dancing Girl Press) is a diary entry-like collection of poetic stories, notes and epistolary pieces about people that have vanished or won’t vanish.


Thanks Sammy, Mary and Lisa for agreeing to participate and thanks to Courtney for inviting me to be a link in the chain…

[Visit my poetry blog at: http://iammyownheroine.com]

  • 2 January 2013