Leah Umansky’s poems have been published or are forthcoming in POETRY, Thrush, Maggy, Barrow Street, and elsewhere. Her first book, Domestic Uncertainties, was released by BlazeVOX last year. She writes interviews for Tin House and articles for Luna Luna Magazine.
Kattywompus Press is releasing her new chapbook, Don Dreams and I Dream, later this month. The collection of poems is inspired by Mad Men, and the show acts as a charming frame for Umansky’s primary thematic interests: womanhood, beauty, and desire.
Umansky’s relationship with Don Draper—sometimes real but often imagined—takes up more space in the chap than her relationships with the women of Mad Men. She is, however, in awe of them.
“Joan is a powerhouse, and a beauty, and Peggy is just an inspiration,” Umansky told me. “I mean these women are Joan of Arc material women. They don’t take anyone’s crap.
“In a lot of ways i find the show empowering, and I’ve used that in this collection of poems. I see a lot of myself in some of the characters. We all have dreams; we all wish things could be different. But deep down, we all want to be loved.”
Umansky is in love with Don, sometimes to the point of accepting his flaws—including his sexism. She believes that Don means well, and she wants him to return her love.
That is not to say that she does not struggle with her relationship to the charismatic ad man. Umansky sees her reflection in his just-shined shoes and his booze bottles, and enters through him into an exploration of life as a woman, a man, an ad man, a human. “It’s a madmadmadmad world,” the book opens. The world Umansky creates between Don’s and our own is just that.
Umansky knows that so much has failed to change for women since the age of the ad man, but nonetheless allows herself to enjoy the glimmer of the diamonds, the lushness of the furs, and the buzz of the two-martini lunches. In one of the book’s strongest poems, Umansky wants to be Donned and Draped:
In My Next Life, I Want to Be an Ad Man
I want to be donned in somehow. Donned in everything. Donned in the forgotten and the ecclesiastics of sex. Drape me in the charged. Drape me in the raptured. Drape me in meaning and keep it private. I want two lives: one in the city and one in the country. Two women: a blonde and a redhead. Drape me in wealth. Drape me in booze. Don me in diamonds and fur. Drape a secretary, here, and then, there…
[Executive is the word that comes to the lips and they smile for you, sister.]
Don me in designer suits. Don me in a new age. Don me in what’s coming. Drape the future round my shoulders. Drape the next life across my lap. Drape me in the madness. Don me in the twoness of passion. Don me in pieces of last, of force; pieces of shaken and possible then drape me in manhood. Drape me in machinery and steel. Don me in utterly and plush utterings and, [Do I sound like I’m stuttering?] Make me look good; the world is dangerous.
Kattywompus Press, 2014
Don Dreams and I Dream is compulsively readable, but it is far from a light collection of poems. Most hold the weight of women’s struggles for recognition as human beings over much of the past century. The poems are at once political and confessional, feisty and giddy, aggressive and playfully submissive.
The poems in Don Dream and I Dream are nothing if not sexy, and sensuality is key to their power—just as it is, in large part, the key to Don’s.