“The speaker is so dissatisfied with life that she looks outside of her own society, even outside of her own planet.”
Straight Away the Emptied World (Kattywompus Press, 2016)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks?
What’s your chapbook about?
My chapbook is about the near-future. It’s steeped in feminism and sci-fi/ fantasy, but also is very much about hope. It’s a collection of poems that are about a female speaker fighting the good fight in a world long lost.
If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
This is my third book of poems, and my second chapbook. My first chapbook is the Mad Men inspired Don Dreams and I Dreams (2014), which is part love song to the AMC television show, its genius and its characters, especially the great Don Draper, and part social-commentary on gender and life in the 21st century.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The oldest piece in the chapbook is “Where are the Stars?” which was written in September of 2014, but a close second is “I Dreamed of a Less Vulnerable Network,” which was written in October of 2014. With “I Dreamed of a Less Vulnerable Network,” I recognized that I had ventured into the voice of a character and in doing so into a science-fiction/ fantasy perspective/ genre. The woman-warrior speaker is all of us women, but in my head, I pictured someone like my favorite Game of Thrones character, Daenerys Targaryen. She is not only the mother of dragons, but is fierce, she has her own army, and she is a strong independent woman. The speaker in many of these poems knows that she will survive this world on her own if she has to.
These poems make me think about how mysterious life is. We struggle so often to understand who we are and what we desire, but in the grand scheme of things, life’s larger mysteries are all around us: like the universe. That’s sort of how the star-focused poems were born. The speaker is so dissatisfied with life that she looks outside of her own society, even outside of her own planet. Sometimes life is unbearable in so many ways for the single woman in the 21st century.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I’m a collagist and have been lucky enough to have designed all of my book covers. What I love about the cover of Straight Away the Emptied World is that it captures the hope in a dystopian universe but it also captures the primal fear we all have.
What was the last book you read that made you stop reading, just for a moment even, because you didn’t want it to be over?
Well, that’s an easy question. I have two: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. H is for Hawk just spoke to me. All of her inner-wanderings, her discussion of the British countryside, her meditating on T.H White, and the Hawk. The hawk changed me. I’ve never been a bird person. Her book is so painstakingly beautiful. Poetry, really. Read it. My title, “Straight Away the Emptied World,” is a fragment of one of Macdonald’s sentences, actually. Station Eleven is basically a love poem to the world. I never wanted it to end. I found myself teaching three dystopian novels, one to each grade I was teaching, and reading Station Eleven. Dystopia was on my mind.
What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?
The poem that was the most significantly revised was “Once (Reprise).” I wanted a sort of echo in the chapbook and that poem revolves back to the book’s central themes. The last poem I wrote was the final poem in the book, “What Will I Do With All These Wolves.” When I was working on my collage for the cover, I had all the cut-outs of wolves around me and a friend said to me, “What will you do with all those wolves?” and I typed into this list app I love, Wunderlist, under “poem ideas,” and later on sat down and wrote a poem.
What themes and images “bridge” your work?
I always joke about the fact that all my poems are love poems; they are, even these dystopian-themed ones. So Love is a theme I am always writing to, so is gender. In terms of image, at least in this book, there are a lot of birds and wolves in my imagined future. It’s sort of a going back to the primal days, (or maybe to Westeros). Part of what I love about Game of Thrones are those direwolves and the fact that so much of it is based in all of these archetypes that have been used in literature for hundreds of years. GoT seems like it’s a mythical medieval time, but in some ways it feels like a primal future. This book cover is part landscape, part bird, part wolf, and part stars.
Leah Umansky is the author of the dystopian-themed chapbook Straight Away the Emptied World (Kattywompus Press, 2016)¸ the Mad Men inspired Don Dreams and I Dream (Kattywompus Press, 2014), and the full-length collection Domestic Uncertainties (Blazevox, 2012). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in such places as Poetry Magazine, Faerie Magazine, and Thrush Poetry Journal.
There is a door; I am the housekeeper of the history behind that door. My rich inadequacies are a career of recents; a file of settings. My dirty linens are a non-linear myth.
What naked flame? I like my blues muscular. I like my breath to be as wide as a wooden spoon.
This is not a warrior’s helmet. This is a scarf, really. This is how we antiquate the world.