Poetry Chapbook – Straight Away the Emptied World. Leah Umansky, 2016 (Kattywompus Press) 20pp $12 print. http://kattywompuspress.com
Leah Umansky is a graduate of the MFA Program in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence College, and a graduate of the MA in English Education – Secondary Education from CUNY – Hunter College. Leah earned her undergraduate degree from SUNY Binghamton in English/Creative Writing, where she graduated with honors.
Umansky is a superfan of Game of Thrones and Mad Men, and you can
read her #GoT poems on Poetryfoundation.org . She is also a collage artist who designed both of her book covers. Her poetry has appeared in The New York Times (online), USA Today’s Pop Candy, Coldfront Magazine, and Huffington Post.
Straight Away the Emptied World
Leah Umansky’s chapbook, Straight Away the Emptied World is presented as dystopian poetry, but it’s not your typical wasteland post-apocalyptic setting, but rather the dystopia that is within (the center of the self is a star. / (Aren’t all stars dead?). And thus, because the focus is inward and not outward, the poetry is rather self-aware.
I read in an interview with Umansky in Luna Luna Magazine that her motivation for many of the poems in this volume stems from dissatisfaction “with being a single woman in the 21st century.” She wanted to write “poems that took place in an imagined future as a way to just explore the mechanism of hope.” This comes through pretty clearly in her poetry: the juxtaposition of frustration, dissatisfaction and longing with hope and wonder. Yet, I wouldn’t say that the poems come across as particularly feminine or woman-oriented; I think readers of all genders and persuasions can read these poems and find them relevant.
Umansky’s expression is original, at least to me; I haven’t read anything like it before. It often seems stream-of-consciousness, disjointed, like we are left un-privy to bits of the stream, or it stems from a consciousness which flits from one thing to another. The effect is not jarring in a negative sense, but brings you up short with the wonder of the juxtapositions.
She has an interesting way of combining words to create a new, startlingly specific image: “wonder-felt,” “poured-truth,” “keen-spike,” “frothy-tusks,” “Not-Earth,” and “steeled-beauty”, just for a few. The imagery is, in fact, very vivid as a result. There is a playfulness, a liveliness in Umansky’s lines, but her writing is never trite. This is a dystopia after all.
The poet uses space in an interesting way with line breaks, indentation and large spaces. Sometimes a single word is placed between two or three lines of poetry, which sometimes gives the reader a pause to absorb and digest, sometimes the opposite, propelling the reader to the next bit.
Are you looking for something interesting and different, with a literary flavor? You will enjoy this brief collection.
Leah Umansky’s new full-length collection The Barbarous Century, is a finalist for the 2016 Sexton Prize of Eyewear Publishing.