by Whitney Matheson)
At this point on Mad Men, Don Draper isn't inspiring any of his co-workers or family members.
But Leah Umansky finds a lot to love about the character — so much that she just published a chapbook of poetry inspired by the AMC drama.
Umansky, a poet whose works have appeared in Poetry magazine, Tin House and other publications, is the author of Don Dreams and I Dream (Kattywompus Press). With titles like In My Next Life, I Want to Be an Ad Man and Don Discovered America, it's a fun read for those of us who can't wait for the final season to start Sunday.
I talked to Leah about the project, and she was kind enough to let me share one of her poems:
I can understand someone being inspired to write one poem about Mad Men, but you've published a whole book! What about the show inspires you so much?
I really love Don. To be honest, I think what really hooked me was the language. Don is not only sexy, but he's smart. What draws people to him? It's his confidence, yes, and his authority, yes, but it's really his word choice and his delivery.
I just read that new interview with (series creator) Matthew Weiner in The Paris Review and discovered that he's a poet. His senior thesis was on poetry, and it was one of the few things he excelled in as a student. We both have that love for emotion, intensity and precision in language.
Do you have a favorite episode or scene from Mad Men?
I loved when Don and Rachel planned to run away together. That was a great episode, because Don finally found someone who truly got him.
Another favorite is the one I wrote about in my poem The Times. (Note: Scroll down to read it.) In Season 5 when Peggy gives her notice, there is such a tender moment between her and Don. I remember crying for Don — he was losing Peggy, but I also remember being so proud of Peggy.
Additionally, in Season 5, when the partners convince Joan to sleep with a big client so that they can get his business, Don's true colors show. He goes to Joan's house, even though it's out of his way and they aren't exactly "friends" at work, and he tells her not to do it. Sure, he's macho and he's sexy, sleek and manipulative, but what I really love about Don is when he's a good-hearted man.
You've also written Game of Thrones poetry. (Read it here.) Does pop culture inspire a lot of your work?
I've written Mad Men poems and Game of Thrones poems, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would. With that said, I love it. I love that sometimes my poems gorge on pop culture. I love the bridge it connects to the circles outside of my small world of writers.
I've always been a fan of pop culture, but on a serious note, at the end of the day, we are all consumers of our 21st century pop-culture world. We consume a constant diet of savory media, and we are inundated with images, slogans and ideas, whether we realize it or not. But we are also salespeople. We each sell our experience of living in this world. I do it through my poetry. Television does it through great writing and great characters.
Excerpt form Don Dreams and I Dream by Leah Umansky:
When Don puts on the Revolver LP it is like I'm back in my
childhood bedroom asserting that it is not the 1990's. When
the Beatles terrorize his penthouse apartment, I wish I
could sit on his lap and sing to him.
Don says, "Having a dream is admirable."
He can drink all he wants, as long as when "And Your Bird
Can Sing" comes on he promises to dance. Whiskey could do
the trick. Those Drapers are pretty predictable. Drapers do
whatever they want. Even if Don is an "ideas man," he knows
better than to say no to a woman.
Don says, "I was raised in the 30's. My dream was indoor
Megan says, "Don, You're everything I dreamed."
Let's not talk about my dreams...
I thought I'd hate Don, like everyone else, but I don't.
I long for him the way kids long for the turning of
the Ice Cream Man. I hear that elevator door DING
and I rise on up.
Sure, he's troubled like the rest of them, but beneath that
designer suit is a good, strong man. He's a warrior.
He treats Joan like she came out of that goddamn Trojan Horse
with the soldiers, all woman, all beauty and all power-hungry
as hell. She's everything a man is and more. Don can't plead
with Joan; she's a woman who's ready to kill her darlings.
I know advertising is based on moments, but so is life. Don has
changed this moment for me.
When Don falls asleep on Peggy's lap, you can feel the
continents shift. He almost tells her she's beautiful, but
doesn't, which is good, because she doesn't need that from
him. When her number's called, she gets gone.
When she gives her notice, he takes her hand like she is
royalty. He is tender and sensual. It is almost erotic
in the way he lingers there in the twilight of her moment.
She is rejecting him and he won't let go of her hand.
She feels his lips, not on her face, but on the top of her
hand; her fingers; and her nails.
He is proud of her; she's her own glory now. She's got the
guns and the ammo, but inside, I bet he's thinking:
I've created a monster.
Peggy resists all the clichés and wraps herself in strength.
She takes Don on in a way that children learn how to fight
This is tough-love at its finest.
It's a man's world, but not for all of us.
Note: Don Dreams and I Dream is available now. Learn more about the poet at leahumansky.com and @Lady_Bronte.