Leah Umansky’s “Mad Men” Inspired Poetry

The final season of the AMC TV drama “Mad Men” begins this Sunday, filling me with anticipation and some first stirrings of withdrawal as I contemplate saying goodbye to my idol, Peggy Olson (above). How to keep the magic alive?

Leah Umansky’s poetry chapbook Don Dreams and I Dream (Kattywompus Press, 2014) sustains that lingering atmosphere of cigarette smoke, perfume, and unfulfilled dreams. Though the book makes more sense if you have a general idea who Don, Peggy, Roger, and Joan are, it’s not only of interest to fangirls like me. Rather than recapping events from the show, the subject of Don Dreams is the cultural ambience of the 1960s advertising agency and the America it created. Catchphrases, images, and snippets of dialogue are layered atop one another like the collage of peppy poster girls and noir silhouettes in the show’s opening credits. The voice, or should I say voices, of this book mimic the subliminal background chatter of television.

Umansky understands that “Mad Men” is fundamentally about how our identities are constructed by what we desire. And what we desire–such is the promise of advertising–links us to whom we desire. Or, as Peggy said in her career-defining pitch for the Burger Chef fast food chain at the end of last season, “We can have the connection that we’re hungry for.” In the poem “Don Discovered America”, the lonely ad man ends his seductive plea thus:

     [Here’s a fact from Don: 45% of people see the color
blue as the same color.]

I want you to see what I see. My blue. See my blue.
I want to be the 55%. Be with.

Try one on with me.

The author has kindly allowed me to reprint the following poem. After reading, you’ll want to check out the “Mad Men” episode recaps and fashion analysis at style mavens Tom and Lorenzo’s blog. They’re counting down the days till the next episode with photographic highlights. My favorite, of course, is 8 Badass Peggys.

It’s the Selling

The most important word is N-E-W !! And, in the face of optimism

It’s all about getting things done. You need to feel

That’s what sells. That’s what steals over you, across your face,
down the back of your neck; into the flush. It’s the selling.

Some part wanders off and actually likes the remembering.

The remembering of being told what you like and what you don’t.

It is almost-precious the way the back of the head is both cushion

and target [and I’m aiming]. You can feel after it, but the
reality of the sale

is there: you want to be told. Your personal territory is

harvested [Some would argue deforested] but remember the feeling

right before you put your finger on it; right before you knew

what it meant to want. It was delicious. It was savory.

It was: pure. Now. Quickly now.

Go brush away those crumbs—

That remembering.

               [or are you saving those for later?]

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