Feminism / Lit / Society & Culture / Staff Picks

What Do You Write For?


Whether we realize it or not, when we sit down to write, very often, we are writing our way through something.

After a recent reading, I had my first Q & A session with the audience. and someone asked  if when I sit down to write, I am directed by form or by emotion. I had difficulty in answering this as I am not a form-driven poet, but I very often feed into both margins. With that said, my emotions are pretty evident in every poem I write.

Not all writers and poets are emotionally-fueled, but most of my favorite ones are packed with emotion.  I believe we all read for different reasons, but I read for connectivity.

I read for the sparks.

I read for the way the page wears the heart.

Still, the question remains, and it’s one I’m still thinking about five days after the reading.  When I sit down to write, am I writing through emotion or is the form directing my writing?

I write for emotion.  Of course, I think nothing of this, but I am aware that my being a woman, complicates this, and sometimes, sadly, trivializes it.


When I finished my first book of poems, Domestic Uncertainties, I was certain I’d have nothing else to write about. I figured, I wrote my way through my marriage and divorce, what else could I possibly write about?  A friend said to me, Leah, something will surface. You’ll find a topic.

Needless to say, I found myself writing about science fiction, which led into my writing about technology and social media, but soon, that fuse blew.

What next? I thought, What do i even have left to say?

I felt defeated. Desperate. Useless.

And then, Don Draper entered my life.

Don turned me on.

Suddenly, I felt alive again. I found myself writing about power, advertising, and gender.   Beneath this stunning veneer, I was writing my way into the person I wanted to be:  someone proud, someone strong and someone fierce.

Someone like Joan, Don and Peggy.

In Mad Men’s slick, dog-eat-dog world, I found an emotional core and latched on. I recognized a sense of compassion that felt satisfying for me, as a writer, and a woman.  Essentially, I found a hot spot.  I connected.

Don is tragic. He hides it well, but at the root of his seriousness, he is wounded.  When he begins to journal in the show, he reveals what is essential about being human:  understanding yourself.

Everyone licks their wounds differently.

I write, and I read my way through the pain.  I annotate my way through understanding. To me, reading is a sort of power. There is a sense of camaraderie between the reader and the characters, or speakers.  Sometimes, we are one of the same.

Now, back to Don. He hides his heart behind smoke and mirrors, though I get him.   We all have secrets.

I wear my heart on my sleeve, which is why I tend to be inspired by emotion, and gender. At the center of my longing is strength. When I sit down to write,  I can taste what has been stewing.


Let’s jump back to poetry.  I recently got a surprising response at a parent-teacher conference when I mentioned the Confessional Poets unit I teach to my 10th grade honors class. A father said, oh great, all those women poets committed suicide! I bit my tongue, but the confessional poets are not just about suicide. They’re about what’s at the pit of all of us: the human connection.

I think that’s what is at the heart of any story, movie, poem, or TV show.

A poem is an experience.

We all experience the world differently.

So, I don’t know if it matters if we write for emotion, for content or for form because I believe what truly matters is that at the end of the day  you are writing for you.

Leah Umansky’s first collection of poems, Domestic Uncertainties is out from BlazeVOX Books. Her Mad Men inspired chapbook, Don Dreams And I Dream is out in 2014 by Kattywompus Press. She is also the host & curator of the COUPLET Reading Series in NYC. She has been a contributing writer for BOMB Magazine’s BOMBLOG and Tin House, a poetry reviewer for The Rumpus, and a live twit for The Best American Poetry Blog. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in such places as: POETRY, Barrow Street, Catch-up, and The Brooklyn Rail. Read more here and @Lady_Bronte


One thought on “What Do You Write For?

  1. Pingback: My recent essay on “Why I Write,” is up now at Luna Luna. | Leah Umansky - Poetry Blog

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