April 19, 2013
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Leah Umansky finely details the beauty and clarity of both destruction and reconstruction in her powerful debut poetry collection, Domestic Uncertainties:.
BOMB wrote of the book:
"A debut as bold and nakedly honest as Domestic Uncertainties says a lot about its writer, too; mainly that the revisionist in each of us can turn an event (marriage, divorce, death, birth) into instructive practicality and that is always something special."
Music has been a part of my life, before books were. I didn't grow up around books, I grew up around classic rock and I loved it. My parents aren't readers. I read books in school and liked them, but I didn't begin to read for pleasure until I was 12 or 13. I started big, I mean, "real big" with epics like Gone with the Wind and The Thornbirds.
Growing up in the 80's and 90's, I was always more of a Beatles fan than anything else. This made me weird, especially when most people my age were listening to grunge or rap. In tenth grade, I swan dove into the 19th century British writers, and fell in love with the Bronte sisters and Thomas Hardy. With 1996, came the Oasis invasion which birthed my love for Brit Pop. I'm an anglophile to the core.
Domestic Uncertainties is my first collection of poems and was published in January by BlazeVOX [Books.] The poems were written between 2006 and 2012 and went through various revisions in manuscript form before publication. The title is lovingly stolen from Volume Three of The Letters of Virginia Woolf and the phrase stayed with me through the writing of these poems. Domestic Uncertainties is a memoir of marriage and divorce told through poetry. It is a book I had to write in terms of healing, and rising above the sadness, but really it gave me agency. Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, female agency is a thread through many of these songs. Domestic Uncertainties is heavily influenced by other literary writers and of course by musicality. I am drawn to the lyricism and repetitions of music.
1. "The Moon" from The Greatest Cat Power
The Greatest is one of my favorite contemporary albums and it is often on repeat when I'm writing. What I love about "the moon" is that it reminds me of a fairy tale – a sad one. I've always been drawn to female singer songwriters.
2. "You Do Something to Me" from Days of Speed – Paul Weller
Though I'm a fan of The Jam, his first band, Paul Weller really got me with his solo career. He tugs at the heart strings like no one else. He's equal parts rock god and crooner. (After all, he is the Modfather) This song, kills me. It's about waiting, and wondering and I did a lot of both of those things between the time I was separated from my then husband and then eventually divorced from him. The lyrics alone are painful, but have a listen. He'll make you cry.
"You do something to me/
Something deep inside/
Im hanging on the wire/
For love I'll never find
You do something wonderful/
Then chase it all away/.
Mixing my emotions
That throws me back again."
3. "Horses," from Boys for Pele - Tori Amos
I cannot imagine my life without Tori Amos. I listened to Boys for Pele a lot while writing this book. (Talk about someone who's made art out of pain.) This was also the first tour of hers that I ever saw. I'll never forget that. "Horses" is a song that makes me cry. There's a hidden pain that she's revealing in the song and it has to do with uncertainty. That last line always gets me.
"You Showed me the meadow
And milkwood and silkwood/
And you would if I would
But you never would
And if there is a way to find you/
I will find you/
But threads that are golden don't break easily."
4."Professional Widow" from Boys for Pele - Tori Amos
"Professional Widow" is one of those angry and beautiful songs you can't help but love. Plus, it's dancey. It's a driven and fast song and features Tori at her best as she's both lyrical, feminine but also really damn intense. I love that about her and especially the repetition at the end: "She will supply." No one drives the point home like Tori.
5. "KC" from Emblems - Matt Pond PA
Matt Pond is one of my favorite singers ever and my ex-husband was the one who actually discovered the band on e-music. I was instantly mesmerized. We sort of became groupies and well, I'm still a groupie. KC" will always be one of my favorite songs. I listen to this album a lot when I write. My favorite lyrics are:
"There's no way to the heart better than awkwardly"
"There's nothing that we've done you could call a mistake"
6. "Re-Offender" from 12 Memories - Travis
I'm a die-hard TRAVIS fan. Not many of my friends are, but Fran Healey's got something special. When this album came out a few years ago, I was hooked. "Re-Offender" is so heart wrenching and honest and one of my favorites on the album. The pain in Fran Healey's voice, right before the chorus speaks to me, for obvious reasons. "Sorry" is one of the most blessed and painful words to hear. During the eight months I was separated, before my actual divorce, there were a lot of "sorry's" thrown around. Some were valid and some weren't. When I realized I wasn't going to be the fool anymore, I got angry, and then I found a sense of calm and clarity. This song mimics those early stages.
But you're fooling yourself, you're fooling yourself
'Cause you say you love me/
And then you do it again, you do it again/
And you say you're sorry/
And then you do it again, you do it again/
And again, and again, and again, and again
7. "It's a Beautiful Thing" from Marchin' Already – Ocean Colour Scene
Ocean Colour Scene is a band I've never seen live, but a band I adore. I don't think they've ever played here in the states, but this song, makes me cry. It was on my wedding playlist, too, so it's a good fit for my Book Notes. It shows the struggle in love, in the self and naturally, in life.
And how could I belong with anyone you know / Come on every line's a line I'll never know / Oh......it's a beautiful thing / Oh......it's a terrible thing
8. "Nothing Compares to You" – Kelly Jones (of Stereophonics) cover of the Sinead O'Connor hit.
Well, this one is obvious. Any Stereophonics fan can attest to the driving power of Kelly Jones' voice. (Sorry Sinead). It's amazing and raw, much like expressing yourself should be.
9. "Hello" from What's the Story Morning Glory – Oasis
I had to include an Oasis song and this was a tough call. This album is what made them famous in the US, but you can't go wrong with "Hello". It's angry and intense and well, honest.
"Nobody ever seems to remember / That life is a game we play"
10. "History" from A Northern Soul –The Verve
This is a tearjerker. If you don't know it, you need to. It's my favorite song by The Verve and really shows Richard Ashcroft's true craft. I'm sure I had a good cry listening to this one while writing my way through many of the poems in my book.
11. "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight" from Automatic For the People - REM
I just love Michael Stipe when he's feisty and this is feisty in a nutshell.
12. "Christian Brothers" from Elliot Smith – Elliot Smith
I almost had the chance to see Elliot Smith back in the 90's before he died.. It's a shame. This is one of my favorite songs because it's so badass but also so tender. I think writers carry those two dichotomies inside them. I know I do, especially when I'm writing poetry. When the song gets to "Come here by me I want you here," you can really FEEL his pain. It's just one of those small gifts.
13. " Everything's Not Lost" from Coldplay – Coldplay
Coldplay has my heart. I especially love when they do this one live. It's got so much energy and momentum. I was introduced to Coldplay when I studied abroad in London, back in college, back when my ex husband I were just friends and flatmates. They were a band I immediately was smitten with and this first album is still one of my favorites.
14. "The Stone" from Before These Quiet Streets – Dave Matthews Band
Dave writes a good love song and a good song about life's crazy ways. I've used DMB many times throughout the writing of this book as he often picks me right up and makes me smile.
"I was just wondering if you'd come along/
Hold up my head when my head won't hold on/
I'll do the same if the same's what you want/
But if not I'll go"
15. "I'm Looking Through You" from Rubber Soul – The Beatles
Rubber Soul is my favorite Beatles album. I felt this song was a good fit for my Book Notes because in writing it, I felt myself growing and well, levitating, like I discuss in my book. Listen to the chorus.
16. "Land of Canaan" from Indigo Girls– Indigo Girls
If anyone knows about heartache, it's Amy and Emily. This is one of my favorite Indigo songs primarily because of the way Amy Ray sings, "I'm not your promised land/ I'm not your promised one." It's just so honest and it's hard to be honest. It either comes natural to you or it's a conscious effort. I've felt this exact feeling that Amy sings about. That feeling where you can't be everything for someone else. I've think this song best expresses that sort of gutting feeling about difficult expectations in relationships.
17. "Bat Out of Hell" from Bat Out of Hell – Meat Loaf
I've already laid it all out there on the line, so why not put forth my love of all things Meat Loaf. It's everything I love about music in one, very long song. On every road trip that we've ever taken to visit my relatives up in Canada, we have listened to the Loaf. Meat Loaf unites my family and my family was there for me every step of my divorce. I'm so grateful for their love and support, but also for their laughs. We're no Partridge Family, but we know how to have a good time.
Leah Umansky and Domestic Uncertainties links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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