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May 21, 2018

Leah Umansky's Playlist for Her Poetry Collection "The Barbarous Century"

The Barbarous Century

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 Jesmyn Ward, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

The poems in Leah Umansky's collection The Barbarous Century wield vulnerability as a weapon as they speak to dystopias and hope both global and personal.

Doireann Ní Ghríofa wrote of the book:

"Leah Umansky is a poet of rare gifts. The Barbarous Century carries the reader into poetic realms that are both brutal and joyous, both light and dark. In luminous lines, these poems succeed in simultaneously unsettling and soothing us. A book for our times."


In her own words, here is Leah Umansky's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection The Barbarous Century:



The Barbarous Century is a journey through the stories that inform us and the stories we tell ourselves. Confessional without being confessional, and with compelling wordplay and lyricism. This is a book about the many challenges we all face in being human: how to be good in a world gone wrong. It uses varied dystopias embedded in myth, story, technology and popular culture to highlight the struggle of being a woman in the 21st century. With longing, resentment, humor and desire, these poems highlight the want for an easier and gentler way to navigate this world we call ours.

The following songs are songs of love, of despair and of solace.

Diamond Heart – Lady Gaga

I’m so in love with the new Lady Gaga album, Joanne. Gaga also has a cameo in a poem in The Barbarous Century because this album sort of got me obsessed. I love this song because it’s about the heart, and well, so much of this collection is, too.

John Wayne – Lady Gaga

This is a great song on Joanne. It’s sort of part heartbreak, part fantasy and part pop-culture. I love that. John is John Wayne, but as Gaga says, “Every John is just the same…” I feel that, and I think it’s evident in the book, too.

Jar of Hearts – christina perri

This is a song my sister got me obsessed with. I really love the piano in it, and sometimes I just listen to it on repeat. The crests and lows of it are really sort of soothing. Of course, what I’m drawn to in it, is the heart.

Everything Zen – Bush

Sixteen Stone will always be one of my favorite albums from my teenage years. I always feel like this song has a sort of dystopian quality to it. It’s so full of angst and rage and darkness.

The Rat – The Walkmen

This is probably my favorite Walkmen song. I love the anger in it. Something just resonates, probably the rage I feel in these barbarous days, or the frustration I feel under this presidency. The Barbarous Century is equal parts longing, politics and pop culture. In each way, there is a push and pull of emotions.

Wild Wood – Paul Weller (from Days of Speed live album)

I love Weller and listen to his live album, Days of Speed, all the time. The whole notion of having trust in yourself is beautiful. Weller always speaks from the heart, and I love that.

Sign of the Times – Harry Styles

This is one of favorite songs of 2017. I’ve listened to this song many times on repeat, singing along as I write. It’s hypnotic and heartbreaking. I don’t know a single One Direction song, but I’m obsessed with this album. The piano sort of takes your breath away. Sometimes we all feel like “we have to get away..” Again, a song of hope and lifting one’s spirit up and away, despite sadness, despite struggle and despite despair.

We don't talk enough
We should open up

Before it's all too much

Will we ever learn?

We've been here before

It's just what we know
Stop your crying, baby

It's a sign of the times

Stand By Me – Oasis (from the live album The Dreams We Have as Children)

I’m always listening to Oasis. This, again, is a song about hope and asking for love, for friendship and for help.

Sad Song – Oasis

Sad Song is such an underappreciated Oasis song but one of my favorites. I listen to a lot of sad songs, but Noel’s voice, here in the live version is so earnest and heartfelt. I always find it sort of comforting.

There is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths

Again, a song about hope and holding on…. Very much like the last poem in the book “Survival.”


Leah Umansky and The Barbarous Century links:

the author's website

Agape Editions review
Horn! Reviews review
The Millions review
The Stirring review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Domestic Uncertanties
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Don Dreams and I Dream
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Straight Away the Empty World


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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