Welcome to Episode 24 of New Recruits! If it’s your first time here, check out Episode 1 for more information about how this works.
A few months ago, I met Ronald Leung at the University of Calgary’s History of Medicine Days Conference. Ronald presented on “Literature as a proxy to understand historical perceptions of mental illness,” with a focus on Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Later, over dinner, we spoke about many things including literature and poetry and residency and musical theatre.
I gave Ronald a poem by Ally Fleming because of his interest in psychiatry and representations of mental illness in literature. Which brings me to a super exciting detail about this episode… this is an unpublished Ally Fleming poem.
Ally Fleming’s “Rubble” is making its internet debut right here on New Recruits! I hear she’s working on a chapbook at Anstruther, so be on the lookout for more details about that, but for now, here’s Ronald Leung reading “Rubble”:
What was your first impression of the poem?
As someone who usually reads prose rather than poetry, I felt a little bit of the characteristic confusion I experience after reading a poem. There’s strong imagery of the push and pull of water – moving tides on a beach. I think there’s a lot to be said about movement too. Lots of words that signify motion, but interestingly, in what-seems-like objectively small distances.
Which line of the poem do you like best?
“O gravity,/ O tide, O mind, cruel captors!”
It links together a whole bunch of ideas. Forces of nature like gravity and ocean tides, with our mind. The latter we think of as under our control, but perhaps it’s more primal than we think. Then, the last two words to drive home the point that we are subject to the whims of powers greater than us.
What does this poem make you think of?
It makes me think of a struggle. An attempt to strive, to move forward, as difficult as it may be. Mental illness certainly comes to mind – especially the line, “I won’t go to you, beaten one,/ cheek-to-beach you lie there, you lie there, you just lie there/ like all my dead friends.”
Are there any words in this poem that you don’t understand?
I’m curious about the line “Sand-itch subsides with a feminine touch,/a wine rack.”
Would you like to understand them?
It’d be interesting to hear about what other people think regarding that line.
Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?
I haven’t encountered many poems like this – the structure is novel for me. It’s been refreshing to read some literature that’s styled differently than traditional paragraphs though.
Does this poem remind you of any other piece of art or media?
Nothing specific – it reminds me of movies I’ve seen over the years that depict a slow and arduous struggle. Which is a fairly generic trope that’s basically in every movie, so nothing specific comes to mind.
Do you have any questions for the poet?
The use of scientific imagery and vocabulary scattered throughout the piece was really interesting to me. What was your thought process like, integrating them into the poem?
Ronald Leung is a medical student at McMaster University. His sympathy in human narratives has led to an interest in psychiatry. He otherwise enjoys movies, television, literature, philosophy, and politics.