New Recruits Episode 24: Ronald Leung Reads Ally Fleming

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 Which brings me to a super exciting detail about this episode… this is an unpublished Ally Fleming poem.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”:

Q&A

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!”

Why?

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.

New Recruits Episode 23: Devra Charney Reads Leanne Dunic

Welcome back to New Recruits! If it’s your first time here, check out Episode 1 for a description of how this works.

Devra Charney and I have known each other since sixth grade. She would always bring a mini, halloween size Mars bar to school for dessert and offer to split it with anyone who wanted a piece. Now she shares bigger desserts (usually giant cookies). I gave Devra a few poems to choose from, all by different poets, and she chose a poem from Leanne Dunic’s debut collection, To Love the Coming EndThis means that New Recruits is featuring a BookThug publication for the second week in a row. I generally like to mix it up, but Devra was available this week and I couldn’t not show her Dunic’s work. I knew she’d be into the prose poem form and extended metaphors.

So here’s Devra Charney reading the poem on page 29 of To Love the Coming End that begins, “Remember the days when I became a rhizome”:

 

Q&A

What was your first impression of the poem?

The analogy between growing a scientific specimen and nurturing a human relationship highlights how hard it is to sustain life, even under carefully controlled circumstances.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

“I tried to give you attention without possession.”

Why?

There is a precarious balance between caring for something while leaving it room to grow and controlling something in an attempt to keep it close.

What does this poem make you think of?

A failed relationship.

Are there any words in this poem that you don’t understand?

Rhizome – I think it is part of a plant.

Would you like to understand them?

Yes.

Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?

This poem is written in the form of a paragraph instead of in stanzas. I read another poem from the same book, and it is also written in paragraphs.

Do you have any questions for the poet?

How did this relationship form, progress, and end? How did the pills that you mention in the last line affect your life?


Devra Charney is a 23 year old law student who loves writing, bicycling, and travelling.

New Recruits Episode 22: Serena Posner Reads Pearl Pirie

Welcome to Episode 22 of New Recruits! If it’s your first time here, check out Episode 1 for a description of how this works.

Back in middle school, Serena and I wrote and illustrated a very offensive stick figure comic series involving a love triangle, a lobster costume, and some boys who were very good sports. I still have it in my basement somewhere and I’m pretty sure if the paparazzi ever got a hold of it, both of our budding careers would be forever tainted. Serena is one half of the K-pop inspired, totally rad Toronto based girl group, Bandit. She’s funny as heck and also she made this mind controlled raincoat.

Pearl Pirie’s The Pet Radish, Shrunken came out with BookThug in 2015. I giggled my way through it a few months ago. I thought about giving Serena a poem from the book called “from cubicles to cottage country,” partially because Serena and I and a bunch of other lovely ladies often travel to cottage country together in the summer, but also because it opens with the lines, “as grandpa used to say when/ you dance with a bear you aren’t/ finished until the bear’s finished.” which made me laugh out loud. I’m not entirely sure why I gave her “until components float apart” instead, other than— it was the poem that I remembered best when I went back to the book in search of a poem for Serena.

So here’s Serena Posner reading “until components float apart”:

Q&A
What was your first impression of the poem?

It seemed like a stream of consciousness, from mind to paper.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

“To see one person in another is / to grant immortality to the first.”

Why?

It’s an interesting perspective on life, death, and existence.

What does this poem make you think of?

The musings of a night when you stay up later than you know you should, and ruminate on the day in the way that an overworked brain does.

Are there any words in this poem that you don’t understand?

Don’t know, and likely mispronounced, “elaiwa.”

Would you like to understand them?

Yes. Google tells me it’s a name, but that doesn’t seem to fit well.

Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?

The poem took many different turns and changed. The sections individually are reminiscent of other poems, but it’s collectively unique.

Does this poem remind you of any other piece of art or media?

Not specifically, but illustration works that use repetition to skew and remove meaning from an image.

Do you have any questions for the poet?

What were the connecting pieces in your mind that led from one paragraph to the next? Are they ubiquitous or personal?


Serena Posner is a 23 year old graduate of OCAD University, in the Integrated Media field, which includes filmmaking, and technology integration.

 

New Recruits Episode 21: North de Pencier Reads Aisha Sasha John

Welcome to Episode 21 of New Recruits. If it’s your first time here, check out Episode 1 for a description of how this series works.

North de Pencier is as interesting as her name would make you think she is. She’s a med student, she climbs mountains, and she chills in the arctic wilderness. North and I met because she and my boyfriend, Ariel are co-presidents of Schulich’s Osler Society. For the past two years, I have accompanied Schulich’s Osler Society to the University of Calgary’s History of Medicine Days conference, where I heard North speak about the origins of mouth to mouth resuscitation (in 2016) and the frustrations of indigenous voices in the archives of the Sioux Lookout Zone Hospital (this year). North’s ability to passionately and effectively communicate her historical research is enviable, and part of the reason why I gave her a poem by Aisha Sasha John.

I heard Aisha Sasha John read this poem (and others from her new McClelland & Stewart title, I have to live.) at the M&S launch last month. The way she reads her own work is mesmerizing. Her reading changed the way I understood her poetry, and it changed my attitude towards readings in general. So I gave North this poem because I knew her voice could do it justice (but still, it’s no replacement for the original and if you get a chance to hear Aisha Sasha John read live, definitely take that chance).

Also, North is “crunchy” (the best adjective used to describe a person in a poem maybe ever) and who knows, maybe she’s a planet, too.

So here’s North de Pencier reading the poem, “I decided that I was a planet and I was a planet.” from I have to live. 

 

 

Q&A

What was your first impression of the poem?

It seems really badass. I think it must have been written by a woman.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

“I have to be fibrous / so as not to be consumed”

Why?

I have been thinking a lot recently about how many people dislike powerful women. I was taught to be pleasant and likeable growing up, but I don’t think that I will be able to have the kind of career I want if I am likeable. I am trying to be more comfortable with the idea that being a powerful woman will make some people dislike me. I have to be fibrous, so as not to be consumed.

What does this poem make you think of?

Feminism!

Are there any words in this poem that you don’t understand?

I don’t think that I have ever heard the word “unlamblike” before. I think it’s about being a lamb in God’s eyes? I’m an atheist so I don’t know much about these things.

Would you like to understand them?

Yes!

Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?

Sort of. I had to read a bunch of poetry in high school and university, and I really liked it! Some of it was like this, I think. It was accessible and spoke to me. For some reason, I just haven’t been reading poetry for fun once I didn’t have it assigned at school.

Do you have any questions for the poet?

I would like to know more about her! 


 

North de Pencier is a 27 year-old medical student at Western, in London, Ontario. She loves rock climbing and watching Bollywood movies.

New Recruits Episode 20: Caitlin Reads Lisa Robertson

Welcome to Episode 20 of New Recruits! If you’re new here, check out the description in Episode 1 for more information about how this works.

I have no idea why it took me so long to come across Lisa Robertson’s work. So far I only have her newest collection, 3 Summers, but I’m looking forward to tracking down all the rest of them. There are lots of great reviews of this book that have popped up on my Twitter feed recently, including one that I think is particularly interesting by Klara du Plessis in The Rusty Toque.

Caitlin and I are somewhat new friends and we have never met in person. I know more about her than she knows about me because of some internet espionage that is too difficult to explain. This is probably just as shifty as it sounds. What I have learned from years of lurking (see, shifty) is that Caitlin embodies the simultaneous fortitude and fragility of Robertson’s poetry. She is also infectiously kind and maybe the only person to ever make me seriously consider the validity of astrology.

I gave Caitlin the first bit of the section titled “The Middle” in 3 Summers. If you have a body, this is probably a poem you’re going to want to read.

 

Q&A

What was your first impression of the poem?

Reflective, atmospheric, an inversion.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

“roseate genitalia et cetera transcendent”

Why?

How the words mingle together, what they conjure in your mind.

What does this poem make you think of?

Explorations and the shaping of the self, how woman is shaped. A transformation.

Do you have any questions for the poet?

What inspired or caused you to write these words?


 

Caitlin is a mid-20’s woman interested in many aspects of life.

New Recruits Episode 19: Ketzia Sherman Reads Catriona Wright

Welcome to Episode 19 of New Recruits! If it’s your first time here, check out Episode 1 for more info about how this thing works.

Ketzia is part of the middle school crew that I mentioned back in Episode 16. Her parents’ house was the best place for sleepovers— partially because their basement has a kitchen in it which meant easy access to midnight chocolate milk. When we were in sixth grade, Ketzia had a sketchbook that she filled with drawings of her favourite anime characters. Now she teaches fashion and illustration at Ryerson and she makes cool art and she’s published a book and she has a gallery show on right at this very moment. My friends are impressive. Oh, also, she did the cover art for Stickup and my issue of Cough, for which I am eternally grateful.

Ketzia is also my only friend who understands my deep and complex relationship with food. I’ll let her Instagram speak for itself.

Catriona Wright’s Table Manners is another book I acquired from Knife Fork Book in Kensington Market. (Again, go there. It’s great.) So I messaged Ketzia after I read it and said, “hey, I have a book of foodie poems. Want to read one for New Recruits?” She sent me back an enthusiastic “ok!”

I gave Ketzia three poems from Table Manners to choose from, and she chose the poem that opens the collection. Here’s Ketzia Sherman reading “Gastronaut”:

Q&A

What was your first impression of the poem?

I can relate! My life low-key revolves around food, I spend most of my income of trying new food trends and fancy restaurants. It really created a visual, I could imagine the gross but amazing descriptions. The grotesque images were kind of captivating.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

The final of course! Unicorn haunches and fairy wings.

 Why?

I love the fantasy imagery, its girly and grotesque all at once. It harks back to childhood and innocence but also the absurdity of food trends.

What does this poem make you think of?

Instagram, it pretty accurately reflects the relation between bloggers, the jealousy and competitiveness online. As well as the fantasy of blogging, making even the simplest image seem extraordinary.

Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?

I don’t read much poetry, but this is definitely different than what I have experienced. The poetry seems to be more in the visuals it inspires and the rhythm of the text. I know its stereotypical, but I don’t usually expect poetry to follow such a linear narrative. It made it easy to read and identify with, without needing to understand complex metaphor or confusing prose.

Does this poem remind you of any other piece of art or media?

Nothing I can think of immediately. But it definitely creates imagery which I think would be fun to illustrate.

Do you have any questions for the poet?

While this seems like a critique of food trends and the industry around it, I think there is also a positivity to this depiction and a fun approach. I would love to know the poet’s interpretation and intention.


 

 Ketzia Sherman is a twenty-something illustrator and fashion professor. Avid selfie taker and food photographer.

New Recruits Episode 18: Ariel Gershon Reads Emily Izsak

I know, I know, I’m featuring my own poem in my own series. How immodest. I’ve been wanting Ariel to read a poem for New Recruits for a long time. I searched the entire contemporary poetry section at Weldon library and couldn’t find anything that quite fit. When I told him I’d keep looking, he suggested Whistle Stops, half joking. I paused and looked pensive and he said, “you think it’s a good idea, don’t you.” And, I mean, isn’t it? The whole book is dedicated to him.

Welcome to Episode 18 of New Recruits, in which I will attempt to walk the fine line between tasteful homage and obnoxious PDA. Here goes:

Ariel Gershon and I met in 11th grade. We were in the same chemistry class (I just avoided the whole “we had chemistry together” pun so you’re welcome). A year later, our literature teacher had us work together on a project about Shakespearian sonnets. This teacher walked over to the desk we were sharing and said (no joke), “I put you guys together because I think you’re both very smart, and you’re in love… (obvious pause) with literature, and you’re both blushing right now.” I’m skipping a whole big mess between grades 11 and 12, but that’s a story for another day. Anyway, that awkwardly and expertly placed pause was right and six and a bit years later, well, here we are.

I chose this poem for Ariel because I wrote it for him (I write them all for him) and because today is April 5th and this is an April 5th poem.

So here’s Ariel Gershon, the best person I know, reading “Apr. 5th 74 to Union Station 07:35″:

 

Q&A

What was your first impression of the poem?

It was real good. Best I’ve ever read.

Which line of the poem do you like best?

I love all of them, obviously, but I like the last five lines the best. Your lines are too short to just pick one.

Why?

It’s just nice. It’s really hard to parse grammatically but I still find some new understanding every time I read it.

What does this poem make you think of?

Big trains.

Have you encountered a poem like this before? Is this poem different from what you expected poetry to be like? If so, How?

Yes. I have read all your poems and they are all the same.

Does this poem remind you of any other piece of art or media?

Reminds me of Arthur Clarke’s short story – The Nine Billion Names of God.

Do you have any questions for the poet?

Want to make a smoothie later?

Ariel Gershon is a second year medical student at the University of Western Ontario. He plays accordion and ukulele real well even though he’ll tell you he’s not very good at either one. He doesn’t know what he wants to do for residency yet so ya’ll can stop asking him. Sometimes he talks in his sleep.