A free verse narrative poetry cycle portraying mental illness from a deeply personal perspective.
In a haunting debut, Leveillee unveils a painstaking portrait of madness as viewed from the inside. Unmoored from the demands of conventional narration, her speaker’s story proceeds in leaps and circles, leaving readers to fashion their own linearity from the scattered clues. The poet/narrator seems to believe himself to be in his apartment, though his talk of “orderlies,” “the asylum” and the fact that he believes the “super has come and closed me in” suggests he’s in a psychiatric ward instead. What marginalizing behavior put him there remains unclear, but his challenges are abundant. Believing an army of mantids are stalking him, even the simple task of going out to buy eggs proves impossible: “Open my door and one was standing right there / on my doormat! / As if selling Bibles. As if looking for a dog!” The paranoia extends beyond insects to the “men [who] have recruited / The wallpaper to spy on me” and to his own “lying” psychiatrist. The narrator’s memories suggest that his problems are both genetic and the result of trauma; in “Court-Appointed Therapy on My Eighth Birthday,” he recalls the psychiatrist asking “if I hate my mother for what she did / to my sister,” before referring to himself as a “putrid child of a cannibal.” Abandoned by his brother, who leaves “to wash away the shame / of our last name,” the narrator grows increasingly dissociated. As “time / Runs backwards,” he “wonder[s] if when / we leave a certain place, a piece / of us stays, wondering why / we left them.” In Abel, the brother, Leveillee provides a foil for the narrator: Abel is similarly consumed by irrational beliefs, but since his are framed by ideology—“He is staunchly against liberalism”—rather than by idiosyncrasy (i.e., being staunchly concerned about mantids), Abel is on the outside, while the narrator is on the inside. Unfortunately, along with Foucauldian insights about deviancy and punishment comes a touch of hazy Foucauldian romanticism about madness.
An urgent, engaging read, though readers might wish for a bit more subtlety and context.