ReaderViews on “Relative Sanity” by Ellen Lord

Relative Sanity

Ellen Lord
Modern History Press (2023)
ISBN: 978-1615997671
Reviewed by Dawn Colclasure for Reader Views (04/2024)

“Relative Sanity” is a collection of poetry by Ellen Lord which provided a wonderful reading experience for this reader. The poems cover topics such as life in Michigan, nature, relationships, and love. These poems are written in a way that presents such topics with a unique perspective. You may have read about Michigan, but you have not yet read how the author shows her Michigan in the only way she can, with ice-covered rivers, winterswept forests, and budding nature that soothes. She also shares stories of those she has known and interacted with, all through her gift of verse.

Even though the poem He Survived a Gunshot Wound to the Head was written in form, thus leading this reader through the motions of repetition, it was still a powerful poem to read. If not a sad one. The repetition of the victim smelling like fire and “shot sparks” and “lightning” were all references to that one gunshot to the head this person had survived. At least, that is how I saw the use of those words. And his “madness” was his attempt to get back to living after surviving something so traumatic. The person’s struggles are evident in the repetition of “having seizures in jail” and how he would run in the night. It’s a sad but very touching poem, one which I liked very much, and which also spoke volumes to me in the words it did not use for further description.

Not all of the poems are written in forms, though. There is a lot of free verse. I like how the poet seems to humanize the moon in the poem Yearn on page 10:

dark eyes searching far-fleeting clouds
try to hold the rain
why does the mockingbird sing
desire lingers at dusk

Then looks to the moon for validation, which is denied, in the poem Fickle Moon on page 23:

Sometimes, the moon is a liar,
she tells me I’m queen of the night.
But I wax lonesome as she wanes—
Crooning shine on baby, shine on.

I loved how the poem Guillotine Dream (page 17) is written. Instead of saying, “We argued, said some things and I beheaded the flowers out of rage,” the poet, as poets are wont to do, takes the reader through this experience, using active words, emotional descriptors, and symbolism “the severed sow’s ear,” to explain what happened. And it is drawn out in detail – what is seen, what is felt, what is thought. This is all rising action to the climax, what the poet does out of rage at the end.

I absolutely LOVED the descriptive writing the author uses in the poem Forest Bathing (page 33). For the uninitiated, forest bathing is like turning to nature as therapy. I have read about this before, but I think that anyone unfamiliar with forest bathing would be able to catch on to what it is, through the writing of the poem.

Soft fascination
interplay of leaves and light.
Let your mind wander
into the aspen’s branches.
Splendor of dappled beauty.

As well as here, in the second stanza:

To flow unfurled
raptor rides the solar wind.
Follow, just follow.

There are also lines from the poems in this book that I liked as well, such as I love us most when we walk (page 36) and It seems like I can never get enough sky (page 38). With the moon commonly appearing in many of her poems, it is easy to tell that her eyes love to move upward to the glorious wonder that is the sky above.

I was sad when I reached the end of this book. I wanted to keep reading more of these beautiful poems! They were so enjoyable, and the author writes her poems in a way that seems to take the reader along on a gentle journey through Michigan, through her history, through life, and the beauty of nature. This is a book I know I will return to read again and again, one containing poetry that I cherished.

“Relative Sanity” by Ellen Lord is a collection of poetry that touches the heart and soothes the soul. By offering descriptive snapshots of nature and little insights into life and friendship, the poems in this book remind readers of the things we should cherish and appreciate, before we are not able to grasp such moments or memories any longer. Written in a way that enriches the soul and opens new doors of perspective, “Relative Sanity” is a very healthy dose of all things that can keep us sane in a world that is not.

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