Review of Relative Sanity, by Ellen Lord

By Lee Kisling, October 2023

In Ellen Lord’s first poetry collection Relative Sanity, the title alone suggests the dual-usage of carefully chosen words. The first poem tells in perfectly balanced prose the story of Lord’s unbalanced mother fleeting in hospital garb – 200 miles – from an asylum after being committed following a nervous breakdown. Lord ends the piece with a perfect haiku: asylum seeker / dancing barefoot and childless / in another life. I like to believe that that “in another life” is Lord’s inward glance; the last line is hers – her own life.

Three pages later, the poem “Music” subtly weaves music, muse, and amusement around in her memory so closely felt in her present moment. The memories take place under the rain falling on a tin-roofed shed, revisiting the poet Rilke, her mother, Bob Dylan and her own wildness. Lord writes, Bring on the music of storms, the tempo of wind / the luscious fermata of silence.

Ellen Lord’s book, like the best first collections, encompasses a long experience, from childhood, through career (a behavioral health therapist), marriage, and widowhood. These are poems of occasional ecstasy but also regret. Lord’s often short lines seem to show the influence of Japanese poetry in which small thoughts carry much weight. Her use of nature images is suggestive and compelling. In the poem “Fish Tales: An Elegy” Lord establishes her place among the best new (to us) and sublime lyric poets. Soaringly erotic, she describes her own seduction and implied loss (the title…An Elegy) in eleven lines.

One can sense the wildness in Ellen Lord. And one is grateful that her long introspection and emotional intelligence has created this marvelous book of honest artful poems.




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