All the Shades of Grief is a 2020 debut publication by the award-winning poet Ellora Sutton. This is an anthology of her works that explores the themes of mythology, loss and grief. Sutton’s poems also largely reference literature and art history. Sutton’s honesty is refreshing to read, as she directly addresses the death of her mother early on in the publication and writes a dedication directly to her mom at the start of the book: ‘(f)or my mother, who sent me on this journey’. This ambiguous use of the word ‘journey’ by Sutton sets the tone for this publication, as you expect to be taken on a roller-coaster of emotions and challenges surrounding your own perception of loss.
This presumption from the offset that you will be taken on a journey by Sutton’s poetry is soon proven to be correct. The first poem of the publication is titled: I’m sending myself to you from England, one poem at a time. This is a piece written in the style of a letter from her deceased mother. Suttons expresses her own desperation by imagining what her mother may be experiencing wherever she is in the universe. She seems to picture her mother in a mystical land that she now in habits in the afterlife. This fantastical heaven seems to be a place of nature as she evisgaes her mother telling her in the letter that she had gone ‘beachcombing’ and that she had ‘plaited a seaweed wig’. This creates a feeling of hope, as Sutton seems to feel somewhat at peace with the idea of her loved one being in a peaceful haven. This imagery of nature could also indicate the returning of our bodies back to the Earth after we pass on; this is implied by the line: ‘I’ve given my skin to the wind / let it flay me bare and you’. The final stanza of the poem says: ‘(u)nderneath is just you…Your lungs inside my lungs.’ This line is one of the most raw and genuine written by Sutton in this anthology, it perfectly illustrates the mantel of the loved one that you take on after they have passed. In just five lines Sutton shoots a dart through the heart of losing someone close to you and the responsibly you feel to continue on their memory after they have gone.
Suttons explores her relationship with the stages of grief in The Five Stages of Grief. She breaks down each stage under the title of Roman numerals. This use of numerals by Sutton is reminiscent of how the pages are numbered in the introduction of a book, perhaps suggesting that Sutton experienced these stages early on in her grief. The stage of anger is portrayed in a particularly descriptive and emote way by Sutton in her second stanza. She describes she is not ‘…strong enough / to punch the walls The bathroom tiles / do not fissure and crack. / Nothing changes.’ Sutton illustrates the frustration and hopelessness felt after someone you love dies. She seems to be hoping for a miracle as she wants her knuckles to ‘bloom to corsages’. But in the end there is nothing that Sutton can say, do or imagine that can change her situation.
Sutton’s poetry is heart wrenching at times, but there always seems to be the light at the end of the tunnel for her. The fifth and last stanza of the Five Stages of Grief seems to be the final step of acceptance. In this stanza Sutton writes: ‘I look at the sun / through my closed / bedroom window.’ These lines suggest that Sutton is starting to see the beauty in things again, like the feeling of the sun on her skin that makes you feel grateful that you’re alive. There is a duality to this last stanza that creates a give and take for the reader that allows us to see the rollercoaster of emotions that Sutton is going through during this theoretical stage of ‘acceptance’. The ‘closed bedroom window’ implies that the poet still feels partially trapped by her grief and that perhaps shel feels slightly removed from reality after her loss; the physical barrier of the window looking out onto the world represents this. She feels the ‘syrup’ of the sun warming her, but only through the ‘cobwebs’ on her window. This again suggests that Sutton is starting to feel human again, but not by choice, it seems she doesn’t want to move on.
Suttons ultimately summarises her feelings of loss in her poem simply titled: Greif. This poem is full of heart and is a concise but effective piece of writing. Sutton expresses the fragility of grief in the first stanza, writing that: ‘It is a hurting dust, / every fleck the spectre tick-tock / of a dandelion clock’ . This is Sutton describing the feeling of time passing as you slowly come to terms with the new life you are having to lead without the person that you have lost. The imagery of the ‘dandelion clock’ shows how sensitive you feel to time passing without the person that you miss there, and how everyday feels like a step away from them.
The second and final stanza, Sutton describes the ‘unseeing’ glasses of her lost loved one and how they are ‘outstretched- / but all they can hug onto now is just / dust’. Sutton uses the imagery of her mother’s glasses throughout her poetry. The personification of the glasses fills the reader full of sadness for not only the poet but for these glasses as they are purposeless, they now have nothing to ‘hug onto’.
This collection of poems has changed my perspective of my grief, as Sutton articulates the feelings of losing someone close to you so articulately and sincerely. Reading Sutton’s poem’s leaves a heaviness in your chest, a heaviness that is a reminder of your own grief whether that feeling is small or large in your life. The heaviness also comes from your feeling of empathy for the poet. You warm to her as she presents her feelings on a table for the viewer to see and explore freely. Although there is a distinct sadness attached to this piece of work, Sutton leaves the reader with a sense of hope. The publication ends with a quote by Jane Austen: “(k)now your own happiness. You want nothing but patience- or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope’.