Friday, May 14, 2021

"Where Darkness Meets Light" by Sabrine Elouali--Poetry Collection Review

Today’s review is going to be very different. It’s a different format, and it’s a different sort of book today than anything I’ve previously reviewed. Today we’re talking about Sabrine Elouali’s “Where Darkness Meets Light,” which is a poetry collection. I think every writer has a poetry phase that they either take off from—or it withers, and for myself, I’m certainly one of the faded. So I’m not a poet or well versed in poetry beyond a superficial level. What I can tell you about in this review is my experience with this collection.

Sabrine Elouali

What I love about this book:

So I’ve read a fair amount in my day—as you might have deduced from a quick perusal of this site—but I don’t read much poetry, and it’s something I have long considered changing about my reading habits. Elouali’s poetry has been very accessible to me, and I devoured the entire collection rapidly. I like that quality of her work because it does one of the things I’ve talked about before as one of my favorite things about reading: it causes me to want to read more.

For anyone who has experienced any form of depression or anxiety, I think that “Where Darkness Meets Light” is a terrific read. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t because I believe it will cure your depression or anything—that’s the work of a therapist—but because it’s comforting to know of other people who have had similar thoughts and feelings. Relatability is an underrated comfort in the world that I don’t think is championed nearly as much as it should. I think this because if we can take the time to see and acknowledge each other’s humanity more, then maybe things would be better for all of us.

My favorite piece in this collection is “OCD and Me.” It’s not my favorite for its lyrical quality, form, or anything like that, but because it speaks to a very specific fear of mine—I know I’m weird like that. I can’t tell you how much I dread locking doors because it might set off a loop of checking the door, then checking the door, walking away, then returning and checking the door—ad nauseam. So I guess I liked it so much because, by the time I got to the glass of water, I was already thinking, “oh, I’ve done this.”

What I don’t love about this book:

This might be my failing as a dyed-in-the-wool storybook reader who is constantly looking for and overvaluing narrative—but the thing that bothered me the most as I read through this collection is I didn’t understand the sequencing of the poems. 

What I mean is, I couldn’t tell you why one poem preceded another one or vice versa, or why the collection begins the way it does or ends the way it does. It’s not a thematic problem per se, but maybe I’m just too thick to see or understand if there was a greater meta effect intended that I was supposed to be appreciating. My guess—if I were taking a stab at it, is that maybe the overall effect is to emulate the unpredictability of anxiety and depression, which, while authentic, I can’t say I’m a fan of that feature in this or in that.

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Thematically, “Where Darkness Meets Light” is about depressive thoughts and anxiety, but it’s more than just that too. As its title implies, it’s also about confronting those feelings, and there is a heroic quality to it in that sense. 

Elouali acknowledges pain and struggle in these poems, but she also takes a more inspiring tact as well, and there is a thread moving through each piece—stringing them together—the desire to improve and move beyond. Sometimes she does this in clusters of poems, and sometimes she’ll do all of this in one poem, such as in “Your Brain.”

There is also regression too in this collection which is a very genuine part of depression, which takes courage to write about. No one likes to be depressed, so there is a lot of preoccupation with “getting better” that is honestly exhausting. It’s that feeling of; you have a couple good hours or days, and then somehow you’ve slid back down some mental muddy embankment and are right back in that hole that is depression’s most terrible element. It’s being stuck—stuck with limited mental energy each day to attempt to get unstuck.

Parting thoughts:

I’ve experienced one major depressive episode in my life—so far, and I hope it’s the only time—in the second half of my college years. It lasted for the better part of two years, stretching from the end of 2008 to somewhere in the first half of 2010. You’ll notice that I’m pretty clear on when it started but not so clear when it ended.

For me, the long walk out of depression was incremental and imperceptible to myself, which isn’t very cinematic—but it was my experience with the illness, and it is a mental illness. A lot of my problem was first, not wanting to admit that I was depressed and remained in denial about it for about half of my time. When I then finally recognized what was wrong, I hid it because of shame. All of this—was precisely the wrong thing to do. What I should have done was seek professional help. Why I didn’t do it was a combination of toxic masculinity—tough men don’t talk about their feelings—and an overestimation of my ability to fix my own problems.

Not seeking help and refusing any overture suggesting it is the single greatest regret of my life because, one, I was miserable, two, I strained nearly every friendship I had, and three, all of the wasted listless time feeling terrible. My grades suffered in school; I went from the Dean’s List to the middle of the pack real fast, and my creative output dropped catastrophically. During those two-ish years, creatively speaking, I wrote less than 800 words—total. For context, this blog post is more than a thousand words, and I do this, and other things, every single week. Writing creatively is literally the most important thing in the world to me, and I gave it up, and even when I recovered, it still took me years to get back into the swing of things.

So if you’re even a little worried that you’re depressed or experiencing anxiety issues that are disrupting your day—I am imploring you, begging you, to get help. Don’t do what I did and assume that one day you’ll just wake up and everything will be right as rain. Your time and your life are worth it. You are worth saving, no matter what you might be thinking. Talk to someone—please.

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