Heather's Reviews > The Mansion of Happiness

The Mansion of Happiness by Robin Ekiss
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's review
Apr 11, 10

bookshelves: library-books, poetry
Read from April 09 to 11, 2010

I like how it starts, with a first line that’s matter-of-fact but made me want to keep reading (“I was raised in the company of dolls”—in “Preface,” p 3); I also really like, later in the same poem, the image of windows that “burn with interior light/like blood oranges”: the suddenness of that simile, and the rightness of it.

Many of these poems are about childhood/motherhood/daughterhood/womanhood: personal history, family history, the idea of how the self comes from the past; there are also more broadly historical bits, like “Eight Views of the Hôtel-Dieu,”—the “oldest continually operating hospital in Paris,” according to the notes at the back of the book, which was affiliated in the 1880s with “the women’s public asylum where hysteria was first diagnosed and treated” (p 83). I like poems like “World without Birds”, which sent me off to look up what a serinette might be (an instrument to teach songs to canaries); I like the alliteration, and the bird/woman imagery, and all those great bird-y words. I also really liked “The Past Is Another Country”, maybe the start of it especially (and more canaries, too). I wasn’t crazy about most of the poems about dolls, of which there were several: not that they’re bad, they just felt like a language I don’t speak (the first line of the book excepted!).

I think my favorite poems in the book were those in the last section: poems like “Portrait of Houdini with Wife”, “The Lady Vanishes” with its old stage magic tricks and accompanying wonder, and “The Voluptuous Dancing Girls of Egypt,” about part of the 1889 Paris Exhibition: broader history, images that tell stories, imaginings of the past.
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