cover image The Mansion of Happiness

The Mansion of Happiness

Robin Ekiss, . . Univ. of Georgia/VQR, $16.95 (84pp) ISBN 978-0-820334-08-0

Dolls, collectibles, children's games and other sorts of miniatures—both playful and creepy, elegant and disheveled—dominate this haunting debut, which takes its title from a 19th-century board game, and its artful goals, in part, from the best of Sylvia Plath. “Unable to look at anything/ without a stone's sense of gravity,/ I can still hold your body in one hand”: so Ekiss writes in “Conversation with Doll,” a title that could fit more than a few of her poems. “World without Birds” begins amid “cagelings like goldfinch/ embalmed in wax”; “The Opposite of the Body” concludes, “The pleasure in being a woman's// knowing everything's borrowed/ and can't be denied,// as when you take apart a clock,/ there's always another inside.” As in Plath, a drive toward impersonality, toward elegant sculptural symbols, pulls against another drive to present the messy fears and desires of family life, of mother and daughter and father, of women and men. The results can seem claustrophobic, or even monotonous; if a few poems repeat one another, Ekiss has cut to the bone within each one. She sometimes tries too hard for a recognizable style; some readers may wonder where she can go from here. Others, though, will find the poems hard to forget. (Nov.)