Make Yourself Happy

Eleni Sikelianos. Coffee House, $18 (170p) ISBN 978-1-566-89459-3
In her latest collection, Sikelianos (The Loving Detail of the Living & the Dead) employs her joy-demanding title as more than a refrain, cleverly letting it unfold as a humanist battle cry amid the earth’s downfall. It is this search for happiness that unites the disparate topics in the book’s three sections. Sikelianos begins by writing about ordinary things: family history, meetings with a hand therapist, a daughter. Lines such as “cookies will make you happy” resound. This is joy as obsession in everyday ways. In the latter two sections, joy-as-conquest expands to animals and ecosystems. The poet’s philosophical and analytical musings merge as she delineates, in elegant staccato lines, dozens of animals that have gone extinct, largely by humans’ hands. “The last cow was killed for its excellent meat/ Had they been mistaken for sirens would the flesh have been/ so sweet,” she writes of Steller’s sea cow, a mammal gone extinct by 1768. To conclude, Sikelianos takes inspiration from Biosphere 2, a closed ecological system or, in other words, a science experiment that ostensibly rebuilds the world. “When did my ambidextrous happiness impinge on amphibians and spell apocalypse,” Sikelianos asks; a big question for herself, for her poetry (so indebted to nature), and for all creatures still seeking happiness. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/16/2017
Release date: 02/01/2017
Genre: Fiction
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