Eli Mandel, “Houdini”

  1. Who was Houdini?
  2. The poem suggests a parallel between Houdini and the poet. Why did Houdini continually bind himself? What is it that binds the poet?
  3. Examine the diction (word choice) of the poem. How does Mandel suggest a parallel between the tools used by Houdini and those used by the poet? In what sense are the poet and Houdini motivated by the same compulsion? Can you suggest a double meaning for “like that mannered style, his formal suit”?
  4. The words “escape, escape . . . there’s no way out” spoken by the “manacles, cells, handcuffs” and other chains that bind him, challenged Houdini to struggle to free his body. What is it that the poet struggles to free? In what sense are trunks metaphors?
  5. In what sense are the crowds of spectators “bound”? Why do they sigh? Can you equate the crowds before whom Houdini performs with the public for which the poet writes?