Brecken Hancock. Broom Broom. (Coach House Books 2014).
Somehow I’ve managed to miss Brecken Hancock’s work in magazines & chapbooks, but her bright, fizzy, fast & furious book, so full of energy, wit, & odd & jarring juxtapositions, definitely announces a talent worth paying attention to. Broom Broom sweeps aside a lot of conventional cobwebs while offering a richly bracing series of views of history (through bathtubs), family troubles, & the usual mix of love, friendship, anger, etc..
From its 2 epigraphs (Swinburne’s on ‘the great sweet mother,’ the sea, & Yoko Ono’s ‘Mommy, I’d rather have you dead than crazy’) onward, despite its many turns away into eccentric side streets, the main thoroughfare Broom Broom treads leads always back to the mother & her disappearance into dementia, leaving all behind, most especially the daughter who appears as a series of not-quite-the-same ‘I’s:
- I won’t pull myself together,
- I’m my own distraction.
- There’s a widening gulf
- between each brazen
- erection of I-I-I,
- a whole brood of knockoffs
- infecting me.
That from ‘Evil Brecken,’ a long & highly internally-rhymed song of her selves matching the slightly demented lullabies that open the collection. Here she tells us ‘I need protecting…’; every one of the ‘I’s protesting their fate in that off key song of selves under attack.
The attacks come from the mother lost & savage portrayed in both sly little haiku (‘Hush now, Mama, don’t / say a word. Daughter’s gonna / drink until you’re cured.’) & the long prose poems ‘Her Quiet Not Quite Not Her’ & ‘Once More,’ harrowing portraits of the loss felt by both the narrator & the mother figure as she descends into dementia. A barely contained & deeply clarifying anger fuels many of these poems, while a kind of wry archivist’s irony pervades others. ‘Once More’ oddly, beautifully represents that anger, inner-directed as much as at fate. It also takes up the challenge to write a ‘confessional’ piece without falling into the genre’s dangerous simplicity of sentiment. ‘Disconnected from language, from subjectivity,’ the mother ‘still ached for home. She forgot her name, forgot her pronoun: adopted the neuter “it.”’ As the piece accumulates its rage against this dissolution of the mother, it takes up many positions, noting how ‘Before the disease rendered it completely dumb, it was abusive.’ Or; ‘I married my second husband six months after the death of my forty-thousandth mother. There is no first.’ There is a hard factuality here, but as the argument (& it is one, with fate, with Roland Barthes, with the selves warring within her) gets ever more complex, it also escapes mere personal memoir into something harder, deeper, & a part of the larger argument that is the whole book.
Thus, what a different kind of essay-poem (for that is what these longer prose pieces can best be described as), the eerily cheeky historical overview of ‘The Art of Plumbing,’ has to do with these more personal essays into family history becomes clear in its final 2 entries, set in the present & the future, where the narrator enters into watery contact with her mother, potentially only, of course.
Many other kinds of poem knock into each other throughout Broom Broom, presenting a contemporary version of metaphysical conceits, apostrophes to whomever, footnotes to articles on plumbing history we’ll never see. In other words, Broom Broom offers a wide range of poetic delights, yet different as many of these poems are, they all circle around the empty abyss of the mother-gone-too-soon & the daughter angrily mourning that loss, however ironically sometimes. Broom Broom invites while pushing away; in that ambiguity lies its power.