I’ve been reading some fantastic poetry debuts this year, and Brecken Hancock’s Broom Broom is definitely on the list. I reviewed her collection last weekend for the Telegraph-Journal – full review below!
In her first full-length collection, Ottawa poet and essayist Brecken Hancock stirs up an organic whirl of gods, madonnas, grief, and indoor plumbing. Broom Broom is enthrallingly circular, a blend of prose poems, sonnets, and blitzing haikus, returning again and again to the detritus of mothering, selfhood, domesticity, and loss. The collection is laid out in rutting, guttural verse, Hancock’s language a thick and sonorous pathway to disquiet.
Broom Boom’s poems swirl and eddy around the pulled plug of a mother’s madness. In “Her Quiet Is Not Quite Not Her,” Hancock writes that a “Mockingbird bought me a mama. By its waggish voodoo, her head’s on backwards.” As her mother loses herself to a rare brain condition, Hancock’s speaker is left to mourn the disappearance of a person still living. Her confessions are raw and intimate, her grief exposed without sentimentality: “This poem isn’t making me feel better. It’s no time travel.”
The work is buoyed up by the unlikely icon of public bathing. The prose poem “Notes to Historia Thermӕ” lays out the history of the humble tub in footnotes, the clawfoot the unwitting accessory to suicide and sex, pregnancy and baptism. “The Art of Plumbing” delves further, noting of the Minoans that “They bathe and bury in the same vessel.” As the everyday is scrubbed and rinsed, the bathtub becomes the room where humanity is played out, a basin to encapsulate and contain.
The strength of Hancock’s work lies in this containment. For every uncontrollable element – every illness and self-doubt – there is a poem, a bowl to hold chaos. Broom Broom is a forceful debut, stark and wry and whirlpooling. In her sinking, Hancock gives the reader a lifeline, her work echoing Mary Oliver’s bare revelation: “Someone I loved once gave me / a box full of darkness. / It took me years to understand / that this, too, was a gift.”