Monday, August 11, 2014

Brecken Hancock's above/ground chapbook, The Art of Plumbing, is reviewed in Broken Pencil #64

Scott Bryson was good enough to review Brecken Hancock’s above/ground chapbook, The Art of Plumbing (above/ground press, 2013) in Broken Pencil #64. Thanks, Scott! This is actually the fifth review of Brecken’s chapbook, after recent reviews by Joseph LaBine (here), JM Francheteau (here), Michael Dennis (here) and Ryan Pratt (here). There are a few copies of Hancock’s chapbook still available, here, or you can simply pick up her first trade collection, Broom Broom (Coach House Books, 2014), which also includes the piece.
Plumbing, let alone the history of plumbing, is not typically considered enticing subject matter. The recounting of ancient pipes that’s presented here – organized in date-stamped anecdotes – is mostly pretext, mercifully (though even when it’s not, these anecdotes are rarely mundane).
            At its core, Brecken Hancock’s The Art of Plumbing is a study of human relationships, some mythical, through time – between family members, men and women, husbands and wives, citizens and The Church. In 1183 BCE, “Clytemnestra guts Agamemnon in the bath,” for his infidelities. In 415 CD, “anxious that nudity nurtures licentiousness, early Christian fathers preach against public bathing.”
            Bathtubs and bathing are the most consistent fixtures in this timeline, and an anecdote from 2323 BCE seems particularly relevant to its undercurrent: “Archimedes stumbles into a method for gauging the volume of irregular objects. Stepping into the bath, he spots water rise…” The lesson typically taken from this tale is to be patient and await a breakthrough, but a different interpretation here proves apt. The same story was relayed at a crucial point in the 1998 movie, Pi, with an unusual take on its moral: “You need a break, you have to take a bath or you will get nowhere,” warns the film’s mathematician Sol Robson.
            In a moment of abrupt, autobiographical lucidity at the chapbook’s end, Hancock comes to the same conclusion: “I need to soak. Gathering my split hair from the pillow, I ruse from the television news, from the navalia proelia [simulated naval battles] on our sheets.” It’s a fitting conclusion; there are hints of a veiled personal journal throughout this narrative.
            The Art of Plumbing is a moving read, less for what we see on the pages – though these are eloquently-written historical sketches – than for the subtext that emerges from between its stanzas.

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