Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Brecken Hancock

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Brecken Hancock's poetry, essays, interviews and reviews have appeared in Event, CV2, Grain, The Fiddlehead and Studies in Canadian Literature. She is Reviews Editor for Arc Poetry Magazine and Interviews Editor for Canadian Women in the Literary Arts. Her first book of poems, Broom Broom, was published by Coach House Books in 2014. She lives in Ottawa. Visit www.breckenhancock.com for more information.

Send your questions and comments for Brecken to writer@openbooktoronto.com

The Dirty Dozen, with Brecken Hancock

Brecken Hancock is Open Book: Toronto's July 2014 writer-in-residence. Get to know her by checking out her edition of our Dirty Dozen interview series! Broom Broom (Coach House Books), the debut collection by Brecken Hancock is one of the season's most lauded poetry titles, praised as a "nervy debut" gifted with a "mythic voice" and dubbed one of the year's most exciting new collections by the Globe and Mail. Today Brecken takes our Dirty Dozen series and gives it a poetic spin, telling a story of love, travel and natural disasters that took her from Canada to Japan and back again.

  1. Kyoto’s beauty snuck up on me. The downtown core is dominated by its railway station — a monolithic 238,000 square meters, futuristic, irregularly stacked plate-glass cubes supported by a steel frame. Streets fall in a grid, straightforward urban neighbourhoods deceptively easy to navigate. But pocketed away, historic shrines, temples, pagodas, gardens are secreted in its corners, tucked into the city’s folds. This elegance isn’t deliberately concealed, but because it isn’t flagrant many travellers miss it. I’ve heard foreigners complain that Kyoto is ugly, that they quickly moved on to other places in Japan. I stayed. I bought a used bike. The first time I fell in love with the city, I was cycling along the Kamo-gawa at twilight. Sakura blossoms were beginning to bud over the riverside path and lanterns along the western bank lit up restaurant windows and balconies.

Broom Broom

By Brecken Hancock

From Coach House Books:

Nothing slips by Brecken Hancock's deft ear as she seductively plumbs the depths of the evolution of bathing, doppelgängers, the Kraken and the minutiae of family with all its tragic misgivings. The poems in Broom Broom pervert the rational, safe parts of the world to extoll and absorb the sweep of human history.

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Few permanent wounds

By far the great majority of the people who go through even the severest depression survive it, and live ever afterward at least as happily as their unaffilicted counterparts. Save for the awfulness of certain memories it leaves, acute depression inflicts few permanent wounds. There is a Sisyphean torment in the fact that a great number—as many as half—of those who are devastated once will be struck again; depression has the habit of recurrence. But most victims live through even these relapses, often coping better because they have become psychologically tuned by past experience to deal with the ogre.

Invisible damage

  I’m an addict. There’s no way to know what I will do. Most of the time I don’t know what to expect from myself. I have lots of evidence that proves this.
  While drinking, in the morning, on waking up, remorse already eating away at me like rot, I would beg. I would beg and plead for a good day. I would promise my god, your god, the gods of worlds, and all the godless world that I would not drink.
  I would be drunk by the end of the day.
  This is why I don’t know the end.
  …
  Do I stay sober?
  Oh, how would I know? I’m still here. But how can I be sure of anything else?

  —Jowita Bydlowska, Drunk Mom

Still illegitimate

In this first-person novel I’m working on now, I told myself I wouldn’t write about clothes, I wouldn’t write about vanity, I wouldn’t write about depression, and I wouldn’t write about feminism, because these are all the things that I kind of got taken to task for in Heroines. And I find in my next book, which is called Switzerland, I’m doing all this more intensely, but in framing it as a novel, I’m allowed to play more with the unreliable or heightened narrator, that was already present in Heroines. It was Cocteau who said: “Listen carefully to first criticisms made of your work. Note just what it is about your work that critics don’t like—then cultivate it.

Trash

  I have entered middle age.
  I am overweight, and I live with a little dog and two cats. I have been alone for more than seven years.
  I keep a journal, as Jenny Craig suggests, about what I eat and how I feel about the things I eat: it is emotionally exhausting.
  The entries include the following sad arcana:
  —The delicious white border of a bad steak, what the sea leaves when it drags its waves back.
  —Fat, as yellow as custard, but sweeter than that. I touch and caramelize my glowing flesh.
  —The livid red marks that jag like lightning below my stomach are a fire I cannot extinguish.
  I have let myself go….

Craving a talent not my own

Those who work in London are all either going down with flu, recovering from flu or in the grip of flu—even though most of the people going down with flu, recovering from flu or in the grip of flu don’t have flu at all. What they’re actually suffering from is verbal inflation because no one says they have a cold any more, it’s always flu. If people have a cold they say they have flu; if they say they have a cold it means there’s nothing wrong with them. Flu and cold are becoming interchangeable. We say flu when we mean cold but we say flu when we mean flu because no one wants to say they have pneumonia when all they’ve got is flu because if you say you have pneumonia people might think you have AIDS.

Grounds for Communion

  People in grief think a great deal about self-pity. We worry it, dread it, scourge our thinking for signs of it. We fear that our actions will reveal the conditions tellingly described as “dwelling on it.” We understand the aversion most of us have to “dwelling on it.” Visible mourning reminds us of death, which is construed as unnatural, a failure to manage the situation…. We remind ourselves repeatedly that our own loss is nothing compared to the loss experienced (or, the even worse thought, not experienced) by he or she who died; this attempt at corrective thinking serves only to plunge us deeper into the self-regarding deep.

Modest Portraits of My Mother

So perhaps my mother doesn’t need to be my queen; simply being my mother is already a lot, even if the rare kisses I place on her cheeks aren’t so majestic.
  —Kim Thúy, Ru

**
As a statue:

A Story that No One Owns

  I’m sure my point is only too plain… Lizzie is not dead, etc.—but there is a “mixture of fact & fiction,” and you have changed her letters. That is “infinite mischief,” I think…. One can use one’s life as material—one does, anyway—but these letters—aren’t you violating a trust? IF you were given permission—IF you hadn’t changed them… etc. But art just isn’t worth that much…. It’s not being “gentle” to use personal, tragic, anguished letters that way—it’s cruel.

His gravity

We shun those who bear the mark of death, and this is a form of baseness to which even I succumbed. Quite deliberately, out of a base instinct for self-preservation, I shunned my friend in the last months of his life, and for this I cannot forgive myself. Seen from across the street, he was like someone to whom the world had long since given notice to quit but who was compelled to stay in it, no longer belonging to it but unable to leave it…. I do not know whether it was because I was afraid of someone who was the embodiment of death or because I felt I had to spare him an encounter with someone who was not yet destined to go the same way. It was probably both. Watching him, I felt ashamed…. I am not a good character. I am quite simply not a good person.

Tending toward liquid

Habit makes time relative for us. At twenty, the faces surrounding us have no history except in the present of the gaze we turn toward them. So, young adults, old people, and children seem forever framed in a “just as I see you” that makes them impervious to change. Later, one discovers that faces and bodies are material for transformation. One guesses then that time’s function is to pass very much alive like a current of heat and thought through the bodies gifted with this canny intelligence from which we learn to endow ourselves over the course of the years so as to repress elegantly the idea of death like the very last dregs.
  —Nicole Brossard, Intimate Journal, Trans. Barbara Godard

Our lives of no interest: The compulsion to confess

In middle age there is a mystery, there is mystification. The most I can make out of this hour is a kind of loneliness. Even the beauty of the visible world seems to crumble, yes even love. I feel that there has been some miscarriage, some wrong turn, but I do not know when it took place and I have no hope of finding it.
  
—John Cheever, The Journals of John Cheever
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.