The Art Of Plumbing by Brecken Hancock
A Note on the Text by Seth Landman
Both titles published by above/ground press.
If the idea of a timeline marking the conception and evolution of the bathtub sounds tedious, Brecken Hancock’s oft-unfathomable history lesson will surprise you. Adopting ancient folklore, historical black-eyes and modern police files as some of her muses, The Art Of Plumbing date-stamps not only the Egyptian bathing tomb’s sophisticated rise to contemporary cast irons but the capacities of humanity, unflinching throughout the ages.
“1984 CE When his fishing trawler sinks, Gudlaugur Fridpórsson swims six hours in the North Atlantic off the coast of the Westman Islands. Two fellow fishermen die of hypothermia, but “the miracle man” somehow survives the cold and the Kraken by talking to mukki, sea birds, and unknowingly relying on his seal-like fat, found later to be three times thicker than usual for humans. Finally navigating the cliffs and crawling up onto an ancient lava field, Fridpórsson walks barefoot over two kilometres of terrain. His soles turn to ribbons that unravel across pumice humps of molten rock. He finds a bathtub meant to trough sheep and punches a hole through its ice, finally plunging his face in the fresh water to drink.”
And further along...
“2007 CE Tatsuya Ichihasi rips out the bathroom fixtures in his Tokyo sky-rise flat. After beating Lindsay Ann Hawker to death with an amputated faucet, he buries her in a bathtub of sand on his balcony. Two weeks later police find her, right fingertips exposed, pinned by weather to the rim.”
These two excerpts taken from the tub’s recent history – after all, The Art Of Plumbing begins in 3300 BCE – hint at the curious variety of Hancock’s selections while showcasing her authoritative but poetic voice, which leaves thought-provoking hooks, or a haunting pause, with each anecdote.
Hancock's tone further infiltrates her study by way of personal entries bookending the project: one a majestic prologue capturing the deep sea’s churning, primal order of things bubbling up through her “immaculate taps”, the other occurring here in 2013 with our historian allowing a bleak glimpse into her distressed evening by the bath. While The Art Of Plumbing’s bulk commemorates our humble tubs with a radiant chronology, Hancock's bookends serve a purposeful reminder that for all of its incidental cameos over the centuries, the bath symbolizes one of the very few places humankind can reexamine itself, blemishes and all.
Seth Landman’s unstoppable “text” runs through a knee-jerk network of abstract doubts and indifference. As if transcribing the minutes of every half-epiphany, the Northampton, Massachusetts native nevertheless unearths poignant communiqués from the fractured coda. Often meandering with an agenda, poems such as “A Great Deal” and “Slovenly” seem partial to navel-gazing self-analysis before unfurling into meditations of a more universal nature; ‘notes’ in the grey space between connection and isolation. Here’s an excerpt from the latter selection:
“go ahead and make me
dinner it’s this fantasy
I have a domestic life
but not really
real my life’s
just swell I keep
doing it every day
and some days
it feels like other days
it feels like an adventure.”
His insights are sharply worded but those line-breaks frequently catch me off-guard, the way he toys with tenses and splices one rich thought into a stanza of rudimentary, conflicting ones. But with each off-kilter revelation, A Note on the Text incites the reader to return again, blindfold loosened, to tread his murky logic more fluently.
This plainspoken but tricky approach resonates especially well when recollecting a narrative. The tumbling, possibly intoxicated “Sleep Tuft” and the winter-sick “A Note On the Text” reveal evocative bits of language through Landman’s cryptic lens. I can envision the restricted woods described in “Sleep Tuft” and the darkened cabin corners of “A Note on the Text” yet the author’s emotional proximity to these places – and to his companion, certainly – is coloured with intangibles. Amid notes and texts that plumb both idyllic and idle thoughts on love and loneliness, it’s Landman’s I-don’t-knows that prove the most memorable. From "Sleep Tuft":
a drunk sense of
past all over
calling it out
you can walk
what's the point
though we are
we might not know