'Luck hassles the strung kite.' Strung by Brecken Rose Hancock
Strung. Brecken Rose Hancock. Design Jessica Butler. Saskatoon: JackPine Press, 2005. ISBN: 097379951X 19pp.
Strung is one of the latest releases from Saskatoon's JackPine Press, a publisher dedicated solely to chapbook production. Hancock's verse and Butler's design make Strung and arresting book, inside and out.
Hancock's eleven poems address issues of memory, family, grief, and loss. The first poem, "String Art Craft" introduces the string and ropes images that recur throughout the collection. The poem's speaker tells us "I made a picture of a sailboat / by twisting red string around pegs you'd nailed to a board." Sailboats, water, and childhood memories of swimming are laced into a meditation that "really, we should expect change," and the speaker calmly notes that "[i]n only two seasons Mom's / garden has grown over so I can't find the bluebells / she planted for my birthday." Hancock manages to discuss the emotional without becoming sentimental. Her speaker is precise about the losses and pain she suffers, but discusses her grief with an intellectual clarity that turns adversity into a space for a reflection and illustration of emotional strength and personal renewal.
For example, in "Hollyhocks by Fall" the speaker says she "asked you to notice the spring bulbs // planted along the fence, the passing of things that bloom / and the brown heads of the once-white tulips // sleeping in the soil." She notes that "losing a friend can seem small when compared / with the untiring way nature repeats itself." In the wake of personal loss, the speaker retains her composure and compassion for the person she is leaving; she reminds the other, "not to worry, every change is brilliant."
"Lag," the final poem, is the most striking piece in the collection. Here, Hancock's control of language and visual representation are extremely strong. The opening lines proclaim: "Grief is a door, strange how feral. It locks / twice, tooth in tooth against the jam, and seals / this house, an awful mess where all the / music plays at once." The speaker explains the abstract concept of grief in concrete and corporeal terms; Hancock describes these visual and aural experiences with rich language that envelopes the reader's ear and threatens to disorientate while promising to deliver one safely through "this madness."
Jessica Bulter's design takes it's cue from Hancock's description of the string sailboat in the opening poem; the book is fastened closed by wrapping "the string to the next peg, stilted constellation / wound by my hand." Small pegs are nailed to the front cover of the book, and the reader winds and unwinds a string around the series of pegs to open and close the book. The design is not only thematically appropriate for Hancock's work, it gives the reader the sense one is unwrapping some sort of textual treasure. As with all of JackPine's books, each of the 75 limited edition copies are hand-assembled, and the quality of Strung's workmanship is high. This chapbook succeeds as a visual piece of art, as well as providing an intriguing sample of work from Hancock.