Writing The Sacred, Writing Community

Shifrah is a group within Cincinnati describing itself as “ongoing conversation about art, faith, justice, community and mystery.”  I had the pleasure of writing with thirty-some folks at their Walnut Hills gathering space this summer. Here is something of who we were that night, together.  (Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel, August 2016)

The Sacred
“After the teacher asked if anyone had
                                      a sacred place…” Stephen Dunn

My sacred places are stories.
I never quite felt at home,
but always tried to build one,
listening to music on my own
in a still place of solitude
with no cares on my mind.
I turn on the light
and it feels like
the tambourine in “Pure Blue Eyes,”
tastes like baby.
It is not a coincidence that I hold it to my chest.
I sat there to read books,
in my corner chair by the window
which sadly looks out on the parking lot,
then slipping between threads of cotton
woven so tight it feels like silk.
Anyway, isn’t it crazy?
I know real places change,
but somehow these places
feel more real because they don’t.
Authentic and home, there’s a ford
between the permanence and the temporary.

The cabin is long gone,
but sometimes I let my mind rest there.
I carefully tiptoed out
through the summer breezeway
to the cold gravel path,
past the still silhouette of the still weeping willow.
No flowers, but I was in hot pink.
I was the flower, breeze through my hair.
The pace of walking, the rhythm of my shoes,
gravel, dirt, sky, wind, the buzz of crickets, cicadas,
the songs of birds, chattering, speaking to one another,
to me, as I walk, sacredly.
All that is infinite and eternal, precise and fresh
surrounding me and filling me with magic and wonder.
Light flickers within my mouth,
in and out my nose,
streaming particles shed by dreams and breath,
endless notes,
endless stream of sacred sound.
And I am in the center.

is the gateway I’m looking for a ladder,
a ladder I locate inside myself when I let go?
I remember the dance studio, the spring to the floor,
the smell of practice, exertion, stretch, and flying.
Drum beating the count of steps, and weave of pattern.
In a trance of simultaneous concentration
and forgetting myself,
I feel both small and vast,
weak and powerful,
agitated and satisfied,
alive with the laughter of the river
at the bottom of the world,
for the ebb and flow surges through me as well.
From within or without a place becomes me,
and I it, the air between us translucent,
a hint of gold,
darkened at the edges.
No longer pure pretentious thought,
I am one again,
a creature, surprised
by something sacred.

August 14, 2016
(Composed by Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel from lines from our writing.)




A Letter to Young Creative Writing Students

As students head back to school over the coming weeks, I feel drawn to share a slightly revised version of the Foreword my friend Darby Lyons invited me to write this spring for Wyoming High School’s literary journal, Icarus. Praise be to high school and college creative writing teachers who make such writing communities possible.


According to my parents, I wrote my first book of poems when I was five or six. I could write the alphabet, but not yet form words, so it became a community effort—me saying my poems for my mother to spell, but not to write; the words on the page must be from my own hand. I don’t remember this, but the story itself—as well as the story of reading my first word (ALL, on the detergent box)—has been retold so many times it feels as real to me as memory. As real as Meg saving Charles Wallace from the nefarious IT (A Wrinkle in Time); as real as the kitchen sink where Cassandra perched to write her journal entries (I Capture the Castle); as real as the stinging nettles Elise sewed into seven capes to return her seven brothers to their princely forms (The Wild Swans). I was, to quote my friend and mentor, the poet George Ella Lyon, a “wordful child.” But though I inhaled entire sections of multiple libraries during my elementary school years, I did not find my true life with words until junior high.

I began writing poems at age 12 for the reason that so many do—because there was no other way to say what must be said. I often ask other artists—writers, painters, musicians—when they first began to make art, and have found that these early adolescent years usually mark the beginning. Everything is in flux—our interior lives, our relationship to the world around us. Without art we might burst into flame. In my case, no one I knew wrote, and certainly no one wrote poetry. My father was a voracious reader; poetry, he said, was the only literature he did not enjoy. My mother told me that she had written in sixth grade but stopped with a teacher’s criticism. There was no creative writing class in my small school; the only poem I remember being asked to read was “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” (I thought maybe it was about Santa Claus!)

I was, however, thoroughly immersed in the singer/songwriters of my day; the songs of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Janis Ian were my path into poetry. I wrote, I thought, in secret, but my father with his nose for words discovered my vocation and became my first reader. (It turned out the only poems he liked were mine!) He always pointed to what shined in my poems, and did not comment on their failings. His gentle direction provided encouragement and a year or so later I met my first poet, M. Joe Eaton, part of Kentucky’s poet in the schools program, and I learned that what I was doing was making metaphors, and that not all poems needed to rhyme. My first publication was as a result of a Scholastic Magazine prize, and in high school I published a few poems in regional journals alongside adult authors. But I did not have a true community around my writing until I went to college where I found a group of peers and mentors who encouraged each other.

So whether you are encountering a creative writing class in high school or college, how lucky you are to have this community now of other writers who can inspire you, who can set the bar just a little higher, who can make you feel, if not less crazy, at least crazy in good company. To have teachers who take your writing seriously and connect you with the elders of your tribe—other authors who, like you, believe in the necessity of speaking truth, whether it be through poetry, fiction or essays. The necessity of saying what can be said in no other way but through your own written words.

Remember that first book of poems I wrote at five or six? It was lost forever in one of my family’s many moves. It doesn’t matter. The writing of those poems became “story” and that story of the girl who wrote them became the story of the woman who writes.

Maybe you will stop writing after the class ends. Many do. I stopped soon after college, and did not begin again until my early thirties. Maybe it was due to a lack of community; certainly the first thing I did when I let myself acknowledge the pull to the page was to find a writing community. To find my tribe.

I want to say to you, don’t stop. Search out those people in school and in the wider world who see more clearly with pens in their hands, or keyboards beneath their fingers. We are out there and easier than ever to find through the many online and in-person writing groups, as well as a plethora of open mic readings. But even if the only time in your life you call yourself “writer” is now, you are still lucky, because now is when you need it most. The poems and stories you write are a part of you that outlive your years in school. Writing them are now included in your “story,” the story of becoming who you are.

For As Long As We Can: Writing our Lives as Caregivers

On July 16, 2016, I was honored to lead my first Cincinnati Poet Laureate Creative Writing Experience with fellow family caregivers of persons with dementia. Writing our Lives as Caregivers was offered in collaboration with Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Cincinnati and co-led by Annette Januzzi Wick. This poem is a weaving together of snippets of our writing from the day . Innumerable residents of Cincinnati are caring for loved ones with dementia —mothers, fathers, husbands, wives. Their experiences of tenderness and loss are all too often untold.

For As Long As We Can: Writing our Lives as Caregivers

There is much more hurting than healing
in our lives right now.
An incredible sadness.
Robbed of all this time,
many years, with my mother.
I let go of the colorful gal I once knew;
now her words cut through me like a machete,
leave a hemorrhage like no other.
All this before I even sit down.

I want so desperately to believe
God has a miracle for my dad,
for my beautiful Gina, in beautiful Bermuda—
how I would love to take her again,
away from the tiny world she knows
—and the bitterness of that impossibility.

I hold to every word, to every syllable,
to every streak of black
remaining in Mom’s soft white hair.
I know I am still her baby girl.
I cling to my old memories.
I don’t want it to change, but it does.

But then, a conversation—mother and daughter.
Mom hunched her shoulders
and walked in a silly way, making me laugh.
She doesn’t need that jacket on,
but she’ll wear it anyway,
singing “76 Trombones” and I join in.
It takes her a moment to connect
my place in her room
with my place in her life.
I know she is in there.
She looked in my eyes; I let her love me.
Mom was back,
but not for long.

The touch of your hand—unnerving,
unbounded by time.
At Mirror Lake in Eden Park
the air had cleared,
the colors of sunset filled the western sky.
Tiny blue gills swirled alone in lazy Van Gogh circles.
Heads together, giggling like conspirators
and wishing for more.
I am still comforted by your touch.

Moments—come and gone—
that would not have been
had we not been present.
Engulfing moments unborn, unknown by us.
A salve to put on the wounds part—
the baggage of the day
and my beat-up body,
the parts that broke,
under the pressure of loneliness.
I breathe deep until the next time;
I sink into the car
and think about doing it again tomorrow.

The contrast—the leaving,
the spent memories so different,
so contrary, so final.
Or maybe not final,
maybe this too will change.
I hold her strength, yet I cannot find her.
The joy we had, the hope
and promise of things to come.
I want to believe.
I cling to these prayerful words:
Relax, you are safe.
I will be here for you—not forever,
but for as long as I can.

From participants in Writing Our Lives as Caregivers with Pauletta Hansel, Cincinnati Poet Laureate, and Annette Januzzi Wick at the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Cincinnati

Please visit my website for more information about my work as Poet Laureate. A Cincinnati Poet Laureate Facebook Group where members can announce activities of interest and learn about others is available here.

22 Ways To Be a Good Literary Citizen Without Spending A Dime

I love these suggestions. One of the things that I often say when other poets ask me to discuss publishing, is how we are all part of a literary ecosystem–a community of writers, readers, publishers–and each part is essential for the other to thrive. This blog from Sundress is all about such interconnection.

The Sundress Blog

Want to be a good literary citizen? On a tight budget? At Sundress we came together to bring you 22 ways that you can be a good literary citizen–for free.

1. Attend free shows.


Support your local poets by showing up to hear them read! Faces in the crowd are such an encouragement to a poet, especially if you approach them afterwards to let them know what you enjoyed about their reading. It is an easy way to become part of a community. Find events near you here: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/events or look up your local writing groups and libraries.

2. Trade books you have read for books you haven’t read: what better way to discover new literature than from other readers?


Whether you get together with a few friends and trade paperbacks over a glass of wine, or hold an advertised community book exchange, this is a great way to refresh…

View original post 1,080 more words

Happy Poetry Month to Me!

First Poet Laureate Winner

Prolific writer and longtime resident will serve two-year term

CINCINNATI – A Paddock Hills resident whose writing has been published nationally has been selected as Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate.

Pauletta Hansel was chosen from several applicants to fill the position. Ms. Hansel is a poet, memoirist, teacher and arts administrator who has lived in Cincinnati since 1979.

She is author of five poetry collections, most recently Tangle (Dos Madres Press, 2015). Pauletta’s writing has been featured in The Writer’s Almanac and American Life in Poetry, as well as in literary journals including Atlanta Review, Talisman,Appalachian Journal, Appalachian Heritage and Still: The Journal.

The Poet Laureate was selected by Mayor John Cranley, based upon the recommendations from a seven-person Advisory Committee that reviewed the applications. The appointee will serve a two-year term.

“Ms. Hansel’s writing is exquisite,” Mayor Cranley said. “Her poems evoke the type of emotional reaction and convey rich details that leave a lasting impression for the reader.”

To become the Poet Laureate, the person must have written poetry that exemplifies the characteristics or spirit of Cincinnati. Additionally, the Poet Laureate is expected to promote poetry appreciation, encourage the reading and writing of poetry throughout the city, as well as compose and read poems for special events.

Previously, Cincinnati had an official poet of the city. In January 2015, Vice Mayor Mann proposed reviving the position with a motion, signed by four City Council members, and renaming it as Cincinnati Poet Laureate.

Ms. Hansel has served as Writer in Residence at Thomas More College and is currently Writer in Residence at WordPlay Cincinnati. She leads writing workshops and retreats throughout Greater Cincinnati and elsewhere.

Ms. Hansel holds a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Human Services from Antioch University; a Master’s in Education from Xavier University; and a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Queens University in Charlotte, N.C. Also, she is managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary publication of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative; is a core member of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition and serves as a Board Member for Dos Madres Press.

Ms. Hansel lives with her husband, Owen Cramer, in Paddock Hills. A selection of her poems is attached to this release.

A formal Announcement Ceremony will be held 5:30-7 p.m. on Friday, April 15, at the Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St., 11thfloor. The event is free and open to the public.


For more information, contact Elese Daniel in Vice Mayor Mann’s office at elese.daniel@cincinnati-oh.gov or (513) 352-4611