The Poet’s Craft Blog

Our Homes: a Poem of Thanks

I am thankful for the chance to write with the young people of Pleasant Ridge Recreation Center just a day or two before Thanksgiving. May we all appreciate our homes and our families as they do.

Our Homes

by Pleasant Ridge Recreation Center’s Afterschool Program
(compiled by Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel)

My home.
When I step one foot on the floor,
I feel happy.
I feel the air on my face
and the coolness.
Home is where I hear my dog bark.
It’s where my tablet is.
I also like books.
I can see my very messy room,
with clothes and leggos.
I smell hot dogs
and the fall leaves
and the steam of the water in the shower.
When I get home
I take a long, hot shower.
I feel good. I love home.
Home is my little sister drawing on my face.
When I picture home,
I see me, my mom and my family.
Home is the best.
There’s nothing like it.
If we moved, I’d really miss it.
I can sometimes feel our cat who has died
watching over my family and me.
Home is my bro watching TV.
My favorite thing at home is dinner.
When I think of home I taste tacos.
I like food!
When I think about home,
I think about my brilliant mom,
my loving dad and my tricky brother
and I picture what I’ll look like
leaving the house when I’m older.
I see home in the sunset.
I feel my family’s warm hug.
I touch my dog’s head.
This is why I love my home.
Home is like smelling your favorite food,
or like dreaming that your house is made of candy.
Sometimes it smells like people (good or bad.)
Home is my favorite place in the world.
No matter what.
No matter where.
Home is the place you find your heart.
When I think of my home,
I smell hot popcorn popping.
When my family cooks,
it smells like I’m at home.
Home. It is where I live, and love.
Home smells like pumpkin pie.
Home feels like a feather.
Home feels like love,
especially when my family is with me.
When I am at home,
I tell myself that if it weren’t for my Mom,
I wouldn’t be here.
Home makes me feel safe,
because I know my family is protecting me
and that I have a roof over my head.
And I hope everyone has a place to call home.



Write Me, I’m Yours

What I like best about being Cincinnati Poet Laureate is connecting with other writers, so how could I resist the invitation on the Facebook page of Write Me, I’m yours!: Write with us!

Write Me, I’m yours! is a community-based effort founded by writer Michelle Dunford, who seeks to unite writers within various communities through the use of poetry, writing prompts and journal entries, and a wider audience of read-arounds and blogs. Michelle’s original project, developed as her Capstone Project for her graduation from Starfire University was to bring together writers and their words, through the placement of communal journals in a variety of locations in Cincinnati (schools, coffee shops, churches, senior citizens, libraries,) with the hope of inspiring creative responses to all the big questions in the universe (and maybe some small ones, too). An offspring of this is a bi-monthly writing circle held every other Tuesday at the Rohs Café in Clifton Heights. I had the honor of writing with Michelle and her group of writers this month, including Eva Lewandowski who helps guide the group. The poem that follows includes writing from each of us. You can connect with these fine writers on their community Facebook page at

Being Home

I feel most myself
putting one step after another,
the same two feet
measuring out thousands of footsteps.
I lift my feet to the crazy change itself,
to the sound of music.
I hear the river,
a pack of coyotes having a howl.
Overhead a turkey buzzard
lazily swirls on an updraft
in a cerulean blue sky—
absolutely clear—no puffs, whatsoever.
I shuffle up the stone steps,
like climbing out of a dark cave.
As I meander along there are
crashes in the crisp fallen leaves,
two black squirrels
hopscotching one another
over the tree, and all
that seems to exist
is one step after another.
I love the flat places best.

I do not feel whole unless I feel safe.
When sharing space and struggles
with my best friend,
her empathy pantomimes my heart,
pushes through the turnstile of ancient iron bars,
refilling it from that drought between visits.
My baby and my best friend, my sister.
We sang every night;
we sang ourselves to sleep;
we sang on the swing set;
we sang in whispers and giggles,
and I feel giddy listening.
We breathed each other in,
the person who was used to being
the only one in the room,
working its way to two.
It’s a strange mystical time.
In my twilight state,
I hear my dad whisper,
“You are Beautiful.”
But Mom, seeing mom—
this is home.

The places that are sacred to me
are places of reflection—water and sky,
past and present,
mirrored glass and pen in hand.
My important places.
The feel of the page
as I turn one—crisp and thick.
One syllable following the next.
The places that are sacred to me
are those where we come together
to go inward.
A real place is inside of us,
our partial-particle-becoming-whole self.
Listen! Listen!
We are not alone.

Composed by Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel with lines by Ellen Austin-Li, Michelle Dunford, Pauletta Hansel, Daveen Knue, Nat Kutcher, Paula Kutcher, Eva Lewandowski, Preeti Parikh, Claudia Reilly, Susan Scardina, Annette Januzzi Wick and Deidra Wiley—Write Me I’m Yours, November 15, 2016.










MYCincinnati: If We Were Music

If you were music, what might you do? This is the question I put to members of MYCincinnati (Music for Youth in Cincinnati), a free youth orchestra program in Price Hill. Founded on the idea that personal transformation can be achieved by striving towards musical excellence, MYCincinnati offers children (and now adults, too!) in Price Hill the opportunity to learn violin, viola, cello, bass, flute, or clarinet, and play in an orchestra. MYCincinnati is inspired by El Sistema, Venezuela’s revolutionary youth orchestra program that uses music as a vehicle for social change. Led with energetic gentleness by the amazing Eddy Kwon, and consisting of 110 musicians, MYCincinnati is a true Cincinnati treasure.

So what would these community musicians do if they embodied the music they play? They would keep doing what they are already doing, inspiring through their exuberant embrace of their community and the sweet sounds it makes. But don’t take just my word for it! Experience it for yourself. MYCincinnati is celebrating its 5 Year Anniversary on Friday, October 28th, 6:30 – 8:00 PM in a free concert at Community Matters, 2104 St. Michael Street, Lower Price Hill. Please join us for an evening full of music, reflection, recognition, and celebration—and hear the premiere performance of the group poem we created:

MyCincinnati: Our Music

If I were music I would roam the streets.
I would skip around through people’s feet.
I would go to concerts
and be proud of my music.
If I were music I would put on a show
for people to see,
and every time they think,
they think of me.
They will accept me by my music.
If I were music my main goal
would fuel my soul.
I’d make people feel
that anything is possible
and for change,
happy and hopeful
for things to be awesome.
If I were music I would remind you
of something that had happened
or something that would happen in the future.
I’d crack the concrete
so that pretty flowers would bloom.
If I were music—
disappear the I,
eat the you.
My belly would be full
with all the right tastes—
sweet, salty, sour and green—
sleep coming like a heavy blanket.
What’s most beautiful about music
is that it connects me to you.
I would rock your body in rhythm to our sound,
the whole room moving together as one.
I would make people joy.

Composed by Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel with words by Keyonte Ervin, Pauletta Hansel, Eddy Kwon, Christopher Penman, Corry Penman, Jayden Thrasher, Tamara Thrasher, Trinity Thrasher, Ziuad Tooles and Carroll Wallace.


Lower Price Hill is…. The Lower Price Hill Women’s Group

Earlier this week I had the privilege of meeting with the Lower Price Hill Women’s Group at Santa Maria Community Services’ new space on Glenway. Nancy Laird, Donna Jones, Melissa Cornelius and a half dozen or so other Lower Price Hill movers and shakers shared their neighborhood with me. They talked, I wrote it down as fast as I could, and then we crafted poems from what they told me. Here’s what we made. I hope you also treasure this glimpse inside a very special community.

Lower Price Hill

Lower Price Hill is
bringing dishes for each other’s families
when comfort is needed:
Donna’s meatloaf, the other Donna’s
“beangemese,” Sue’s loaded potatoes,
Patty’s baked beans (but I like her potato salad),
Lori’s mashed potatoes,
Steve’s chocolate cake,
(I bring the pop) and oh my God,
your pineapple-upside-down-cake
is the bomb!
And Julie brings, brings, brings—
she gives, gives, gives.

Lower Price Hill is
Mattie always saying, “Why weren’t you at church!”
Donna saying, “Let’s go eat, Sue!”
(No matter where we are
it’s always about food.) Fred says,
“Let’s get that haunted house going!”
and Jim, “We’ve gotta have something for the kids,”
(They’re on their third generation of Lower Price Hill kids.)

Lower Price Hill is
everyone always doing something for someone.

Lower Price Hill is
our joy, our pride, our pain, our sorrow.

It’s where family doesn’t necessarily mean blood.

Composed by Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel with words by The Lower Price Hill Women’s Group

Tommy O

“We’ve had a lot of loss.”

“Hey, Mom,” he’d say to Donna,
pucker to kiss her cheek,
“The girls are okay today!”
(But don’t get him started on Connie!)
He’d be up around Meiser’s,
before Nancy’d be parked, he’d be at the car,
asking, “What can I carry today?”
(Usually it was her purse.)
He’d say, “I’m Nancy’s right-hand man!”
But he had some left-hand people too.

This summer he got shot in the leg,
it was a ricochet, no hospital would keep him,
thank God the bullet didn’t hit a bone.
It was pushing up and when they finally
took it out and Nancy changed the dressing,
she found a wad of blue jean in the wound.
After that it healed well.

When he wasn’t on his meds
he could be hard to deal with,
wearing his robe and flashing everyone.
Once he shot the stop sign there on State,
flashbacks to the war.
On his meds nothing could rile him.
He always had trinkets for the kids.

This fall his heart couldn’t take it anymore.
After the first heart attack, he walked all the way
up the long hospital driveway, pajamas and socks.
You can’t keep a good man down,
that was Tommy.
After the second,
twenty minutes without oxygen,
he’s not the Tommy we know.

His presence is already missed
in Lower Price Hill.
On Sunday, Reverend Nelsa
showed the empty offering basket
before she sent it round—
all the pennies and quarters and dimes
Tommy would have picked up from the street—
not there.
A war veteran on paper,
a Lower Price Hill veteran by heart:
that’s Tommy O.

Composed by Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel with words by The Lower Price Hill Women’s Group.

The State of Us: Cincinnati, 2016

In honor of our Mayor’s upcoming State of the City address, I invited poets from throughout Cincinnati to send their responses to the prompt “The State of Our City, 2016,” for me to weave into a poem carrying our varied perspectives. Here is the result, by twists and turns candid, appreciative, reproachful, humorous, compassionate—and ultimately hopeful. We, the poets, present:

Cincinnati: The State of Us, 2016

She first blooms, a surprise beauty,
blossoming between the Cut in the Hill,
Queen of the West in her 21st Century dressed.
Can you find her?
We’re the south south side of Chicago, an easy commute
by a not-yet-built fast train. It’s a slow
rumble now, easing through Indiana
as fragrance from the Shasta Viburnums
waft throughout the seven hills.
By some calculations,
fifty-two equals one
city, seven hills and
a river to bound it,
above a hidden unfinished underground
of metal and glass.
At dawn, over the river
rises a haze of contradiction.
This is a city of neighborhoods,
the kind expressways divide.
We make do: our beach,
a waterpark; our parks
no Central Park
but forests and woods,
an island of homes
between the garden cemetery
and the factory.
Our parks are beautiful and free.
Colorful murals paint a story
on walls left blank from another era.
We count as neighbors both the blind wanting walls
and the unseen paying for their construction.
We carry our stained-glass decisions carefully packaged.
The Island of Misfits has become Disneyland…
(In a big sports town that plays on words,
everybody knows the cabin cleaning nits
aren’t in the same league as the nine rancid tics.)
Adding attractions are important, but the people?
Who gives a damn? I see them again and again,
men and women, lying or sitting
on the steps of the stately old church,
some clutching bags of clothes,
others with nothing.
The night is dark, bordering on cold
and I wonder who they are,
why they are there.
The name of the street?
The highs? The lows?
Who can read such weather?
At Findlay Market, 10:03 AM,
fallen unnoticed in flat November light,
one too-ripe-to-sweet-soft strawberry lies
like a cat’s heart on cold pavement.
At Walnut and Sixth,
blue sky hangs framed from skywalk roof to floor
to sidewalk. Hey! It’s under there!!
My city’s under there!!!
(No matter how deep you bury it in money,
the love and loss leak out…)
Careless on my bike, I got my permanent
teeth knocked out on Tweed near Linwood.
My Cincinnati metaphor: decades of trauma
with just the crooked smile I needed to cope.
The people, we’re who
give a damn. By some calculations
300,000 equals one
people spread among hills and vales,
villes and gates, parks and woods and sides
and mounts and dales and heights.
We know where East and West meet
but does each have an ending?
Because Race Street only runs one way
(runs rough to our river,)
because the city-county line
is not just a dotted streak on a map
but a pulse that won’t quit
throbbing through the veins
of our streets with people,
a linchpin people made of fifty-two pips:
our city is definitely alive!

Composed by Pauletta Hansel with lines by Ellen Austin-Li, Valerie Chronis Bickett, Michael Burnham, Owen Cramer, Sean Foster, Jonathan Goolsby, Richard Hague, Pauletta Hansel, Michael Henson, Annie Hinkle, Pam Hirte, Bucky Ignatius, Linda Busken Jergens, Theresa Kulbaga, Steven Paul Lansky, Jai Washington, Scott Whitehurst, Annette Wick, Sue Wilke and Tyrone Williams.

A reading of the poem:

Lyric Essentials: Pauletta Hansel reads “The Hug” by Tess Gallagher.

I am honored to be included in Sundress Publications’ “Lyric Essentials” reading Tess Gallagher’s wonderful poem, “The Hug” and talking about the intimate power of narrative poetry.

The Sundress Blog

tangle-author-photo-2Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Pauletta Hansel reads “The Hug” by Tess Gallagher.

Pauletta, this is a wonderful poem you’ve read for us today. I’m not sure if Gallagher or her work need an introduction, but do you remember your first experience with her poetry? What do enjoy most about Gallagher’s work?

Pauletta: Chris, I think the first poem of Tess Gallagher’s I read was “I Stop Writing the Poem” “about” (ostensibly) interrupting writing to take care of the laundry, which always gives me an immediate ping of recognition—the tangle of art and life and memory. I am drawn to narrative poems, both in reading and writing. To poems where the story itself is the metaphor for some larger story. Gallagher does this especially well…

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Northside, Night and Day

In August I had the pleasure of leading my first Cincinnati Walking Sonnet group—a new Poet Laureate project in which I invite poets to take a walk in one of our 52 neighborhoods, drafting a 14 line poem along the way. A full description of the project can be found here, as well links to instructions for the sonnet walk and to an ever-growing group of poems written on these walks.

Our first group foray was in the Northside neighborhood where I lived for many years. It was hosted by Chase Public, a small volunteer organization with a prodigious output of activities and talent. Seven poets participated, and from our seven poems I created an additional sonnet pair, Northside: Night and Day. I hope you enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoyed composing it!


Northside Nocturne

I must be dreaming we must be dreaming we
drop puddles on gravel and see what grows
through the mural, bright blues, greens. Brilliant
oak tree’s wise nod above it all. Clatter
and strands of ivy shelter noisy birds.
Storefronts stocked with pitchforks and stuffed bears.
Some dreams are accidents, conceived ad hoc
on a leash. The american dream remains
another world—not here. Porch strung with lights,
though the funeral home is long dead,
turret over its rosy door. Word Alive,
this aching love, ever denied me.
No revelation lurks backside Taco Bell;
inspiration needs a good night’s sleep.

Northside Aubade

Sun opened warm on my shoulder, shrugged
through red bricked alleys, pooled with morning rain.
Every day life happens alongside hope;
pink clovers sprouting from cigar tip. Red
sagging rooflines and cheap UDF beer—
a crazy quilt of movement, sight and sound
playing the mystery mixer’s song. Shadows
ride a cosmic horse with insect wings.
A grey galaxy is spinning outside
this block like where grandma’s liquor store stood.
Cicada shells hang empty from a pole—
spontaneous permanence; three circles.
The quiet library. Garbage and smoke—
the phrase the american dream holds so much.
Composed by Pauletta Hansel with lines by Ellen Austin-Li, Cris Cheek, Leslie Clark, Owen Cramer, Pauletta Hansel, Scott Holzman and Nina Knueven. You can read the poems in their entirety here.

The next Cincinnati Walking Sonnet Workshop is October 29, 2016, 10:30 am to 1:00 pm at the Mercantile Library, Downtown. Visit Poet Laureate Events for info on this and other activities.


The Cincinnati Walking Sonnet Project is adapted from Rosa Alcalá’s “A Walking Petrarchan Sonnet” in Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry