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.

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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?
Liberty.
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…

View original post 1,290 more words

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

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.

But—but—
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.

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

 

 

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.