The Cincinnati Walking Sonnets

Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel’s Walking Sonnet Project invites poets to take a walk in one of the city’s 52 neighborhoods, drafting a 14 line poem along the way. We hope you enjoy these poems written on our city’s streets.Do you have a Cincinnati Walking Sonnet of your own? (Instructions can be found here.) Please send it to me and let me know if I can include it on this page.


Clark to Clark—A Sonnet Walk x 2

Beginning in the east, ending in the west,
us kids are powerwalking through her hood.
We speed past, missing the house for sale,
smell of sweet flowers, musical wind chimes,
plastic bag flying through the air, trash all
the way. Some sidewalks are like people, cracked,
broken and damaged. A drum tempo makes
a heartbeat in the wind when you 180
back the way you came. Ivy creeps closer,
threatening entangled ankles, rosebud trees
rising up against the unknown. April
is the cruelest month, says the man waving
American flags, the white stark against
the parade of blue shining in the light.

Trees without leaves give the leaf blower no
job. Birds chirping a weird birdish sound, cars
driving, children playing and water sprinkling
the blue blob drawn in chalk on the playground
blacktop. Redeemer Preschool, not a kid
in sight, but a dead mouse on the sidewalk.
We’re in Hyde Park, so of course it is Black,
the wind that made me feel powerful too
as if I was the one to change the world.
A nice, neighborly man with sprinklers
to help the heat tells me of poems I don’t
recall. This is me leaving my high school.
Nothing will stop me from wanting to be home.
Wherever I go, this is where I’m from.

Andrea Rotter’s Creative Writing Class
Compiled by Cincinnati Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel

The Downtown Poems, October 29, 2016 (The Mercantile Library) Click here to read a sonnet composed with lines from all these poems.

Cincinnati Art
by Susan Scardina

Large clay pots of yellow marigolds grace
the curb. Charley Harper exhibit at
Fab Frames and Art, Bromwell’s, antiques, and my
sister’s painting, Full Belly Laugh, hangs in
Macy’s window. It’s a pear? Where’s the mouth?
Carew Tower – the Plaza, Orchids, art
deco – is home to Hathaway’s Diner;
not many more of my favorite things.
Strolling the arcade alone, I look to
refresh, look to soak up ‘20’s icons.
They rekindle my imagination,
flirt with me, remind me of girlhood days
gone forever. Many memories made
walking, shopping, lunching, never to fade.

Downtown Walking

by Preeti Parikh

Hot dog stand-smell, a red and white canopy;
up in the wrought iron balconies, four ashen-
faced figurines in white robes and shawls,
their long skeletal fingers beseeching;
a sign on a storefront says–Safeguarding
the children–elsewhere–Divine love always has
met and always will meet every human need;
a homeless man, an etching in a stone facade;
a pink lotus on a green leaf (Saigon Subs and Rolls);
cascading rows of seats in the Paul Brown Stadium;
mounting traffic noise, a well dressed man asking
for spare change. I balk, clam up, walk back past
four porcelain doll jars with fancy hats for lids, and
balloons at the Square–primary colors, primary needs.

Fourth Street Elegy
by Pauletta Hansel

New streetcar serenades the old Dixie
Terminal. Shop Local says the empty
storefront as a single bell peals above
jackhammers crumbling the Pogue Garage.
Traffic heads north to Over the Rhine
and south to the stadium, the bridges,
the river beyond. My shadow lurks
within downtown’s shadow of itself. Pay
here in advance. Too late. No trespassing
in a grove of gingkoes along the highway
out of here. Nothing saved that Savings
and Bank. Use revolving door to Available
for Less. Deconstruction workers now hard
at lunch. 3CDC: Pardon our Mess.

My Pretties
by Susan Scardina

A woman tries to buy a cig from me;
then “you bitch” she calls as I cringe and walk.
Down the street Mr. Trotta hawks the fine
clothes she and I both long to afford. We
may now be in disparate circumstance,
who knows when that might change for either one.
Turn the corner to find the Renaissance –
awe; but further on loom the shells of great
stores with names of Cincinnati now gone.
The buildings still sport their gorgeous facades.
I linger over Herschede’s and adore
Gidding Jenny but the one I miss most
is Pogue’s. Of this there is no real vestige.
Pink bridge over the arcade – memory.




The Association
by Susan Scardina

Pink. That’s how I remember the windowed
bridge over the arcade in Pogues where Mom
treated me to a sundae or sandwich.
The best was the Junior Department right
at one end. If Mom didn’t take me, my friends
and I went. We shopped like we had never
been in a store; and maybe bought knee socks.
Once, ‘SAI put a fake jukebox there
to record song requests played later on
the air. For a dime I did it – asked for
Cherish “with love” to my boyfriend. It played
one night and my dedication went out.
Our two high schools heard, teased us plenty, but
Chris was in heaven. His kisses affirmed.

The Queen’s City
by Nina Knueven

Bengal striped soirées stumble through construction
to greet you in our world. Marble eagles
watch your uncertain steps—don’t feed the birds.
You speculate the names who have rotated
within my buildings; it’s true many have
circulated through me, but I have saved
myself for you. Your eyes are a gift to
my sweeping skyscrapers lavished in gold
lace, floral etchings aiming to please. Park here
at 7th & Vine. Engines don’t backfire around
Hustler glowing red. Ghosts call out from the
beguiling balconies “entrance only.”
My fountain is flowing thick with intentions;
skate on my ice and enjoy your cigarette.

Walk with Me
by Susan Scardina

Walnut Street centers imagination.
The Nutcracker plays here now every year.
New is the mural of Neil on the moon.
He took the world along as we watched him
on the tube all cavorting and golfing.
Ponderous, the courthouse stands tall in stride
with its long, tall windows. Like a lighthouse
this beacon of justice points the true way.
Genius of Water, lovely fountain by
Tyler Davidson casts characters to
depict Cincinnati’s river heritage.
They like to spray us and beckon us to
join ‘round year ‘round and play or pray at the
base as life sends victory or defeat.




The Northside Poems, August 17, 2016 (Chase Public Workshop) Click here to read a sonnet pair composed with lines from all these poems.

Brookside to Hamilton to Vandalia to Apple to Palm and vice versa
Scott Holzman

Some dreams are accidents, conceived ad hoc
spontaneous permanence; three circles.
Landmark where visitors can park cars, the
unobserved turns into autopilot
trust, remains in the shadow of progress.
Cuts through the expectation of order,
Harder to care about than describe when
well kept; the weeds have been recently pulled.
Every day life happens alongside hope.
Drop puddles on gravel and see what grows,
aim for organic and affordable-
breathe deep; even with a knife in your hand.
Do not dare take a shortcut through sickness,
maturity is won hard over time.


A Northside Walking Sonnet by Nina Knueven

A grey galaxy is spinning outside
the quiet library. Garbage and smoke—
stale sticky air—stalk the farmer’s market.

A child rides his bike around the hole to
hit the phone pole; black stray cats see. Crackling
through the mural, bright blues, greens, brilliant.

Another world—not here. Porch strung with lights,
always waiting for fiesta. The church
for sale shadows Jesus carrying the
cross, a fire-escape one cannot reach. While
the tired man tells me I’m beautiful &
the car says “artwork is work,” ivy re
claims domain. Luminous painted trim re
vives lifeless bricks by the weeping willows.


Northside, Beer to Beer
Owen Cramer

Sagging rooflines and cheap UDF beer,
this block like where grandma’s liquor store stood.
Try the feta pizza; it’s really good.
Garbage night and everyone has some here.
Word Alive Christian Fellowship never said
why wrought iron is so wrought up anyway.
No trespassing. Authorized parkers only,
though the funeral home is long dead.

Karaoke Chameleon blends in well
but naming a street Vandal is not right,
like calling one Apple with none in sight.
No revelation lurks backside Taco Bell
and the front side is not a lot better.
I’m out of blocks now. Time for that beer.


Northside Sonnet
Leslie Clark

Through red bricked alleys, pooled with morning rain,
the neighborhood, inviting, draws me in.
Graffiti, tattoos, posters on display,
a crazy quilt of movement, sight and sound.
Cicada chirring fills the humid air
and strands of ivy shelter noisy birds.
Storefronts stocked with pitchforks and stuffed bears,
treadle sewing machines, repaired guitars.

I turn and see a garden tucked away,
with twining vines and pink and coral flowers,
a peace pole in the corner holds the hope
“May peace prevail forever on the Earth.”
Feet tired, sun fades. I rest on a blue bench.
Two dogs in tandem, sniff and lick my toes.



Northside Walking Sonnet
Pauletta Hansel

Pink clovers sprouting from cigar tip. Red
and black framed door frames red and black clad me.
Cicada shell hangs empty from a pole.
Skinny white cat shadows skinny white man.
Cosmos, canna; black-eyed Susans are all
eyes—somewhere there’s a house behind. “Complete
protection.” Sign on a car says, “Home.” “Rent this
dumpster” mouth: Billy with four f-ng girls…
Oak tree’s wise nod above it all. Clatter
of trash cans, litter of leaves; eggplant,
tomatoes in ratatouille yard. “Closed” reads
the open door. Prayer flags’ ragged wave from
rusted fire escape. Church for sale. Fairytale
turret over its rosy door. Word Alive.




Chasing the phrase, the american dream
Cris Cheek

The phrase the american dream, holds so much
promise, but the american dream, has been,
on a leash . the american dream remains

a re-Furby, being cute down to sighs. Drains
an upgrade, this american dream, was, made
available, policed by overgrown hands

and wings in broken paving cleaned our pets up
playing the mystery mixer’s song shadows.

Once a child, on a swing, desires to take you
higher, but now that swing is still, abandoned.
I must be dreaming we must be dreaming we
are the situation. We have been contained.

Don’t stop the music, there, to deter people
without homes to go from, lowering the toned.

Cris says about his walk: “Available”’ is from the word on the building opposite Urban Artifact, similarly “drains.” The swing is in Hoffner Park, the mixer is rehashed from a sign on the mixing desk in The Smoking Loon as I was walking around. The bit about sound at the end from the sound played outside the United Dairy kind of opposite Chase Public . Having just lumbered through, it does read very slow and I like that sense of walking deliberation too, in the spirit of the wander and looking and thinking. I talked it in to voice memo file on my phone, transcribed that talking and then somewhat reorganized it.”  Here is a photo from his walk: 





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