Poet Hansel shares stories, love of words to create, heal

Her words are precise, deliberate. Her pace is slow and measured. In her voice remains a slight sweet drawl of her native Eastern Kentucky.

As her spoken words unfold, it becomes evident that Pauletta Hansel has spent a lifetime surrounded by the lyricism of language, a language heavily influenced by the storytellers of the Appalachian Mountains, her father and communities of other writers, poets and artists.

But hers is far from the life of the solitary poet.

The award-winning author of four collections of poetry is spending this fall – as she has for years - leading community-based workshops for writers as part of the Urban Appalachian Council and through Thomas More College and the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

On Sept. 24, she and three other authors will present “Our Beloved Community,’’ a collaborative performance of story, poetry and song created by the authors and residents of Over-The-Rhine. Each author interviewed Over-The-Rhine residents, wrote from those experiences and then came together to craft the performance, which gives voice to the residents.

“This was really an opportunity to create something bigger than myself,’’ she says.  

Hansel, 53, of Paddock Hills, is also co-editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary journal of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative, and was the co-director of the Grailville Retreat in Loveland, where she continues to lead writing workshops.

Most recently, Hansel was named the first Writer-in Residence at Thomas More College in Crestview Hills.

Community and teaching have always been important to Hansel’s writing and her work is now part of repaying all those who supported – and continue to support – her work.

Her first mentor was her father, a college professor and not a writer.

“In my father’s eyes, books were more important than food,’’ she says. “It was a part of my nature and my nurture.”

She started writing poetry while a young teen as a mechanism to help her deal with the intensity and emotions of her pre-teen years. But it quickly evolved into who she was.

“I suppose it started as a verb and not as a noun; the writing started as a need to communicate to myself,” she says. “But I was a writer as opposed to the aspirational.”

Two things helped catapult her writing: She grew up during the 1970s’ resurgence of the rich tradition of Appalachian writing and storytelling; and a poet – who was part of school Poet in the Schools program - lived with her family.

“I really connected with her. Here was someone who made a living at writing and was a poet throughout her life,’’ she says.

While Hansel finds that she must set aside time by herself to write, various writing communities sustain her.

“I cannot talk enough about the value of a writing community … writing is a solitary act, but it is the act supported on the context of community.”

She recommends that writers find havens of support and places where they will be able to “drop down into that psychological space” necessary to write. For her that is an annual trip to the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse, in Nerinx, Ky., about 60 miles from Louisville. She has been going there since 1996.

Hansel finds her retreats and communities in other places as well, including in teaching.

“I love to teach. For me, writing and teaching are interconnected. It’s really good work,’’ she says. “I am so grateful for those who taught me. In the days of yore when arts and crafts were handed down through journeymen and apprentices … it’s like that to me.

“It’s like my way of passing it on.”

Do Good:
•    Attend Our Beloved Community performance at 7 p.m., Sept. 24, at the Main Library, 800 Vine St.

•    Find a writing program or retreat at grailville.org.

•    Attend an “Eat and Create” brownbag lunch with Hansel at Thomas More College from noon to 12:50 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12. The series is offered the second Wednesday of each month through December.

By Chris Graves
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.