“A Formal Feeling Comes: Finding a Form for Difficult Material” is the writing workshop author Pauletta Hansel is presenting at Brier Books in Lexington August 11.
Hansel, author of Palindrome, will explore the use of “writing forms” to generate material that could be emotionally challenging. Hansel was born and raised in eastern Kentucky and is managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Literary Journal of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative. In 2017 she was Cincinnati’s first poet laureate.
Palindrome is Pauletta Hansel’s latest book of poems and winner of the 2017 Weatherford Award for best Appalachian poetry book. She says it’s written in response to her mother’s journey through dementia and Pauletta’s own journey with her, as caregiver and as poet.
Hansel: “Because wherever I am, I am also looking through the eye of poetry and image and what our experiences tell us about what it means to be human.”
Hansel says as she was working with the poems and her experience, she found that various formal types of poems were very appealing to her.
Hansel: “It helped me take the chaos of the experience and find a way to shape it into something that gave me greater understanding of our experience and hopefully will give other readers a greater understanding of the experience of being a daughter to a mother who needed mothering from me.”
One of the forms Pauletta uses is called a “Palindrome,” She says, most simply, it’s a string of letters or numbers or words that are read the same way backwards as forwards.
Hansel: “So for example Mom, M-O-M, is a Palindrome. But a Palindrome poem often is a way of using not just single letters or even single words but lines of poetry in such a way that even though it’s read the same way backwards and forwards it has a slightly different meaning when you circle back with those words. And I found that this idea of “Palindrome”, daughter being mother to the mother, was a very useful metaphor in thinking about my time with my mom.”
CL: “How did writing Palindrome help you?”
PH: “It allowed me a very loving distance in a way in that I paid attention, in the way that a daughter pays attention, but also in the way that a poet pays attention, which allowed me to see her as someone who was very unique and beloved on the page as well as in real life. It didn’t make me any less sad. It didn’t make the loss any less real. In fact, in some ways it made it more real because I was able to go back and look at the progression on the page as well as in my own memory; but it did allow me to honor her and to honor our experience together.”
CL: How do you imagine this workshop can be helpful to people who are going through something difficult?
PH: “I think that writing, and, also writing in community with others who are also willing to share from their deepest experiences can be very healing. That sometimes there’s the expectation that we need to go through this alone. Sometimes there’s the belief system that we are the only one who are experiencing grief and that no one else is interested in hearing about our own perspective and our own needs. And very quickly a writing community will show you that none of that is true. That we are all part of this human family and part of being human means that there is loss and grief and that we can do that together.”
CL: Pauletta Hansel, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
PH: Thank you so much, Cheri.
Anchor out: Pauletta Hansel’s writing workshop at Brier Books in Lexington is August 11 at 11 a .m. It’s for anyone: seasoned writers or beginners.
She'll also do a reading at Brier books , August 10 at 6 p.m.