Monday, June 10, 2019

#110 Backstory of the Poem "When You Ask Me to Tell You About My Father" by Pauletta Hansel

*The images in this specific piece are granted copyright privilege by:  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.

**Some of the links will have to be copied and then posted in your search engine in order to pull up properly

*** The CRC Blog welcomes submissions from published and unpublished poets for BACKSTORY OF THE POEM series.  Contact CRC Blog via email at or personal Facebook messaging at

***This is #110 in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem.  All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece. 

#110 Backstory of the Poem
“When You Ask Me to Tell You About My Father”
by Pauletta Hansel

Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form? “When You Ask Me to Tell You About My Father” began as an in-class exercise for the Draft to Craft Poetry class that I teach, using an assignment that I borrowed from Rebecca Gayle Howell. The activity—we paired up and each poet interviewed the other about his or her father. (In Rebecca’s class at the Appalachian Writers Workshop the interviews were about our mothers.) 
     Then we wrote a poem about the other poet’s father and then eventually about our own, using the other poet’s poem and interview notes.  So, when I sat down to write this poem, I had a specific reader in mind—Drew, my student and fellow poet—alongside my usual mix of internal/external audience (I am writing to better understand the subject/I am writing to be understood).  
     It began longhand, as almost all my poems do, and this poem began as a poem/prose hybrid, which is a little unusual—I usually know right away if I am writing prose or essay. 
     I moved from written page to typed page the same day—at least in part because I was taking the draft to class with me the same week. In my mind I was filling in the gaps of what I had shared in the interview, as well as including info I had given Drew. Drew had also shared his notes from the interview, so I had those to refer to. Most of what was in the notes showed up in the poem, some in a roundabout way (the description of Dad’s Christmas bulb nose was probably influenced by me saying he made a good Santa).
Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail. The interview with Drew was in the hallway of the Thomas More University English Department—no one else was around, so we had privacy—bright fluorescent lights and a Formica topped table. Next to the copy machine.
     I drafted the poem in our guest bedroom. There’s a daybed where I sprawl out to right longhand. My husband’s books are in that room—mostly Civil War and other military history. Lots of quilts and pillows on the daybed, quilt rack behind the bed and also a hat rack with my collection of hats mostly from the 40s and 50s. Hooked floral rug which, amazingly, my cat does not like to scratch. My stepdaughter says the room is haunted, mostly because it has old stuff in it. But I often start poems there, so maybe it is poem-haunted, too.

What month and year did you start writing this poem? The class when we did the interviews was in late September 2017 and the poem was drafted in early or mid-October. (Right)

How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?)

     I have the handwritten draft, plus five typed versions. I’m sharing the handwritten version (with some mark-ups) and the first and final drafts—I don’t have pen markings on the typed drafts—I worked on the computer at that point. The title came with the first typed draft. I also added line breaks, though I kept the long prose-like lines. In one version it looked sort of like the profile of a face, which was sort of cool, and I tried to keep that, but it didn’t work with intentional line breaks.

Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version? And can you share them with us? Mostly I made minor adjustments, but I took out an early line describing the Christmas bulb as “ the ones from the fifties, not/the fairy lights you’d not find him on a ladder trying to install—“ as it was tangential (though descriptive of his lack of interest in being handy around the house!). I will say that I went back and forth with the sentence, “That has to be/a symbol of something, that book,…” At least one reader felt like it was too self-conscious, but I ultimately decided that the poem as a direct address had an element of self-awareness that made the sentence fit the aesthetic of the poem—plus it was an echo back to the poem’s beginning line. (Above Right:  Pauletta's father in the 1950s)

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? This poem tends to have an emotional impact on its listeners when I read it aloud, and I am glad of that. It is about loss, of course, and how little we know of our parents, no matter how we try. The poem has intentional line breaks, but it presents as a prose poem, and thus it makes me read it that way as well, with a sort of tumbling breathless quality, like I am trying to get it all in. (Above Left:  Baby Pauletta with her father)
     I hope that carries over to the reader when it is on the page. There is also something in the poem that is “about” reading a life as text, with its metaphors and serendipities, its mysteries and kismet, and as a memoirist and a poet who works from life and memory, that is part of my own purpose of writing—to make literature from life. (Right:  Father and Daughter)
Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why?  When I got to the part in the draft about the book on Dad’s lap when he died, I knew I had to go find that book. I had written about it before in a memoir piece, but that was before we had saved it from the trash, and I didn’t know the book’s title. And then, when we did rescue it, it was during such an emotional time, cleaning out Mom’s house after her move to the nursing home in 2015, and so much of my energy had been given to caring for my Mom with dementia -- and my personal writing until I gave that assignment was also mostly about Mom— Palindrome, a whole book devoted to her came out right about the time I wrote this poem. So finally searching out the book, learning the title and seeing its relationship to the poem I was writing—the poem’s ending felt like a little gift from Dad. That he was still with me, helping me see him and the world through his eyes. (I guess another way that room is haunted!)

Has this poem been published before? And if so where?
Yes, in Appalachian Heritage, Winter 2018:
to-tell-you-about-my-father/  It Is in my new collection of poetry, Coal Town Photograph, out from Dos Madres Press in Spring 2019

Anything you would like to add? Thanks for the opportunity

When You Ask Me to Tell You About My Father

What’s left is the myth of him, the words we use, scrawled symbols
to remind us he was there. A jumble of body parts: skinny legs, a lap,
eyes that were not his without the glasses that left permanent dents
on his Christmas bulb nose, and if he was the heart of us, he turned
into a broken heart too full for its cage. A broken everything—left
shoulder, right hip that would not stop him walking. He had a high
threshold for pain, though his mind was drowning in it, a river pouring
through the doors, and anybody close would have to get a little wet.
Did I forget to tell you about his mother who died of the consumption,
his father who’d come around to drink the money from his piggybank?
Myth, more myth, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t true. Did we talk
about his books, or just the Lexipro, before then the I’m OK, You’re OK
that saved his life back in the 70s? I know we talked about the churches
that he left, though it was never about leaving God, who’d spoken just
to him, told him to read. Books again, more books; so many books we
carted out the door, boxes of them in the weeks before and after. Did I
tell you there was one that slid off his lap when he died? That has to be
a symbol of something, the book, the way it kept getting lost and being
found. Afterwards my mother saved it, labeled with a note she’d written
on a sticky from a memo pad printed with the words, “Things To Do,”
but we found it in her basement, clearing out her stuff, in a pile left
for the trash. Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling, the abridged edition.
He’d got it secondhand, his name scrawled beneath the price tag on
the flyleaf, and as it says there in the foreword, “any abridgement
has its unhappy compromises” and this story I’m telling you, it is
not my father, it’s only what is left.

Pauletta Hansel is author of seven poetry collections, including Coal Town Photograph (Dos Madres Press, 2019) and Palindrome (Dos Madres Press, 2017), winner of the 2017 Weatherford Award for best Appalachian poetry book. Pauletta was Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate (2016- 2018) and is artist in residence at Thomas More University. She is managing editor of Pine Moun­tain Sand & Gravel, the literary publication of Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative and leads writing workshops and retreats in the Greater Cincinnati area and beyond. Visit her website at


001  December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”

006 February 03, 2018
Susan Sundwall’s “The Ringmaster”

007 February 09, 2018
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”

008 February 17, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead”

009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”

010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

011 March 10, 2018
Anya Francesca Jenkins’s “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph “History Abandoned”

012  March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week”

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”

015 April 14, 2018
Marilyn Kallett’s “Ode to Disappointment”

016  April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”

017  May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”

018  May 25, 2018

019  June 09, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “Stiletto Killer. . . A Surmise”

020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”

021  July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”

022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”

023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”

024  July 27, 2018
Telaina Eriksen’s “Brag 2016”

025  August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s “It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”

026  August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”

027  August 13, 2018
Gloria Mindock’s “Carmen Polo, Lady Necklaces, 2017”

028  August 21, 2018
Connie Post’s “Two Deaths”

029  August 30, 2018
Mary Harwell Sayler’s “Faces in a Crowd”

030 September 16, 2018
Larry Jaffe’s “The Risking Point”

031  September 24, 2018
Mark Lee Webb’s “After We Drove”

032  October 04, 2018
Melissa Studdard’s “Astral”

033 October 13, 2018
Robert Craven’s “I Have A Bass Guitar Called Vanessa”

034  October 17, 2018
David Sullivan’s “Paper Mache Peaches of Heaven”

035 October 23, 2018
Timothy Gager’s “Sobriety”

036  October 30, 2018
Gary Glauber’s “The Second Breakfast”

037  November 04, 2018
Heather Forbes-McKeon’s “Melania’s Deaf Tone Jacket”

038 November 11, 2018
Andrena Zawinski’s “Women of the Fields”

039  November 00, 2018
Gordon Hilger’s “Poe”

040 November 16, 2018
Rita Quillen’s “My Children Question Me About Poetry” and “Deathbed Dreams”

041 November 20, 2018
Jonathan Kevin Rice’s “Dog Sitting”

042 November 22, 2018
Haroldo Barbosa Filho’s “Mountain”

043  November 27, 2018
Megan Merchant’s “Grief Flowers”

044 November 30, 2018
Jonathan P Taylor’s “This poem is too neat”

045  December 03, 2018
Ian Haight’s “Sungmyo for our Dead Father-in-Law”

046 December 06, 2018
Nancy Dafoe’s “Poem in the Throat”

047 December 11, 2018
Jeffrey Pearson’s “Memorial Day”

048  December 14, 2018
Frank Paino’s “Laika”

049  December 15, 2018
Jennifer Martelli’s “Anniversary”

O50  December 19, 2018
Joseph Ross’s For Gilberto Ramos, 15, Who Died in the Texas Desert, June 2014”

051 December 23, 2018
“The Persistence of Music”
by Anatoly Molotkov

052  December 27, 2018
“Under Surveillance”
by Michael Farry

053  December 28, 2018
“Grand Finale”
by Renuka Raghavan

054  December 29, 2018
by Gene Barry

055 January 2, 2019
by Larissa Shmailo

056  January 7, 2019
“The Seamstress:
by Len Kuntz

057  January 10, 2019
"Natural History"
by Camille T Dungy

058  January 11, 2019
by Brian Burmeister

059  January 12, 2019
by Clint Margrave

060 January 14, 2019
by Pat Durmon

061 January 19, 2019
“Neptune’s Choir”
by Linda Imbler

062  January 22, 2019
“Views From the Driveway”
by Amy Barone

063  January 25, 2019
“The heron leaves her haunts in the marsh”
by Gail Wronsky

064  January 30, 2019
by Terry Lucas

065 February 02, 2019
“Summer 1970, The University of Virginia Opens to Women in the Fall”
by Alarie Tennille

066 February 05, 2019
“At School They Learn Nouns”
by Patrick Bizzaro

067  February 06, 2019
“I Must Not Breathe”
by Angela Jackson-Brown

068 February 11, 2019
“Lunch on City Island, Early June”
by Christine Potter

069 February 12, 2019
by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

070 February 14, 2019
“Daily Commute”
by Christopher P. Locke

071 February 18, 2019
“How Silent The Trees”
by Wyn Cooper

072 February 20, 2019
“A New Psalm of Montreal”
by Sheenagh Pugh

073 February 23, 2019
“Make Me A Butterfly”
by Amy Barbera

074 February 26, 2019
by Sandy Coomer

075 March 4, 2019
“Shape of a Violin”
by Kelly Powell

076 March 5, 2019
“Inward Oracle”
by J.P. Dancing Bear

077 March 7, 2019
“I Broke My Bust Of Jesus”
by Susan Sundwall

078 March 9, 2019
“My Mother at 19”
by John Guzlowski

079 March 10, 2019
by Chera Hammons Miller

080 March 12, 2019
“Of Water and Echo”
by Gillian Cummings

081   082   083    March 14, 2019
“Little Political Sense”   “Crossing Kansas with Jim
Morrison”  “The Land of Sky and Blue Waters”
by Dr. Lindsey Martin-Bowen

084 March 15, 2019
“A Tune To Remember”
by Anna Evans

085 March 19, 2019
“At the End of Time (Wish You Were Here)
by Jeannine Hall Gailey

086 March 20, 2019
“Garden of Gethsemane”
by Marletta Hemphill

087 March 21, 2019
“Letters From a War”
by Chelsea Dingman

088 March 26, 2019
by Bob Heman

089 March 27, 2019
“Clay for the Potter”
by Belinda Bourgeois

#090 March 30, 2019
“The Pose”
by John Hicks

#091 April 2, 2019
“Last Night at the Wursthaus”
by Doug Holder

#092 April 4, 2019
“Original Sin”
by Diane Lockward

#093 April 5, 2019
“A Father Calls to his child on liveleak”
by Stephen Byrne

#094 April 8, 2019
by Marc Zegans

#095 April 12, 2019
“Landscape and Still Life”
by Marjorie Maddox

#096 April 16, 2019
“Strawberries Have Been Growing Here for Hundreds of
by Mary Ellen Lough

#097 April 17, 2019
“The New Science of Slippery Surfaces”
by Donna Spruijt-Metz

#098 April 19, 2019
“Tennessee Epithalamium”
by Alyse Knorr

#099 April 20, 2019
“Mermaid, 1969”
by Tameca L. Coleman

#100 April 21, 2019
“How Do You Know?”
by Stephanie

#101 April 23, 2019
“Rare Book and Reader”
by Ned Balbo

#102 April 26, 2019
by Jefferson Carter

#103 May 01, 2019
“The sight of a million angels”
by Jenneth Graser

#104 May 09, 2019
“How to tell my dog I’m dying”
by Richard Fox

#105 May 17, 2019
“Promises Had Been Made”
by Sarah Sarai

#106 June 01, 2019
“i sold your car today”
by Pamela Twining

#107 June 02, 2019
“Abandoned Stable”
by Nancy Susanna Breen

#108 June 05, 2019
by Julene Tripp Weaver

#109 June 6, 2019
“Bobby’s Story”
by Jimmy Pappas

#110 June 10, 2019
“When You Ask Me to Tell You About My Father”
by Pauletta Hansel

No comments:

Post a Comment