Bridget Reilly of Xavier University interviews Pauletta Hansel on her recent book of poems, Tangle, published by Dos Madres Press, September 2015. Pauletta Hansel is also author of What I Did There, Dos Madres Press, 2011.
See the full text of the interview below.
What was the starting point for Tangle? Was it the word itself, or perhaps an image?
I write poems for many years before they start to “tangle” themselves together to form a manuscript. The earliest poems in Tangle were drafted in 2011, so four years before the book came out, and three before I began even to consider how the poems might speak to each other. There comes a point when the individual poems start to get unruly; they clutter up my office—and my mind—and I know it’s time to gather them up into a manuscript (pitching a fair number into the recycling bin along the way.) The title poem “Tangle” was written in 2012—the poem’s image came first, and then the title. The word became the manuscript’s title pretty late in the process. My original title was “Familial Tremors.” Family is certainly a thread throughout the book—and my poems—but this manuscript grew larger than that, and I started to consider other poem titles that might resonate with the entire collection. “Tangle” seemed acknowledge the way the themes—threads—in the manuscript entwined.
The poems in this collection are incredibly personal. Is it difficult for you to write from such an intimate position? How do you overcome some of the emotions that poems written for lost loved ones bring up?
I don’t feel sad when I am writing about difficult material. I feel a sort of clarity, an intense desire to “get it right.” My process is not so much “overcoming” emotions as it is writing down through a remembered experience to a place of truth—albeit a subjective truth. Mostly I feel a sort of relief that I was able to name the experience as fully and well as I could. I don’t write for catharsis. I write for knowledge, and to create something beautiful and whole out of my life, even the broken parts. Especially the broken parts (that’s where, as Leonard Cohen says, the light gets in.)
What are some of the benefits and challenges to working with a small press like Dos Madres? Has it influenced your place in the writing community in a way that you didn’t expect?
Oh, surely the gods bless Robert and Elizabeth for the work they do so beautifully on behalf of poetry and those who read and write it. Dos Madres and other small presses are such a critical part of the literary ecosystem. Robert and Elizabeth create books in the way that poets make poems and artists make paintings (and of course each is poet and painter, respectively): because they believe in the necessity of doing so. All benefit, no challenge to me in this relationship, except that I would like to be able to do more than I do to promote their good works. In regard to the second part of your question: walking around with such visually exquisite books is a very good thing for a poet to be doing. And certainly, having a book at all opens doors. One of the lovely things about Dos Madres Press is that while it is substantially present in and to its geographic community, it publishes poets from throughout the country, thus creating a wider community for its writers than other presses of its size.
You are also an editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel. What has the experience of editing others’ poetry been like for you, in comparison with writing poems yourself?
Editing a literary journal helps to expand my awareness of the various forms that solid writing (poetry and prose) can take. It also has made my own submission process less fraught: having to send rejection letters to writers whose work I love because their manuscripts didn’t fit that particular year’s issue makes it easier to accept my own rejections. I can’t say that editing has affected my own writing to a large degree (except, perhaps, taking time away from it during press time!) But working with the journal has helped place me within an expanding community of writers and I am excited to promote our shared work. And, as with being part of Dos Madres, my involvement with Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel helps to provide a context for my work (in this case, an Appalachian regional context) and having multiple contexts for one’s work is helpful from a creative standpoint and it increases the possibility of that work being read!