We mentioned in another post that Still: The Journal announced the winners of their literary prizes, and two of the winners are Pauletta Hansel and Richard Hague. Pauletta took first prize for her poem “Home Is the Place Where, When You Have to Go There, You Only Think About How to Get Out,” and Richard won first prize in creative nonfiction for his memoir “Acting Up.” That two poets published by Dos Madres Press swept first prizes is worthy of some attention.
Still: The Journal is an online magazine that emphasizes “the literature of the Appalachian region.” Pauletta Hansel and Richard Hague have written extensively of their Appalachian heritage and the contemporary Appalachian experience. Still is committed to publishing work that does not rely on stereotypes and pop-cultural distortions of what Appalachia and Appalachian culture really mean.
In Richard Hague’s poem “The Work,” from the collection entitled Studied Days: Poems Early & Late in Appalachia published by Dos Madres Press, we may find a way of knitting together both Pauletta’s and Richard’s prize-winning works. In Richard’s poem, we are enjoined to “(r)emember the names of people and things and states” even as we are warned to “(r)esist nostalgia while insisting on the past.” To this end, Pauletta’s poem operates in a present that is haunted by the past, while Richard’s memoir directly confronts the past with an acute awareness of the force of the present.
The opening lines of Pauletta Hansel’s “Home is the place…” are startling in the way common everyday objects are replaced with evidence of decay and abandonment even as these lines immediately orient us to a milieu that is present and quite real:
Busted-up doll heads where the canned goods used to be. Sunsteeped, hillbuckled sidewalks, and everybody just looks tired.
The lines are spoken in the present tense and invoke images of a past that is fundamentally lost. Not only are we looking at remnants of what was, we see the remnants in a state of decay. The busted-up doll heads replace features of everyday life which themselves take on an extraordinary status by being conspicuously removed from their proper place. Even the sidewalks are marred by the weight of the passage of time.
As we read these lines and feel the press of time on the present moment, we are reminded of another poem by Pauletta. From her book, Coal Town Photograph, “Elegy” reminds us that “(m)ostly it is up to us to speak/ of absent things.” This seems especially important when these absent things have been replaced by things that simply do not belong, like busted-up doll heads where the canned goods used to be.
Yet, the poem renders things in a kind of imaginary present tense, one that always remains in the present each time we pick up the work, and the process of writing about the past is generally some version of emotion recollected in tranquility as the poet once said, and not a flash of linguistic pyrotechnics exploding in the moment. Richard Hague reminds us of this in his work of creative nonfiction. It is the art of the writer to capture these moments form the past through a process of deliberation, a process that comes well after the event. As Richard explains,
It’s always after-the-fact. That’s why we’re writers, not improv comedians. Usually, we tend to think about what we’re going to say, we tend to revise, and not just spit it drunkenly out in a fit of hell-in-a-handbasket witless bad-assery. Usually.
Thinking about what we are going to say necessarily means the “truth” of the past remains as foregone as the canned goods on the shelf that have been replaced with broken toys. But then, there are those rare moments when all of us pull off a moment of bad-assery, and these moments deserve a little credit.
The masthead for Still: The Journal explains: “As a culture, Appalachia has been told for decades that it is disappearing. We are still here, proud and strong as ever.” The work of Pauletta Hansel and Richard Hague exemplifies the strength of Appalachia and Appalachian writers, and the places of these poets at the top of the literary prizes in Still are well-earned. And of course, we have Coal Town Photograph by Pauletta Hansel and Studied Days: Poems Early & Late in Appalachia by Richard Hague so we can follow the poetic threads of past and present that are teased out by the award-winning work published in Still: The Journal.
You can read the winning works by Pauletta Hansel and Richard Hague at http://www.stilljournal.net.
I completed my Ph.D. in literature at Miami University. My area of interest was the British Romantic poets. I have a fondness for William Blake. After spending some years as an adjunct professor teaching at area universities, I decided to strike out on my own as a freelance writer and independent scholar. In addition to writing blogs, I have written several essays which have appeared in The Culture Crush, Culture Matters, and Aurore Press. I am fond of the literary fragment in both poetry and prose, and I have begun experimenting with this form in my own work. I have also read my own poems at Cincinnati Word of Mouth. In addition to writing I am a professional musician, cook, and barista. More accidental jack-of-all-trades than renaissance man, I have learned to do many things over the years. My involvement Dos Madres Press began when I hosted readings while I was a barista at the Bonbonerie Café. Working with Robert on these projects has led to writing these blogs. I live in downtown Cincinnati with my wife who is a talented photographer. We spend our time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while I always seem to be staring at the ground.