Coal Town Photograph by Pauletta Hansel


I read in a glossary of mining terminology that prize means to lever or loosen with a pry bar or pick. And the term suggests the noun for what is gained: a prize. In Coal Town Photograph, Pauletta Hansel prizes memory for the resource that it is. Throughout, this book dives into the challenge of the past as place. Its journey is from underground-darkness to a state of earned brightness. As she tells us in the title poem: “I am from / a place that could not hold me, / never even tried. Come morning, / mist of evening rain, a ghost above a mirrored sun.” We should prize the work of this traveler forever. —Roy Bentley


  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 74
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: March, 2019
  • ISBN: 978-1-948017-39-8

It takes a certain kind of courage to turn and face the story album of our lives, and an accomplished artistry to develop snapshots into poetic portraits as Pauletta Hansel has done in Coal Town Photograph. There is a constancy of underlying comfort in these unvarnished poems even when they address difficult matters, including broken-heartedness. It would not be surprising if you found, as I did, meaningful echoes of your own life, your own people, in the tender narratives of Pauletta’s latest book. —Susan F. Glassmeyer

When I read poetry, I love the fresh responses and insights to life’s episodes, images that hold the chin of my attention in their light hands, nostalgia for the past, understanding of what it is to be here on this planet and in this world with the changing landscapes of body. I have found all of these needs met in Pauletta Hansel’s work, and especially in her new Coal Town Photograph collection. —Ron Houchin

“I have been gone so long I think perhaps I have invented it, this town…” Pauletta Hansel writes, following photographs as if they are maps that lead her deep into that cloud we call memory, we call self, we call home, in which all we see both is and isn’t, just as a woman’s body is, a mother’s, a girl’s. Just as Appalachia, its economy, its rivers, and soil. Coal Town Photograph is one part elegy, one part Bildungsroman; and at Hansel’s deft hand, in its coming-of-age, what has been lost is renewed, redeemed, remade. This is a fierce next book by a major poet in the Mountain South tradition.” —Rebecca Gayle Howell



All things break
Paper loosens
from its spiral bindings,
the music box’s key
has overwound, even the good
fountain pen lets loose black
rivers. Cells divide
and spread inside our
secret caves. Parents
die. Children scatter
continents beyond.
Some days there are miracles:
missives, remission, pictures
lost then found
under our Christmas trees;
tea tins, coasters, a father’s army tags
retrieved from that vast somewhere
our once-precious objects reside.
But mostly not.
Mostly it is up to us to speak
of absent things, to bring
to our neglected pages
the smell of lavender
in the pillow
where my mother’s head
once lay.


Pauletta HanselPAULETTA HANSEL is author of six previous poetry collections, most recently Palindrome (Dos Madres Press), winner of the 2017 Weatherford Award for best Appalachian poetry book. She was Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate, 2016 -2018 and Ohio Poetry Day Association’s 2002 Ohio Poet of the Year. Pauletta is a board member of Dos Madres Press, a volunteer for the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition, with a particular focus on its new Urban Appalachian Leadership Project for youth and young adults, and is managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary publication of Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative. She leads writing workshops and retreats in the Greater Cincinnati area and beyond, including at Thomas More University and as core faculty for The Makery, Hindman Settlement School’s new online studio for writers of place.  Visit her website at

Additional information

Weight 5.4 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in