Friend by Pauletta Hansel


On March, 4, 2020, when my From Draft to Craft Poetry Class started back for the year, I announced the theme for the Spring Session was Epistolary Poetry, inviting each member to pair up with another for an exchange of letter poems. Little did we know that this sharing would become our primary mode of communication with each other; within a few days of our second gathering, shelter-in-place orders were declared in our community. The Epistolary Poetry Project became more than just a generative poetry activity, though it certainly was that. It also became a source of creative and emotional strength and support as we navigated the new world in which we found ourselves in this time of the global pandemic.  The poems in this book are my part of the conversation.

Friend, I hope you will find these poems engaging both as poetry, and as a record of this historic time.


  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 50
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: December, 2020
  • ISBN: 978-1-953252-16-6


“With every curse a little blessing,” Pauletta Hansel quotes in her chapbook Friend, a collection of epistolary poems written during the first six months of the pandemic.  The centerpiece of this collection is a collage that encompasses botany, science, and the history of an invasive species.  This is a masterful collection that moves from the wildlife markets of Wuhan to the streets of Ohio.  It isn’t easy to find affirmation in the midst of loss, and yet Hansel finds blessings by recognizing the things that we have always had—friends, family, and “the ordinary miracle of rhizome and bulb.” —Cathryn Essinger, author of The Apricot and the Moon (Dos Madres Press)

Pauletta Hansel’s Friend is many things: a sequence of epistolary poems, a “brief abstract and chronicle of the times” as Hamlet called the work of his actor friends, a literary artifact capturing the Coronavirus era and so of historical interest in the future. Along with all of those, it is a caring testimony to absent friends and family, to a loyal husband, to the rejuvenative powers of nature, even in the city, and a grudging paean to walking. We will not recover fully from our time of plague and presidential cruelty, but these poems attest to resiliency, to the power of community, and to the soul of art. We must thank Pauletta Hansel for the courageous attention she has paid. —Richard Hague, author of Studied Days – Poems Early & Late in Appalachia (Dos Madres Press)

Has there ever been a better time for the epistolary poem? These, by Pauletta Hansel, begin by asking, “Friend, do you believe kindness/is enough?” Nearly every poem here addresses a distant, anonymous friend, and their contrapuntal structure implies, on its own, call and response—heavy on the call, perhaps, like the red phone ringing through a dream. Hansel asks difficult questions in these poems (“Do you remember/when the only thing asked of us/was to keep our breath at home?/Even that was more than we could give.”). Her willingness to explore the newly unfamiliar world’s responses is, ultimately, what gives us hope. Answers come in the sudden flash of a hawk, the literal fish out of water, the chalked sidewalk message, already fading: “We will be OK.” —Paula J. Lambert, author of How to See the World (Bottom Dog Press)


June 17, 2020

Do you remember
when the only thing asked of us
was to keep our breath at home?
Even that was more than we could give.
Even then we were divided—
those who thought we saved the world
by keeping it outside our doors;
those who stocked the shelves,
loaded the delivery vans
that kept the rest of us alive,
then hauled away our stinking excess
as we slept. Friend, no matter
how little we thought we had,
it was always too much.


Pauletta HanselPauletta Hansel is a poet, memoirist and teacher who is author of seven poetry collections in addition to Friend, including Coal Town Photograph and Palindrome, winner of the 2017 Weatherford Award for best Appalachian Poetry. Her writing has been widely anthologized and featured in print and online journals including Oxford American, Rattle, The Writer’s Almanac, American Life in Poetry, Verse Daily, Appalachian Journal, Appalachian Review, Cincinnati Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, and Still: The Journal, among others. Pauletta was Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate, 2016-2018.

Additional information

Weight 3.8 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in