Editor’s Note: This exchange is part of a series of brief interviews with emerging writers of recent or forthcoming books. If you enjoyed it, please visit other interviews in the I’ve Got Questions feature.
- What’s the title of your book? Fiction? Nonfiction? Poetry? Who is the publisher and what’s the publication date?
Friend (Dos Madres Press, 2020) Poetry
- In a couple of sentences, what’s the book about?
Friend is epistolary (letter) poems written to other poets during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, a poetic record of my own experience of this time. Most of the poems were written in the first 6 weeks, with a sort of coda in early June, in the aftermath of the country’s racial reckoning in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.
- What’s the book’s genre (for fiction and nonfiction) or primary style (for poetry)?
Epistolary (letter) poems. Each is titled with the date, and written to a specific “you.”
- What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about the book so far?
Some folks have said that they have returned to the poems again when trying to express their own experiences. One blurber (Richard Hague) said, “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.”
- What book or books is yours comparable to or a cross between? [Is your book like Moby Dick or maybe it’s more like Frankenstein meets Peter Pan?]
Oh, lordy! It feels like anything I would say in response to this would be hyperbole! I will say that part of my inspiration was the poetic exchange between Ada Limon and Natalie Diaz published in the New Yorker, though I would not compare myself to either of those stars.
- Why this book? Why now?
The poems were written as part of an epistolary exchange with poets in one of my community poetry class in spring 2020. I had developed the syllabus pre-pandemic, but it turned out to be a true gift to all of us when we had to stop meeting after the second class. The exchange certainly was a major boon to my own resiliency during that time. I was working with a mentor, Rebecca Gayle Howell, and she encouraged me to pull the poems together in a manuscript, which then my publisher, Dos Madres Press, accepted. I hope that the book will help others explore their own experiences and memories of life in the pandemic, and beyond.
- Other than writing this book, what’s the best job you’ve ever had?
I do love teaching poetry! Because this book came out while we are still doing very little in person, I had to get creative about marketing. I used it as a text for an online epistolary poetry class called “Dear Friend.” That turned out to be one of the most rewarding classes I have taught—not just because people bought my book (LOL!), but because they, too, found such comfort and challenge in epistolary poetry.
- What do you want readers to take away from the book?
That there is value in such an intimate exploration of self within the wider sweep of history and time. And, at the same time, that it is not about the “self” alone. To quote from Friend: “We are all in the room, friend,/ no matter what door we entered./ We call the room longing;/ we are in it together, /alone.”
- What food and/or music do you associate with the book?
Well, wine and chocolate with the pandemic, that’s for sure. But for the book, probably birdsong, as much of it was inspired by my daily walks.
- What book(s) are you reading currently?
The third book in Robert Gipe’s amazing trilogy of novels about Appalachia, Pop. I am lucky enough to be part of a public conversation with him for the Mercantile Library next month. I just finished Claudia Rankine’s Just Us and I am grateful for the uneasiness it has engendered. Now it is up to me to not push it away, but to keep living with it long enough to let it change me. I have a whole stack of poetry books I am anxious to get to, top among the Michael Simms’ American Ash and Alison Luterman’s In the Time of Great Fires.
Learn more about Pauletta on her website.
The book is also available from Small Press Distribution.