painting by Angelyn DeBord
Heartbreak Tree is a poetic exploration of the intersection of gender and place in Appalachia. “There is a road, but the road is still inside you,” the mature Hansel tells the girl she was, encouraging her: “You are trying. Remember.” This book does the work of that remembering, honoring the responsibility of the poet to speak the forbidden stories of her own and other women’s lives.
Pauletta Hansel is a poet, memoirist and teacher who is author of eight poetry collections including Friend, 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 and Verse Daily. Appalachian Journal, Appalachian Review, Cincinnati Review, and Still: The Journal, among others. Pauletta was Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate, 2016-2018 and for ten years served as managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary publication of Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative.
Read Pauletta’s work, and hear her read her own work on her website, paulettahansel.wordpress.com.
What readers are saying about Pauletta Hansel’s Heartbreak Tree:
Women. We belong to a secret sharing, among mothers and daughters, girlfriends and sisters and lovers. We see each other across the grocery line, or in traffic, or in the salon—and we nod, knowing that we each have suffered brutalities, unnamed. We survive what others do to us, and we survive what we do to us, so often in self-violating silence, as we go on because we must—mustn’t we?—smiling, pleasing. But sometimes, rare and sure, a voice comes out of this silence, unpleased and singing; sometimes, somehow, a woman knows how to transform this violence into medicine, enough to share. Pauletta Hansel’s Heartbreak Tree is just such a miracle. Every unflinching, healing poem tells the mother, daughter, girlfriend, lover who is silenced inside me to never forget: it is only the truth that sets us free.
—Rebecca Gayle Howell, author of American Purgatory; United States Artists Fellow, 2019
Heartbreak Tree is a gorgeous book, carefully assembled from flowers, dirt, graveyards, family memories, and letters to the poet’s younger self. It’s a love story to a place and a people, an excavation, a time capsule, a fierce inquiry and a song. Read it once for the pleasure of the honest voice, read it again for the beauty of the land and lamentation at its destruction, and keep reading it because its heartbeat, however specifically regional, is the same that pulses through all of us, whispering ‘home, home, home.
—Alison Luterman, In the Time of Great Fires, winner of the 2020 Catamaran Poetry Prize
Pauletta Hansel’s Heartbreak Tree is the breakout work of a lifetime, a work of breaking silences and ancestral truth telling, of weighing what poet Mary Oliver called a “box of darkness” in heart and hand like the pound of flesh it extracted—and finding it a strange gift of hard growth, harder knowledge and wisdom, and perhaps most importantly, self-forgiveness.
—Linda Parsons, author of Candescent and This Shaky Earth
Pauletta Hansel’s poems were born in the hardscrabble mountains of Kentucky. The splendor of their moments of beauty that spring up like “ironweed purpling/ the spent fields” seems earned, deserved.
—Michael Simms, author of American Ash, and editor of Vox Populi