On Thursday, November 4, the Lutheran community gathered in the CFL Recital Hall for a poetry reading by writer and retired pastor Patrick Cabello Hansel. Through his recent works, The devouring earth and Abandonment time, in addition to personal stories, Hansel gave audiences a new perspective on the struggles of American immigrants and his father’s life experiences in the mid-20th century.
While the reading was scheduled by English teacher Martin Klammer before the pandemic, audience members were only able to hear Hansel’s poetry last week. Although the event was canceled in the spring of 2020, Klammer felt this poetry was too important to cancel.
“He’s able to capture, in everyday language, very poignant moments of human existence,” Klammer said. “He finds significance, meaning and value in the mundane, everyday features of our lives, and he draws attention to that.”
Audience members could hear this style of writing described by Klammer as Hansel began to read poems from his two published poetry books. His most recent book, Abandonment time, focused on his father’s life and experiences during the Great Depression and World War II. Hansel used poetry to describe the childhood of a man who grew up as the child of a German-speaking immigrant, whose culture he had to almost ignore in order to assimilate into American society.
Hansel also read a collection of his first book, Devouring Earth. Each poem described the experiences of ward members Hansel had known from his time as a pastor in areas with large immigrant populations. Before the readings, Hansel went into detail about the lives of those he described in each poem.
“Some of the stories come from people I’ve known, worked with and lived with,” Hansel said. “Stories of faith, of people who have struggled, are so powerful and so meaningful that just telling the story carries incredible weight.”
These stories come with an important message from Hansel, particularly in the wake of the recent vandalism of the Hostile terrain exhibition presented in the Union. For readers unaware of the incident, an offensive note has been placed on the exhibit, which was originally intended to draw attention to and mourn the loss of life of immigrants crossing the border between Mexico and Arizona. Audience members discussed the message of these poems and stories in the face of such an act after the reading.
“I don’t know if this will persuade anyone to think differently about this, but I found them very moving,” said Professor Emeritus of English Carol Gilbertson. “He has a beautiful way of capturing the power of their experiences, and his experience with immigrants, in a few precise details.”
While audience members such as Gilbertson found the poetry very interesting and well-written, there was some doubt as to the effect it might have on those who might vandalize an exhibit in this way.
“For someone to put a note like this [on the exhibit], it doesn’t matter that they have a deeper understanding of the immigrant experience, because it’s a commentary written out of hatred and isolation,” said Professor Emeritus of English Mark Muggli. “I don’t think ten books of poetry or a hundred encyclopedias or novels are going to change the thinking of someone who thinks like that on their own.”
These two books of poetry are the only currently published works by Hansel, but he has a third one awaiting publication. Title Breathe in Minneapolis, it focuses on his time and experiences in Minneapolis following the tragic death of George Floyd. While members of the public may have heard a few excerpts from the upcoming book, interested readers will have to wait for it to be released in the near future. Attendees came for an evening of poetry and left with conversations about social justice and activism that were to last long after the readings were over.