The Body Never Forgets: An Interview with Actress and Poet Hayden Saunier

Reviews Editor, Michelle Reale,discusses The Body Never Forgets, body memory, robots, the ridiculousness of humans, and much more with poet and actress, Hayden Saunier.

MR: You use the body as a canvas of sorts in this collection. How did these poems come about?

HS: Most of these poems were written in a transitional time— children leaving home and a permanent move to my husband’s family farm— so I was physically and emotionally reassessing myself and the world around me. The body seems the one constant we carry.

MR: The first poem in the collection, "Performing Heart Repair Surgery at 2.A.M. While Asleep" is both startling and poignant. What resonated most is how the mind may forget, but the body remembers, in a number of ways. Can you describe the process of writing this poem, and what it was inspired by?

HS: I love hearing this response to the poem. I’m a great believer in body memory thanks to my work as an actress and I recently read a fascinating book called The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk about the body, mind, trauma, and healing issues. I highly recommend it. This poem was prompted by an image in the film, Ex Machina, in which a humanoid/robot woman unpeels her skin exposing the mechanics underneath— I dreamt a few nights later that I had opened my chest in that way and dumped out my heart. I woke up pretty quickly. Questioning what my mind was trying to solve was the genesis of the poem and the idea of the weight caused by ad hoc repair took shape.

MR: The poem "14 Degrees Below Zero in the Grocery Store Parking Lot" touched me deeply: it shows an interconnectedness of all living beings---- an ethic of care and I, like you, was hoping the owner of the dog returned before your friend did. Did this really happen?

HS: Again, a piece of it did happen-- in a parking lot in Vermont one winter-- and the intense sense of connection I felt to this other being in the cold led me to spin the poem out. And two girls were dumping soda and making way for beer with a great icy clatter. It’s a poem I’ve been playing with since 2004 and I was so happy that it seemed to find its place in this collection.

MR: I had a very, very visceral reaction to "How to Move In." You touched on something ineffable for me. It is a very quiet poem. What inspired you to write it?

HS: Oh the tyranny of all the stuff! This was driven by my desire for quiet and emptiness in the middle of moving all those things. And not just physical objects, the racket of social media and what clutters each day.

A contemplation of what was really necessary. And a wish.

MR: What are your preoccupations in poetry?

HS: Connections, the wild swings between what seems immense and what seems minute, how ridiculous we human beings are, how funny/sad. And I appear to have a thing for turkey vultures.

MR: Do you have a writing process or are you moved to write by moments of inspiration?

HS: I write every day if possible. It isn’t, of course. I jot down images and lines when they come to me, especially ones that have a particular rhythm and then when I have time I see if they are headed somewhere. I rewrite constantly, tweak and try to make each poem tighter, more itself and less to do with me. I started writing poems because I could write in the gaps between other demands— theatre work, family life— and because I spent a lot of time underemployed and could make my own little theatre pieces and monologues. Occasionally I get a gift poem that seems almost all there, but they are rare. It’s a practice and a process. I confess I have ruined many good poems by trying too hard to make them into something fast and I like to think I’ve learned to back off and let time and association work their magic. I hope the poems I’ve mucked up go on to find other writers who can write them. Oh, I hope so.

MR: What poets are you currently reading and which do you return to , time after time?

HS: I just finished Love, An Index by Rebecca Lindenberg, startling and sorrowful and smart, and I keep dipping back into Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude for sheer happiness, and Amy Gerstler’s Scattered at Sea. My standbys are Elizabeth Bishop and William Stafford because their work seems effortless, Wislawa Szymborska for her slanted points of view and Shakespeare for, well, ok, just, everything. MR: My favorite poem in this collection is "How to Move In," but it was by no means an easy decision. What is yours?

HS: Some poems seem to work better to me, some are harder to live with, some took me in wonderful, unexpected directions, so I really can’t say. Hearing back from others about where poems have taken them is incredibly gratifying and I’m thrilled to hear the ones that have resonated with you.

MR: What are you working on now?

HS: New poems, setting up readings, living and making a living, and (I’m not kidding) still going through boxes of stuff from the move.

MR: Describe your work in five words.

HS: Can't I dodge one question?

Hayden Saunier is a poet, actor and teaching artist living in the Philadelphia area.

Her acting resume includes film and television appearances in The Sixth Sense, Philadelphia Diary, House of Cards, Hack and Do No Harm and numerous roles at regional theatres such as the Guthrie, Walnut Street Theatre, Arden Theatre, George Street Playhouse, Interact Theatre and People's Light and Theatre Company.

She has published four collections of poetry and her work has been awarded the 2013 Gell Poetry Prize, 2011 Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize, the 2011 Rattle Poetry Prize, the Robert Fraser Award and has been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize. Hayden is a Bucks County, Pennsylvania Poet Laureate.

You can buy The Body Never Forgets here.

How to Wear This Body

By Hayden Saunier

Terrapin Books