How to Wear This Body. Hayden Saunier. Terrapin Books. West Caldwell, New Jersey. 2017.
Is it fair to call poetry reasonable? Hayden Saunier writes poetry that makes a very convincing case out of reason, gentle reason at that. Relationships happen and Saunier has plenty to say about them—
and about how to "stay alive" in this world.
As Christopher Bursk (author of The Improbable Swervings of Atoms) suggests, Saunier shows us "how to live on this planet." Saunier connects us.
To stay alive do not resist
that's what you're told
as if it were a simple act to make yourself
be only meat
pressed down into an asphalt street
and not a form of suicide
erase yourself be dead enough
that he or she or they'll decide
there is no need to kill you
though do not resist
can make no guarantee of this
but if you stay alive
do not resist will mean you have to stand
your dead self up
walk out into the world alive
which is another kind of death
and harder every single time
you have to kill enough
(do not resist) to stay alive.
It's not that Saunier ever has the catastrophic arms of fate swinging for the fences but deep below the surface of these poems, you can feel the "undertoad."
Hayden Saunier is one smooth character. Most of these poems ring familiar, not because we've seen them before, but because they accurately catch the rhythms that sustain us.
She's cleaning fish.
Old rivers of raised veins
twist down her forearms
through networks of scars
down her wrists to the roots
of her fingers, the palms of
her hands, her arms
rest on the workbench a moment,
this woman who could be
any woman on the lee
side of any harbor
where there's been war.
She picks up a bone-handled
blade from the workbench,
scrapes guts into buckets,
flicks bits of shine from her
fingertips, and I wonder
how long, if at all, it took
before she could pick up a knife,
and knife, in her hands cut
by knives, but the answer,
I venture, like the answer
to everything else, is —
it depends on how hungry you get.
Saunier has no trouble with putting it out there, "Hard Facts" is a good case in point. But Saunier can also contemplate and savor, her poem "Asparagus" is almost as crisp and tasty and tender as the real thing.
Our morning read was another slightly subdued affair. Today's book of poetry is having a hard poetry week. Today's book of poetry will be in Toronto this weekend for the funeral of David McFadden, Canadian poetry giant and one of my heroes.
But our hearts are heavier still. Stephen Reid (writer/bank-robber), died earlier this week. Stephen Reid was the husband of Susan Musgrave. Our regular readers will know it already, but Today's book of poetry's esteem for Musgrave knows no bounds. She is one of Canada's finest poets. Today's book of poetry sends our deepest condolences to Ms. Musgrave and her entire family.
Our staff did get down to business and gave Hayden Saunier's How to Wear This Body a proper Today's book of poetry reading. Our dear friend Alexandre added his accent to the proceedings which lent an international feel to the event. We did Hayden Saunier proud.
Some nights my mind still tries
to peel away squares of blackened paper
from the old-fashioned kiosk
of my spinal column, photographs
and placards posted by the body
behind the mind's back, years ago,
glued with spit and wheat paste.
Images gone, titles gone,
all part of the whole
structure now, hardened,
darkened, their weight subsumed
into frame. The way a tree grows
first around, then through, barbed
wire, or folds the small grey marble
headstone of a child into its
knotted roots. Such heaviness
our bones haul in and hold inside.
No wonder we can't fly.
Today's book of poetry must apologize to Hayden Saunier as we were a bit distracted this week. Saunier's poetry deserves the readers full attention.
ABOUT THE AUTHORHayden Saunier is the author of three poetry collections, Tips for Domestic Travel (Black Lawrence Press, 2009) a St. Lawrence Award Finalist, and Say Luck (Big Pencil Press, 2013), which won the 2013 Gell Poetry Prize. She is also the author of a chapbook, Field Trip to the Underworld (Seven Kitchens Press, 2012), winner of the Keystone Chapbook Award. Her work has been published in such journals as Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, Southern Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Her work has also been featured on Verse Daily and has been awarded the 2011 Pablo Neruda Prize, the 2011 Rattle Poetry Prize, and the 2005 Robert Fraser Award. A poet, actor, and teaching artist, she holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and lives on a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
BLURBThe interconnectedness of everything on earth, how we belong to it all, how permeable boundaries are between us and the natural world, how things sing and what they sing of are rendered with aching acuity. Whether a poem’s focus shines on a “rump sprung sofa,” a turkey vulture, or dazzling autumn trees described as “sugar maple drama queens,” even evanescence becomes rich and luminous in these poems. This is a gorgeous, precise and deeply graceful collection.
— Amy Gerstler
"Where Poetry Begins"
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