Can anyone—can you––write a poem? “Ab-so-lute-ly yes!” Bedminster-based Hayden Saunier exclaims with conviction. “Just don’t expect the first one to be great. You have to enter into a practice if you want to craft poems that do what they should do.”
Saunier would know about a well-made poem. She has been published widely and won the Pablo Neruda Prize and the Rattle Poetry Prize, among others. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize 11 times, and this June she won for her poem “Grammar Lesson, Spring 2022.” The Pushcart Prize is a national award for the best work published by small presses. River Heron Review, also Bucks County-based, published and nominated the poem.
“How poems are taught in school makes many people prefer a root canal to a poetry reading,” Saunier quipped. “Horace said a poem should instruct and delight. Someone since then added that a poem should also wound. Not hurt, necessarily, but enter you,” she continued. Saunier’s poems attract the reader first because most of them are stories, so readers have a narrative lifeline to guide them. “I’m going to show you my experience, filtered through––I hope—fresh, tangy language. That way you can relate, and in the particulars find something universal.”
At first glance, Saunier’s subjects seem ordinary: a long-term marriage, a young hawk who gets trapped in her barn, and propagating plants by root division. Then she takes those experiences on a mind trip that transforms them into something illuminating and extraordinary.
How often does she rely on inspiration? “Something––a phrase or a rhythm––might come to me when I am walking,” she says, “but I make a practice of writing. I try to set aside a few hours each morning to get quiet and see what comes up.” She noted that a few poems have “presented themselves in one sitting basically,” but most of her poems are revised and honed repeatedly. “They’re distilled. Poems communicate and connect, but they do it differently from conversation.”
For much of her career, Saunier worked as a professional actor and she brings her performance training into “No River Twice,” an interactive poetry performance group she founded. “It’s a playful, surprising way to hear poems,” she notes. As a board member of the Arts and Cultural Council of Bucks County, she organizes salons and readings to create opportunities for area writers. She applauds the Herald’s new feature, Poet’s Corner, curated by fellow Bucks County Poet Laureate, Tom Mallouk. “It’s wonderful to read the variety of work each week.”
What advice would she give to a person who wants to write a poem? “Everyone has a poem in them. They’ll only find that poem if they sit down to write. It’s the same for painting or playing music. You have to keep at it and trust the process.” She observes that writing poems is not part of our instant gratification culture. “Writers shouldn’t be desperate for a reward other than the discoveries they’ll make while writing. That’s the real prize.”