The Rumpus Poetry Book Club chats with Amanda Moore about her debut collection Requeening (October 2021), writing about one’s children, hive collapse, and how translation can affect your creative process.
This is an edited transcript of the book club discussion. Every month the Rumpus Poetry Book Club hosts an online discussion with the book club members and the author, and we post an edited version online as an interview. To join the Rumpus Poetry Book Club, click here. Upcoming poets include Cynthia Dewi Oka, Matthew Olzmann, Jennifer Huang, Angel Dominguez, Jos Charles, and more.
This Rumpus Poetry Book Club interview was edited by Brian Spears.
Brian S: I wanted to begin with the poem I wrote about when we introduced this book as a Poetry Book Club selection, “Palinode.” Especially the idea that what’s expected is that parents, mothers especially, are supposed to only adore every moment with their precious babies and yet some of this stuff is really hard. Can you talk some about how that poem came to be?
Kimberly Sailor: Hi Amanda! I first read your work in Sixfold. I love your devastating out-of-left-field last lines. Talk to us about the concept for Requeening. How many poems did you write before thinking, hey, these could work in a collection? Did the bee framework come early in the process, toward the end, perhaps even first? Thanks!
Amanda Moore: Ah! I started “Palinode” in a summer workshop with Aimee Nezhukumatathil. She introduced us to the form, and I knew I wanted to write about the very things you’re talking about.
Brian S: Aimee is so wonderful, as a poet and a teacher and a human being.
Amanda Moore: I feel such conflicting feelings around motherhood, and that seemed a good vehicle. Like, it was tough and awful and glorious and wonderful all at once. I miss those early anguishes now that I have a teen.
The framework for the book came from years of writing bee poems, which I started when I was in graduate school.
Brian S: For what it’s worth, I have a grown one and a set of seven-year-old twins (who just got their first vaccinations this week!) and felt every line of that poem in my skin.
Amanda Moore: I have tons of bee poems from over twenty years of writing and living… When I was trying to put together a manuscript I really struggled with poems from such a wide span of time. In the course of all those bee poems, I have love poems and anti-love poems, poems of early parenting and teen parenting, and I took a lot of stabs at separate manuscripts over the years.
It wasn’t until I worked with Aimee (again! praise her!) and was complaining that the illness/grief poems didn’t belong in the same place as the baby/motherhood poems that it fell into place. She said “Well, hives collapse,” and all of the sudden I knew how to fit it together.
It meant shedding lots of other poems, of course, but once I saw the outline, the book came together!
Brian S: Is requeening an actual beekeeping term or a word you created? Because it seems perfect regardless.
Kimberly Sailor: Thank you for this! The process of jigsawing together chapbooks and manuscripts is exciting and frustrating and overwhelming and satisfying—which poems to include and how to start/end. You can tell such a different story just by re-ordering. The final product of Requeening is marvelous—so much thought and care!
Amanda Moore: It is an actual beekeeping term, Brian!
Thanks, Kimberly. Within it there are several manuscripts that were once chapbooks and such, but honestly once I realized they could hang on the life cycle or structure of the hive, I stopped revising. That was summer of 2019, and the book got picked up (again, after years of a different structure and so many false starts) pretty quickly once it found its way.
Beekeeping is so powerful as a metaphor! You requeen a hive when the queen fails. Sometimes that failure is just that she’s old or she flies away. Hard not to think about it as anything but a metaphor sometimes.
Kimberly Sailor: Very inspiring. Glad you stuck it out.
Brian S: How did you get into beekeeping? Because these poems don’t sound like they’re written by someone who’s studied it without taking part in the process.
Amanda Moore: When I was at Cornell, for graduate school, I sampled widely from the course catalog. I was (and always am) deeply inspired by Plath, so beekeeping seemed a normal course of study. For years I was theoretical, tending hives that weren’t my own, but when I settled, first in Michigan and now in California, I had hives of my own.
I’m a pretty bad beekeeper, though. Or, it’s a tough gig. I haven’t kept a hive alive for more than a few years.
Brian S: See, as someone who knows nothing about this, I’d think keeping a hive alive a few years is pretty impressive.
Amanda Moore: Overwintering is pretty impressive out where I am from, from what I hear from much more experienced beekeepers. Between the cold and fog and the smoke from wildfires, they need a lot more support. Even just one season can seem like a triumph. I am currently bee-less.
Brian S: During the pandemic, we’ve taken on a lot of animals—primarily, chickens and fish—and we’ve seen firsthand how delicate those lives are sometimes.
Amanda Moore: I bet! It’s hard not to look at the animal world as mirrors of our own fragility, too, I bet. Even a plant dying while we were confined at home felt huge to me.
Kimberly Sailor: I am a pretend chicken farmer (have a shed with hens in my backyard). I am terrible at hospice chicken care, there are tears and wine and chickens snuck into my bathroom. Your chicken sonnet was pretty devastating to me. But it’s clear you’re really observing the natural world, through both that poem and your bees. Very keen eye and senses.
Brian S: They’re so different from pets, too. We also have dogs and cats, but they’re much sturdier. Kimberly, that’s about our story, and we have a rooster as well. He entertains the neighborhood children.
Amanda Moore: I always wanted to have chickens! That killing-chicken poem came from an experience I had in Costa Rica where someone was really, truly teaching me a lesson she thought would be very useful for me as a woman. It was generous and horrifying at the same time.
Kimberly Sailor: Oh my. Yeah, that’s the kind of shit that never leaves your brain.
Amanda Moore: Yeah, it became clear to me that I couldn’t handle what chickens might ask of me.
Brian S: My chicken story from this past year was the day we turned over some hay in the back yard and some field mice scurried out and the chickens suddenly reminded us that they are descended from dinosaurs.
Amanda Moore: Yikes.
Kimberly Sailor: Yes, one of mine ate a songbird once. Not that we’re all writing horror poetry.
Brian S: I mean, I’m seeing an anthology forming here.
Amanda Moore: It’s funny, as I’ve been reading from this book at launch events, I have noticed (and been surprised by) how many animals are in it. Lots of them dead or lost or being killed. Not just bees!
Brian S: I think if you’re going to write honestly about the natural world, death has to be a big part of it. I mean, nature is cruel.
Amanda Moore: Yes. In so many ways.
Kimberly Sailor: I would love to hear more about your writing practice, seeing as you are balancing being a high school teacher, too. Set times? When the mood strikes? Goals? Deadlines?
Amanda Moore: I am a creature of habit and opportunity equally.
Brian S: Have you had to teach online much during the last year? Mastered leading a class while breathing through a mask?
Amanda Moore: I wake up really early and read or write just a little bit. It’s important to get some language in my head, mine or someone else’s. Then, I have a standing date at 6 a.m. with two friends at Ocean Beach here in San Francisco. I bike there with my surf mat, and we go out in the waves no matter the weather. I come back and do a bit more writing before I head to school. Then, it’s all about opportunity throughout the day. I’m a notebooker, so everything goes in there, and I draw from that with poems. I write a bit a night and do a big push on the weekend. I try to be working on a few projects at once, so they feed one another. I dabble at translating, I am always developing new courses for school, and I write essays.
I taught online full time for most of the school year last year. We went in person for the final six weeks, and it was touch. Now, we’re fully in person and masked. So many skills I never wanted to master. I’m feeling right now this tremendous sense of loss, along with my students, for the experiences we didn’t get to have. There are silver linings, for sure, but this fall had been a difficult time to be with adolescents.
Brian S: I teach tech writing at Iowa State—a combination of in-person and online—but this state has not been good about masks and vaccination and all the rest.
Amanda Moore: I’m sorry about the vaccines and masks. San Francisco is a haven, and is very cautious and safe.
Brian S: My kids, they switched to online learning in the middle of kindergarten and are now in second grade. They’ll go back to in-person in January since they’ll be vaccinated. But they’ve missed all those interactions.
Amanda Moore: We delivered a heck of an education online the year we had to (I teach at a private school with lots of resources), but it’s so much better in-person now that we’re safe. With little ones, I can’t imagine! So glad they can get vaccinated now.
Brian S: Speaking of kids, how does your own child feel about her role in your poems? Does she know much about it?
Amanda Moore: We have a lot of discussions about this!
She has read a lot of the poems and other work that includes her, but at a certain point she asked not to. When I wanted her to read the book and pull anything she didn’t feel comfortable with, she felt strongly that wasn’t her role and didn’t want to censor me. But she also doesn’t want to go to readings or talk about it and reserves the right to include me in all her future artistic endeavors.
Brian S: That’s fair! Not that you could stop her, but it’s good to see her asserting that right.
Amanda Moore: We had a funny drive to school on the day my book came out. I said, “You have to be nice to me today because I have a book out in the world for the first time,” and she rejoined, “You have to be nicer to me because I have a book about me out in the world.”
I wouldn’t stop her! She owns all my parenting mistakes. I also try to be clear when I’m writing and publishing that the speaker of the poems is on the hook more than the kid. It’s evolving, though. I wrote something the other day and realized it will never leave my notebook. It seemed overly involved or interested in the daughter, and that’s not where I want to be writing from.
Brian S: I have poems like that about my mother. Or poems that I won’t show anyone until she’s not around to read them. And maybe not even then. We have a challenging relationship.
Kimberly Sailor: Your writing schedule sounds very disciplined. Good for you. And I’m glad your students have you to share this experience with; empathetic ears are important. Are your high school classes a combination of literature and writing? What are your favorite exercises to lead new student writers through? (Also, hello from a school board president; what a time.)
Amanda Moore: My high school courses are literature and writing. I teach our core ninth and tenth grade classes, which are lit, and I teach upper level electives: Latin American Literature, Nigerian Literature, Creative Writing, Creative Nonfiction, and Poetry: Form and Meaning,
Yes, Brian. Lots of poems for just me in my notebook, which feels fair. Poetry is the lens I use and the processing device, but just because I write a poem doesn’t mean I need to publish it.
Kimberly Sailor: That’s a very collegiate-sounding high school. Awesome to get such diversity in there.
Brian S: You mentioned translation earlier. What kind of work do you engage in on those lines?
Amanda Moore: I’m translating a Costa Rican poet whose book I bought when I studied abroad in the 1990s. I’ve been carrying it around with me for years and finally decided to dive in.
I was invited to a translators’ group here in the Bay Area and realized how much of a novice I am. But it’s a wonderful practice, and I’m hoping to start to publish some soon.
Brian S: I took some translation classes when I was in graduate school and learned right quick that I didn’t know nearly what I thought I did. It was a humbling experience. Which was good. I needed to be knocked down a peg.
Amanda Moore: It is humbling, and listening to translators talk about language is really inspiring. I think as a poet I bring a different sensibility to translation, and I am trying to have faith in that. There’s a great anthology about translation called Into English that features four translations of a single work, and I love looking through there for courage.
I feel these poems I’m working with very deeply, so it’s a labor of love as much as anything.
Brian S: One of the classes I took in my MFA was Dante in Translation, and we read like four or five translations at a time of Inferno and Purgatorio, looking at the different choices the translators made. It was an amazing course.
How has the attempt at translating affected your own writing, do you think?
Amanda Moore: Oh, I bet! I think I made a course like that for myself teaching The Odyssey over twenty years. I’ve taught from four different versions, and I love thinking about how they are different and what they are doing.
Kimberly Sailor: One different word choice can be so powerful.
Amanda Moore: I am so much more conscious of writing toward strangeness and mystery, using unusual syntax, etc. when I’m translating. I love the way a crib or a trot (a first attempt) sounds, and it emboldens me to move into a more lyrical space.
Brian S: I don’t know how you feel about Beowulf, but Maria Dahvana Headley’s new translation is a wonderful read.
Amanda Moore: It’s on my list. We don’t teach much ancient literature anymore (sadly, we retired The Odyssey), but maybe over the holidays I’ll get to it.
Brian S: Have you had the chance to start thinking about a second book yet? Or, do you just write poems and see if, at some point, they’ll become a manuscript?
Amanda Moore: Well, I shed so many poems in discovering the structure of Requeening that I have a huge head start. Because of my morning habits and the place that I live (and also a place that I’m from and love, Lake Michigan), I also have a huge body of water poems, ocean poems, lake poems. I’m going to see where those take me. But no full manuscript just yet. It’s fun exploring and experimenting. There is so much I’d like to play around with, too. Poetry is so exciting these days.
Brian S: When you’re teaching your high school students, do you ever write alongside them? Like, give them a prompt and then follow it yourself? Do they know you publish?
Amanda Moore: I always set that goal for myself, that I’ll write alongside them, and that lasts for a while but isn’t sustainable. I think my teaching self and teaching brain just isn’t the same as my writing self. I want to be present with them and not just with myself, if that makes sense. They do know I publish… at least some of them do, and they are proud of me, even if they don’t understand what it means. I think some of them are surprised at any sign of a teacher’s life beyond the classroom. It’s neat when they want to know more, but i also try not to impose on them.
Kimberly Sailor: How do you name your files once they leave your notebook? I have “Poetic Tidbits” for little fragments and observations; “Every Poem Ever” for, as the name suggestions, the full catalog to pick from for submitting, revising, possible chapbook inclusion, etc; and then a document named with a working title for an in-progress chapbook that poems enter and leave.
Amanda Moore: Oh, Kimberly. I’m a folder kind of person in MS Word.
Kimberly Sailor: Retro is never out of style.
Amanda Moore: Files are all individual and named the name of the poem, and then I have them in different folders: working, full draft, finished. It’s a big deal when I move from working to finished (I’ll never get tired of the mechanical thunk sound the Mac makes when I do that.)
Brian S: Oh my god, y’all would run screaming from the disaster that is my poem world.
Amanda Moore: Tell!
Brian S: I’ll just find things in places sometimes and be like, did I write this? Why is it in this folder with my 2017 taxes? And then there are the Google docs…
Amanda Moore: It’s a huge pain when I want to make a manuscript, but I think the attention to each piece is actually really helpful. I catch a lot of things and make changes when just moving files around, adding them to docs, etc.
Brian S: At some point I was using Pages, too…
Amanda Moore: Google Docs is what I use for school, and it doesn’t touch my poems AT ALL. It’s a really easy barrier to hold. Pages just makes me angry.
Brian S: That’s because you’re a reasonable human being.
Amanda Moore: When my students turn a paper in on Pages, and I have to wait while it opens and then figure it all out… grrrrrr. One bright side of the pandemic is now my students turn their essays in on Google docs and I grade them on an iPad.
Kimberly Sailor: I do tend to write on scraps of paper if the moment strikes; lot of school concert programs, library check-out slips, even glossy crap (like when the book of stamps is used up) that I can hardly read again. I just found my writing on a torn piece of cardboard (?!) that just says, “The bats didn’t arrive until June this year.” Like a serial killer’s mind sometimes, I don’t know. Not everything is electronically tidy. Writing is very messy.
Amanda Moore: Kimberly, I love scraps like this, and I try to paste them into my notebook eventually.
Kimberly Sailor: Hey! I never thought about pasting them into a notebook. I will start that!
Brian S: What are you reading for fun these days? Assuming that’s a thing that can happen.
Amanda Moore: I am reading a lot of contemporary poems, keeping up with what I’m thinking of as a cohort. Jenny Qi’s Focal Point, Ben Gucciardi’s West Portal. I’m also reading a novel called Native Air that will come out in the spring, and a book about waves. The last novel I read, this past summer, was The Great Believers, and it has been hard to get into something since then because I loved it so much. I just taught The Adventures of China Iron, an Argentinian novel that I first encountered when reading for fun, so I like to recommend that!
Brian S: What’s it been like to try to release a book, especially a first book, during a pandemic?
Amanda Moore: I think I have it easier than some poets who released books in this time because there are a few places willing to have in-person events, which is one of the things I have really wanted: to be in conversation with people around poems. We’re all so insular right now by necessity and by design, so sometimes it feels like it isn’t even a real thing that has happened, but maybe that’s how one always feels? Nothing in my day-to-day life has really changed in these two weeks, so sometimes I forget and pinch myself. It really is so cool, pandemic or no, to know people are reading my book.
I am hoping in 2022 to find cities and bookstores who are ready to have safe in-person events so I can connect more with readers!
Brian S: Last question. Is there a place or places online where people can follow your work that you’d like to share?
Amanda Moore: I am on social media, so I can be found on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. That’s mostly where I post work as it comes out, though there isn’t rhyme or reason to where I post what. I’m horrible at social media, I guess, which doesn’t make me feel bad at all.
Kimberly Sailor: Thanks for sharing your evening with us! Big fan here, so happy for you.
Brian S: I honestly think that’s the only way to remain sane right now, to be not good at social media
Amanda Moore: Thank you for being here, Kimberly and Brian! I am so grateful for this conversation and your attention.
Brian S: Thanks for joining us, and for this wonderful book, Amanda!
Kimberly Sailor: Goodnight!
Amanda Moore: Let’s be bad at social media together. Goodnight, you two. This has been a pleasure!
Photograph of Amanda Moore by Clementine Nelson.