Requeening by Amanda moore (ecco press 2021)
Reviewed by Leonora Simonovis
When members of a beehive are diseased—when their temperament changes or the queen is unable to lay eggs–– beekeepers use a practice called requeening, in which one queen is substituted for another to disrupt the current patterns in the hive and create new healthy patterns that will allow its members to grow and thrive. It is impossible not to notice the irony: the queen has an important role in keeping the hive actively developing and yet, once her “usefulness” has passed, she is discarded.
Amanda Moore’s debut poetry collection, aptly titled Requeening, was selected for the 2020 National Poetry Series by Ocean Vuong and is forthcoming from HarperCollins/Ecco in October 2021. In subtle (and at time not so subtle) ways, Moore uses the metaphor of the hive and the queen bee as a contested site to explore questions related to the roles of women in different stages of their lives, especially as it concerns the relationship between mothers and daughters. The speaker moves between her own desires, her body, her relationship with her daughter, the push-pull of solitude and loneliness, and the complexities of child-rearing by weaving together “these strings of loneliness/and fashion some sort of shroud/to drape across my shelves.”
These poems become a beautiful excavation of the self that leads the speaker to understand “How I worked to open” and how that opening has also changed her.
I have been more
mother than woman. I have stayed up
all night lining the shelves of my life
with your toys and books.
says the speaker in “Confession” as she reflects on motherhood, and how the daughter becomes a woman and learns to navigate the world by following in the steps of the mother. But what happens when the woman is overshadowed by the mother, when responsibility overpowers selfhood? What kind of woman will the daughter be? As the speaker says in the last two lines of the poem, “this is the litany/of my mistake.” Her focus on motherhood will inevitably affect how her daughter sees herself and other women, and there is nothing the speaker can do about it because “before she stood/or spoke/or wrote/she made her life/a leaving.” In this sense, being a parent implies a rendering, an understanding that having a child ironically implies a separation from the very beginning, from the moment “she split me in two.”
The collection also addresses the “split” between needs and wants, as evidenced in the poem “Collapse,” which begins with the question, “what do bees want?” –something the speaker claims she has never wondered about. Caring for the hive and observing the bee’s life pattens serve as a doorway that leads into the speaker’s own wanting:
But as to want, who can say? I say
I need to take my vitamins, apply sunscreen,
eat greens & exercise—want self-care,
something I deserve (for what I do not know).
The speaker believes that dutifully checking on the hive “would keep us from disaster.” But as we move deeper into her interiority, we realize this line signals the beginning of a series of poems about the body collapsing onto itself after a diagnosis that parallels “Odysseus’ journey to the Underworld.” Once again, the speaker must do her duty and follow a path that has been traced for her by others (in this case, doctors), knowing that even this “diligence might not be enough:”
For a year I took poison,
let every part of me suffer
to root out a conflagration of cells.
The poems become rooted in the body of the woman that has already given life to another and that now must give life to herself,
I thank nothing
but my body
for this life.
As we come to the end of the collection, the speaker experiences the loss of a loved one and her grief is externalized, finding anchor in the objects around her, the moments, the memories. She returns to “the hive-grave” with the intention to tend to it again, to bring back the bees and to watch what unfolds because “I will be alive this time.” The broken hive –like the broken body– will be brought back to life and a new queen will take her place among the colony.
Moore’s stunning collection pointedly guides the reader towards human and non-human interconnectedness, but also towards an awareness of what it means to be a woman, a mother, a daughter in a world that undervalues all of those things. The author explores what it means to tend to self in order to truly understand how to connect with others; to value this one life we have and to experience it as fully as we possibly can.