Poetry

“Anniversary Declaration,” by Amanda Moore

Commentary by Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

Today’s column will serve as the formal introduction to readers of Amanda Moore, a poet who has been contributing a column a month to the Women’s Voices Poetry Sunday series for the past few months. Moore is on the board of the Marin Poetry Center, a local haven for poetry lovers in Marin County, California, where I first met her a few years ago. She’s is a model board member—organized, responsible, and passionate about poetry—and also a voracious, perspicuous reader with a formidable memory and an impressive range of knowledge about contemporary poetics. At the read-arounds that close our board meetings, I discovered that Moore is, additionally, a wonderful and accomplished poet. Recently, I had the chance to hear her read at a Litquake event at Faye’s Video in San Francisco and a launch event for the new issue of Nostos at Copperfield’s Books in San Rafael.

 

Poster for Litquake San Francisco, 2019

Amanda Moore (left) and Rebecca Foust at Faye’s Video during Lit Crawl 2019

Amanda Moore (left) and Meryl Natchez at Faye’s Video during Lit Crawl 2019

 

Today’s poem, “Anniversary Declaration, consists of five free-verse quatrains (four-line stanzas) in which the lines are unmetered, unrhymed, and of moderately variable length ranging from four words and syllables (line 20) to six or seven words and nine syllables (lines 2 and 10). The poetic devices at work here are anaphora and image in the form of similes and metaphors. Anaphora is the engine of the poem’s momentum and comes in the form of repetition of the phrase “That the bed” at the beginning of every stanza but the first, which starts with “That there is a bed.” Because of the poem’s title, I am cued from the start to view the bed in question as conjugal (or at least shared), making “Anniversary Declaration” part of a long tradition of such poems, for example, such as “The Flea” and “To His Mistress Going to Bed” by John Donne.

“Anniversary Declaration” begins by drawing a comparison in the form of a simile (using the “as” instead of the more commonly seen “like” construction) between the speaker’s marital bed and a space on a calendar, which both hold within them the “begin[ning]” and “end[ing]”—the whole—of a day. This invites us to think of the ways in which a bed is like a square on a calendar, or by extension, like a unit of time. In a way, both are blank and full of possibility until we bring something (our own bodies and sometimes those of lovers and families) to inhabit them.

It’s interesting to think about measuring our lives in terms of the beds we’ve occupied. In my case, an abbreviated version would include a neonatal ICU bassinet at Altoona Hospital, a crib shared with my twin brother, a bed shared with older sisters, and then, the glorious years of my own bed in my own room after my siblings grew up and left home. Afterward came the years of secondhand beds in dorm rooms and shared apartments followed by a succession of marital beds—same husband, different beds—shared over the course of our marriage. I love the discovery that calendar slots and beds are the same geometric shape and are null until filled and that a bed can be a kind of calendar or history of our days. All the images used to describe the speaker’s bed in this poem are delightful, but this one is my favorite because it surprised me the way the best poems do, with something that, on some level, I already knew. It’s not surprise alone that is sought for in poems but surprise that comes with a truth, something that makes us say, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”

Stanza two extends the comparison beyond the calendar concept, noting that the bed is also “the shape of the windowpane.” In this case, the idea of a bed is enlarged to include a safe, interior space from which to view the outside world—or perhaps through which to view it, given the words “passthrough and portal.” I hadn’t thought about that before, how our beds can allow access to other worlds. Like windowpanes, beds afford “privacy” at the same time they permit a certain “transparency;” the people in them are screened from the outside world but not from each other. Maybe the window is less on the exterior world than on some other more remotely interior world, like the one we gain admission to through dreaming. Beds can be a place, in any event, from which to access other worlds.

Stanza 3 moves beyond simile into more direct metaphor, equating the bed with “a small box,” an image that introduces a certain amount of claustrophobia. We learn in the next line that the box is a jewelry box, and the author extends the metaphor to include the speaker and her lover or husband within it, represented as “a pair of earrings.” Through the building of this image, literally and figuratively a metaphor-within-a-metaphor, we come to learn a few things about the speaker’s relationship with the person who shares her bed. Like those earrings, the union may be a bit worn (“tarnished”), but it still sparkles (is “bejeweled”). Also like the earrings, the speaker and her bedmate share a protective (“cottoned”) place, “neither touching nor tangled.” Not being tangled could be a good thing, suggesting a lack of marital discord, but it also has an edge, sharpened in the next phrase’s “not touching.” Like most shared and many conjugal beds, this one has its mapped territory and individual turf.

The next stanza, though, makes clear that the separation implied by “not touching” is not a negative thing. In another wonderful metaphor, the bed becomes a verdant, fecund place of possibility, “a field of flower / and grain.” Its “beauty” is first acknowledged outright, then qualified as being the kind of beauty which lasts and nurtures, offers “sustenance.” Not that it’s stopped being a fun place to be—far from it, as “romp and frolic / and play and seed” make clear.

The final stanza turns darker, acknowledging the bed as a potential battlefield or at least a place affording the kind of “play” that can turn competitive. Notice the way the phrase “the bed is a field” is repeated then changed from its first usage. In stanza 4, it’s a “field” in the agrarian sense of that word, but in stanza 5, “field” designates something very different, a place of competition and struggle:

That the bed is a field
is a scrimmage is a boundary:
two teams, opposition
and for someone to win, the other—

“Scrimmage” clarifies that the struggle is essentially a friendly one between competitors from the same team, and “boundary” hearkens back to the calendar image that opened the poem and the way nights spent in bed close and open every single (well, for us night owls, almost every single) day that we live. We tend to think of shared beds as a place where differences and personal boundaries dissolve, and they sometimes do. But not always: a shared bed can also be the place where people feel the most alone and where domestic grievances get aired.

The ending of “Anniversary Declaration” is of particular interest to me. Technically speaking, em-dashes typically come in pairs, with one to open and another to close the idea that these marks of punctuation set off from the rest of the sentence. Here, we have only the initial, opening em-dash. To me, this suggests that some text is missing and that the poem wants me to complete the clause that begins with “and for someone to win, the other—” I am sure I am not the only reader who completes that thought as “another must lose.”

It’s challenging to write a good poem about conjugal love. Many poems, of which epithalamiums are but one example [see the 12/15/19 Poetry Sunday column featuring Melissa Crow’s “Southbound Epithalamium”], tend towards the extremes of idealizing marriage on the one hand or trashing it on the other. This poem presents a balanced view of what can be good in a marriage—companionship, family-building, intimacy, and even fun—while also acknowledging its challenges—competition, power imbalances, and interpersonal struggles. I love the way the unverbalized ending forces me to directly engage to figure out what was left out and then decide whether I agree that marriage is a zero-sum game. It may not be the same person winning or losing each time, but in general, marriage is much more a yoked tandem march than a melding of two beings living and breathing as one. That’s been my experience, anyway, and I enjoyed seeing it reflected in this remarkable, smart, and life-affirming poem. Anyway, readers, we are lucky to have Amanda Moore on board, and I hope you will join me in welcoming her as a regular contributing editor to this column.

 

 

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