by Amanda McCormick
Ink Press Productions, 2016
On the contents page of Amanda by Amanda McCormick, there are two circles arranged like a Venn Diagram. To the far right, lining the outside of one of the circles, are the titles of the poems. To the far left, lining the outside of another of the circles, are the corresponding page numbers. The intersecting point of the Ven Diagram is blank.
A contents page reveals what’s inside a book, and these contents felt like a metaphor for Amanda as a concept. Even though the book is named Amanda, is it really about Amanda? And when you say the name Amanda, are you conjuring Amanda herself, or are you conjuring a series of images that fit with your own experiences? As McCormick says in the poem “Temperatures too” (64) “Air can only be a metaphor for air.” Things can only be metaphors for what we already know.
When I first heard that Amanda McCormick was publishing a book called Amanda, I thought, “That’s really bold.” And the design, which was done by InkPress (run by McCormick and Tracy Dimond), is certainly bold. It’s 10 inches tall and 7.25 inches wide; that’s big, especially for a poetry book. The only thing on the cover is the word “AMANDA,” written in all caps and large print. The poems themselves tend to take up space, either filling the whole tall page or expanding left to right.
But the character, though bold, is ambivalent about her own boldness and tired of performing. She’s eager-to-please—but won’t please you without commenting on it—and her anxieties become clearer and more poignant as you get deeper into the book. In the poem my Amanda (58), McCormick says:
“why am I always afraid of being
too big? why?!”
The book is as strange and uniquely Amanda as it is relatable; it made me connect to the parts of myself that are emboldened and the parts that are ambivalent and tired. Sometimes I got sad about how I tired I am—and for this, McCormick offers amusing lines about sort of wanting to give up. Like in the poem “for hire forever” (82), she says:
“to avoid applications I look for jobs wherever possible
like, there is a pet, my job is to pet her!”
For me, the biggest tension was between Amanda’s desire to grow and change and her feeling that the world wants her fixed to a brand. As the contents suggest, the book is circular—in that, each time we watch Amanda expand, a part of her retracts into her brand. This seemed a purposeful way of commenting on these tensions. The book straddles this line between using distancing words that conjure performance and bringing the reader close in a really powerful way. One of my favorite powerful quotes is from the poem “my Amanda”:
“I was given my name Amanda
from the sperm I’ve never met
It comes from the line:
I’m gonna take you
and make you realize
It means I am meant
to live my life in search
In a sense, this is the thesis of the book. No one plans to be born; birth takes everyone by surprise. But once we are born, we spend a lot of our lives in a balancing act between realizing our true selves and packaging versions of that for other people. By birthing her, the sperm Amanda has never met was literally doing the things in the song.
The name Amanda means “lovable” or “to be loved”. In these lines, McCormick seems to be saying that the name itself doesn’t automatically afford her love—she has to search for it. It’s yet another thing that was given to her by someone else that she has to perform. But at the same time, it feels raw, like seeing into an open wound. It reveals the humanity behind the performance. As Amanda says in the poem A Life Worth TO DO,
“how do I turn off the power
on my product?”