There are no rules to know a good poem or discover a fine new poet. The good poem sings its own song. It rings true from its first line, the breath, pause and accent right, the sound word-music. As we listen or read we forget ourselves. We believe it as we believe any fine work of art. At first reading at least a phrase stays, a line sings in the mind, an image returns, because it is well observed, well-heard. The poem’s detail surprises, a familiar thing made new. A good poem becomes our own because it could not be said better.
All this describes the poems from Sean Borodale’s collection, Bee Journal, an apiarist’s journal, a year in the life and death of a swarm, from bringing the bees home in early summer, ‘noise of weight; /we carried this / through our proscenium of grasses’ to their winter silence, ‘in our hands the corpse of a city’. The poems are true, forensic, beautiful. We are startled by the mixture of the known and the new. Like Maurice Maeterlinck’s prose work, The Life of the Bee, this is bee-science as literature, nature poetry at its best.
Frost, and frost yesterday
and last night.
Strong little moon picked at your bones.
The pear on the brink
of unpacking its blossom.
nectar festivities, tents.
One day only stalls of druggy sugars,
the beers of flowers.
Everything is dragged awake;
puts on its music clothes.
12th November: Winter Honey
To be honest, this is dark stuff; mud, tang
of bitter battery-tasting honey. The woods are in it.
Rot, decayed conglomerates, old garlic leaf, tongue
by dead tastes, stubborn crystal, like rock. Ingredients:
ivy, sweat, testosterone, the blood of mites. Something
in this flavour surely.
Had all the clamber, twist and grip
of light-starved roots, and beetle borehole dust.
Deciduous flare of dead leaf,
bright lights leached out like gypsum almost, alabaster
Do not think this unkind, the effect is slow
and salty in the mouth. A body’s widow in her dying
It is bleak with taste and like meat, gamey.
This is the offal of the flowers’ nectar.
The sleep of ancient insects runs on this.
Giant’s Causeway hexagons we smeared on buttered toast
or just the pellets gouged straight from wax to mouth.
Try this addiction:
compounds of starched-cold, lichen-grey light. What else seeps
Much work, one bee, ten thousand flowers a day,
to make three teaspoons-worth of this
of forest flora full of fox. Immune to wood shade now.
Photograph by Todd Huffman.