Sean Borodale’s Bee Journal – Reviewed by Pam Johnson
For centuries bees have appeared in poems but Borodale’s subject is not only bees but also the work of their keeper. Bee Journal records the lived experiences of a novice apiarist, eager to succeed but facing many challenges along the way to the first spoon of honey.
We join him right at the start, ‘Come to collect bees, our hive in parts.’ We stay with him close to the hive, through the seasons, watching, learning, agonising – where is the queen? The writing has an accuracy and intensity that comes from writing in the moment, direct observation, ‘bees batting this pen and poem’s paper.’ Borodale finds the poetry in note-making selecting an intensity of verbs and nouns, no time for every pronoun or article.
The economy and brevity recalls poet/doctor William Carlos Williams writing fast on his medical notepads, impressions in the moment. Borodale records: ‘Bees…/stitching the house in a net of flightways,’ and, lifting the brood frame, notes it is, ‘weeping with bees.’
Sounds are differentiated: the newly-acquired box of bees, ‘It is alive … / small, small, small sounds composing one.’ Days later: ‘The box is flooding with arrivals; /a weight measurable by thickenings of sound.’ He records hive noises to discover, ‘what makes your orchestration, dialect, anima.’
There are intriguing facts: dusting with icing sugar helps prevent deadly verroa mite. He sprinkles the hive and notes the bees, ‘shaking the blizzard off with football stadium boos.’ Reflecting on the first honey: ‘…one bee, ten thousand flowers a day/to make three teaspoons-worth of this.’
The telegraphic urgency of these note-poems creates a narrative drive. It’s a book that demands to be read at one sitting but returned to, to savour.