It's been a terrible year for bees here in the UK. I know this, firstly because there was a news report last week on the impact of our very wet summer on the poor little drenched bees who just couldn't get out and about to collect the pollen, so the keepers are having to feed them sugar supplements already. That's a winter task, virtually unheard of in summer, yet the bees are starving, but it was the local vicar who imparted worse news back in May.
The parish vicar has been the main beekeeper in these parts for years, and when I pitched up at the village church to catch sight of the Gamekeeper who was on Best Man duties ...and I just wanted to see how well the GK had scrubbed up and to take some pics... you can see for yourself, the boy done good and quite different to his usual attire...
Well the vicar and I got talking while we waited for the bride to arrive, and my first question whenever I see him is always 'How are the bees doing?' . Now that our nearest neighbour has had to give up beekeeping after a massive anaphylactic reaction to stings, the Vicar's are almost certainly the bees that pollinate our middle-of-nowhere garden. But, remember that unseasonally hot spell back in March which brought all the bees out early and was then quickly followed by the prolonged cold spell... well the bees didn't survive, every colony lost, at which point the vicar finally decided to give up his hives and call it a day.
Very few bees sighted in our garden all summer apart from one sweltering day back in July when a huge black buzzing fast-moving cloud swept across the garden; a swarm on the loose, and the classic time of year for them to be so, but heaven knows where they ended up.
It is a while since I have read 'His' and 'Hers' books but I happen to have done so at the moment. Sean and his wife Jane stopped by to say hello at the dovegreyreader tent at Port Eliot Festival, and we had a great chat. All enough to prompt me to open Jane's latest novel The Knot which had been sitting here unread and waiting and which I have just finished (more of which soon but I highly recommend) and also to revisit Bee Journal in its new paperback edition.
Sean sent me Pages From Bee Journal last autumn and I wrote about it here. A hand stitched (he did 400 of them) pamphlet sized collection of poems begun two years previously when Sean took up beekeeping for the first time, chronicling the life and work of the bees along with the relationship between 'keeper' and 'kept'. In his letter Sean wrote that the writing had become an intrinsic part of the keeping of the bees and I was bowled over by it and said so... and apparently we might have done our little bit to help the pamphlet on its way, and into the publication of this new and expanded volume from Jonathan Cape.
Having loved the first batch of poems I was delighted to find more, and also in sufficient number that Bee Journal can be read chronologically, almost like a seasonal diary (my favourite format) through the year. This makes it a book to savour and reserve for treat reading, a bit like the best honey (which will be scarce this year) ..so on 27th August this...
The spider's season opens,
rat tooth-marks appear;
almost just a tempering of vision.
So, in a coat
I go up to the ochre house of you in there.
How bees touch and re-align their touch.
Light in migration;
noise of a body in continual repair ...
The next poem is dated 29th September and I won't read it until then because I want to be seeing and feeling that day as it happens in the book, but sneaking a preview and glancing ahead I see the first lines...
held to a flower's remnant
And oh, oh, oh I can't wait...after that 7th October...11th October...16th October... 17th October and I can go on and on keeping bees vicariously without having to bother with the suit, the smoker, the veil. It's several years since I did the bee-keeping course and got that certificate to prove it, but I have never forgotten how fascinating it all was, or how much I enjoyed it.
Alice Oswald has this to say about Bee Journal...
The book is a kind of uncut home-movie of bees. I like it oddness and hurriedness, its way of catching thw world exactly as it happens in the split-second before it sets into poetry. These are pre-poems, note-poems dictated by phenomena. Their context is bees, but their subject (intriguingly) is Time.
That in itself is like having a poem on the cover of a book, this one really is a word-filled jar of golden treasure.