One London doctor (in the nineteenth century) writes that female patients might be allowed fiction but should be carefully watched. If a novel seemed to worsen their condition, it should be taken aways and replaced by a book 'upon some practical subject; such, for instance, as beekeeping.'
I am always very grateful to Erika in Delaware who regularly snippateers on my behalf sending me an envelope of newspaper and magazine cuttings and cartoons every so often from the other side of the pond. One of these was a piece entitled Turning the Page - How women became readers by Joan Acocella, published in the The New Yorker (October 25, 2012). The New Yorker is hard to come by in the village shop, and I'm not sure I've ever seen a copy in Tavistock either, so I am always very grateful to be kept in contact with life out there, and that quote reminded me...as these things do of one of my favourite books this year.
I wrote about Bee Journal by Sean Borodale some time ago and have been slowly walking out to Sean's hive with him on a regular basis through the year to check on the bees. Virtually that is, but with a sense that I am really there watching, because...
These poems were written at the hive wearing a veil and gloves, and the journal is an intrinsic part of the kinetic activity of keeping bees: making 'tiny, regular checks' in the turn around the central figure of the sun, and minute exploratory interventions through the round of the year. The book is full of moments of revelation - particularly of the relationship between the domestic and the wild. In attempting to record and invoke something of the complexity of the relationship between 'keeper' and 'kept' it tunes ear and speech towards the ecstasy of bees, between the known and the unknown.
Because of its genesis as a working journal, there is here an unusual intimacy and deep scrutiny of life and death in nature. The language itself is dense and clotted, the imagery thrillingly fresh, and the observing eye close, scrupulous and full of wonder.
And in that strange tennis-elbow-foot way that my reading so often joins up with itself, Roger Deakin writing in Wildwood had reminded me of a Ted Hughes' poetry collection Moortown Diary. I had somehow forgotten about it, but this is a series of poems written through the year on the farm on the northern edge of Dartmoor where Ted Hughes lived later in his life, so I am going to make that one of my year-long reads for 2013.
I was reminded that here too is a collection that had also been written very much on the hoof as Ted Hughes' notes confirm.
'In making a note about anything, if I wish to look closely I find I can move closer, and stay closer, if I phrase my observations about it in rough lines...my way of getting reasonably close to what is going on, and staying close, and of excluding everything else that might be pressing to interfere with the watching eye. In a sense the method excludes the poetic process as well..'
Ted Hughes goes on to say...
'This sort of thing had to be set down soon after the event. If I missed the moment - which meant letting a night's sleep intervene before I took up the pen - I could always see quite clearly what had been lost. By the next day the processes of 'memory', the poetic process had already started.'
When he decided to revisit those notes and leave the words as they were Ted Hughes calls their strength a 'souvenir bloom' ...
'Altering any word felt like retouching an old home movie with new bits of fake-original voice and fake-original actions.'
There is that same sense of 'souvenir bloom' to Sean Borodale's writing in Bee Journal, so if you are looking for a year-long read, a short meaningful piece every so often, then either of these would be ideal. I'd give my eye teeth to be able to capture the things that I see in this way....not that I have really tried that hard. There is an immediacy that captures and seals those moments of approach and arrival, of standing and watching, the sense of perhaps surprise, maybe pleasure, sometimes shock at what is waiting to be discovered there, and I can't tell you how much pleasure it has given me to be alongside Sean Borodale's hive... and without all the worry of being stung.
I suspect Ted Hughes might have loved Bee Journal too, here a few lines from Moortown Diary...
March morning unlike others (15 March 1974)
Blue haze. Bees hanging in air at the hive-mouth.
Crawling in prone stupor of sun
On the hive-lip. Snowdrops. Two buzzards.
Magnetized to the other,
Cattle standing warm. Lit, happy stillness.
Any more suggestions for year-long, day-to-day reads like this??
Please do add them in comments.