Time and time again, I find myself falling in love with the way Scottish poet Carol Ann Duffy (Rapture, Mean Time) paints with words. Using so few, she manages to say much about our world and our humanity. She, like many poets and songwriters, offers the words for a feeling or thought I’ve had, though with more wit and honesty than I can muster.
Her delicate selection of words, or her “bees” as she calls them, “brazen blurs on paper,/besotted; buzzwords, dancing/ their flawless, airy maps”, inspires me as a writer. This line alone reminds me of the playful, blurry process of moving words from mind to pen. This woman is a genius. She was the first woman to be Britain’s Poet Laureate, appointed in 2009.
The poems in The Bees resonate so powerfully with me. They’re potent ensembles of letters. Her descriptions of occurrences in the intimate, every day and broader world offer an originality in accuracy and wisdom. For example, “a bat hung like a suicide” in the poem “Parliament” creates a startling image and reverent atmosphere. And as if I wasn’t already a big enough fan, joyfully dancing through this particular anthology is one of my favorite creatures, the bee. With varying degrees of subtlety, the bee floats through, around and beyond the poems in this book - a poignant and steady reminder to take a look around and pay attention to the smaller things.
The book’s title refers to its recurrent motif of our humble tiny friends, who we of course so blindly rely on. The decline of pollinators as a result of human impact on the Earth’s balance is a growing topic of conversation. Did you know that bees are responsible for pollinating 1/3 of the world’s current crops, and 90% of wild plants!? Without them, our food source would be hugely affected.
The recurring references in these poems to the environment remind us how necessary our acknowledgment and action are. Like poets have done for centuries, Duffy describes the natural world in ways that helps us see its astounding beauty. Elms stand “twinned with the shapes of clouds/ like green rhymes;/ or cupped the beads of rain/ in their leafy palms”.
She also highlights how we have harmed or changed this beauty. For example the Elms in this poem, “great, masterpiece trees”, become “overwhelmed” and have disappeared. She notices “where coral was red, now white, dead/ under stunned waters./ The language of fish/ cut out at the root./ Mute oceans. Oil like a gag” in “Parliament”.
More than once she asks the question, “Darlings,/ what have you done, what have you done to the world?” As a passionate advocate for protecting and respecting our environment, these observations ignite that feeling in me that wants to do more, say more and change more.
The Bees is light, funny at times, mysterious, serious and beautifully sad. I love Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry not only because of her style, her joyful play with word sound, but also because she moves me. I feel angry, sad, grateful, contemplative and delighted. More still, these poems speak to the part of me that is wholly and forever linked to the natural world.
(Most recommended poems of the anthology: “The Human Bee”, “The Woman in the Moon”, “The White Horses”, “Virgil’s Bees”, “The English Elms”)