The bees, they came sly

The Bees

Carol Ann Duffy

Picador, 9780330442442, £14.99

It is lovely to pick up a well-presented, well-bound book. No reading from the screen can compete with the visceral pleasure of the tactile. To open a book with that first crack of the glue, that first loosening of the spine, to be able to feel the gold-blocked honeycomb pattern of the dustwrapper as you run your fingers over it, to drink in the clean scent of ink and paper and as you sit absorbed by the text to pull taut the integral gold ribbon marker – these are the little experiences that make reading a book such a gloriously sensual, intimate and deliciously solitary pleasure.

So, the book as an object scores highly, but what about the poems? Three themes stand out, weaving across this collection: Duffy reflecting quietly and passionately on the death of her mother; her love for bees and her fears for their futures and ours if they continue to decline; the potency or impotency of words and the poet. But the poetry is not confined to these threads – there is much else besides, politics, sport, a rewinding of Wilfred Owen, some splinters of Shakespeare, the spirits of northern places. There is some tricksy alliteration that slid over me with serpentine insinuations and this isn’t a collection boxed neatly into the confines of a super, instead it leaks and oozes over the mind with memorable lines and an organic cohesiveness.

As a collection it doesn’t draw me in spiritually as Heaney or R.S. Thomas might, but there are poems here I keep coming back to, there is an English folk-tinged rhythm that attracts and which both holds me in a lyrical tension and releases me into a land where the green blade riseth with leaves burnt black by GM manipulation. And above all, there are the bee poems, hymns to the perichoresis of the apis and the bombus that keep the earth humming with life. Lose the bees, says Duffy, and all ink will forever dry in silence.

 

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