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Bee Journal- Book of the Month

by Sean Borodale

On 24th May, Sean Borodale collected a nucleus of bees and began jotting his observations as an apiarist. BEE JOURNAL emerges as a fervid sequence of poems tracking two years of the hive. From larvae to Queen to the threat of a false spring and premature swarms, Borodale’s poetry is riddled with anxiety and cautious hope.

BEE JOURNAL was first drafted through an apiarist’s gloves and veil, and it is perhaps this total immersion in the hive that lends the collection its startling intimacy, with verses thick as honey, dense as wax, and lines that accumulate like so many layers of gauze. The proximity of bees to Borodale’s ‘sugar-map’ is almost audible and, at one point, the poet’s page is marked with death as fallen bees litter his notebook. As a result of this unique style of composition, Borodale’s language is like his winter honey - ardent, bejewelled and unrefined, a

solid broth
of forest flora full of fox.

With such a scrupulous a record of sight, sound and taste, the reader is submerged into the necessary synaesthesia of bee-keeping and musical metaphors abound until the journal amounts to a veritable orchestra of the bee’s sweet toil.

At times the verse appears to track a nervous gestation, an apiarist befuddled by the dark, uterine inside of the hive. The boundaries between inside and out, between keeper and kept, are tenuous and pierced by a sting:

Witches of black poison went screeching
figures of eight,
all broomstick and flight path.

Black poison throbbed.
My rivers wretched, staggering at undertow,
gripped my feet.

Borodale is also keenly aware of the passing of time and seasons. Death looms large in the margins of his work, and a harsh midwinter can make a hive a morgue.

BEE JOURNAL has been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot and Costa prizes. Sean Borodale is the poet in residence at the Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge, as part of the Thresholds project curated by Carol Ann Duffy. An anthology of poetry inspired by the museum collections will be published in 2013.

Published by Jonathan Cape, 112pp.

Eve Lacey

If you would like to read some poems from BEE JOURNAL, you can access three of them (as well as samples from all the other shortlisted poets) from the T S Eliot Prize website

Read our interview with Sean Borrodale.


Nice to see some poetry being recommended. I have a thing about bees as well!

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