Bees do many things, but one undervalued side product of being involved in apiculture is the diversity of doors that bees open for human interaction. There are, of course, the obvious interdisciplinary collaborations: entomologist with botanist, scientist with beekeeper, professor with government regulator, environmentalist with wild bee enthusiast.
I’ve been privileged to enjoy all of those interactions, but perhaps my most interesting partnerships have been with artists. I’ve worked with dancers, novelists, sculptors and multimedia artists, with valued learning and some deep friendships emerging from each project.
And now I’ve embarked on another artistic journey, working with award-winning poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar on a project connecting poets with beekeepers, chefs, urban farmers, food bank workers and others to celebrate and explore the boundaries of language and bees.
The project inhabits the intersection of the global movement to grow healthy food in cities, a growing awareness of threats to honeybee and wild bee pollinators and the vibrant poetry scene in Vancouver. Poetry is the ideal voice through which to capture our memories and reflections about food, going beyond sustenance to connect the personalities who harvest and the land from which they gather.
Saklikar writes thecanadaproject (https://thecanadaproject.wordpress.com), a life-long poem chronicle that includes poetry, fiction, and essays. Her book, Children of Air India, un/authorized exhibits and interjections, was the winner of the 2014 Canadian Authors Literary Award for poetry and a finalist for the 2014 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Award.
She also has collected poetry about bees for decades, and admits to a bee poetry fetish. We intersected when I interviewed her for the book I was writing, and then we attended each other’s book launches, hers for Children of Air India and mine for Bee Time: Lessons From the Hive for which she contributed considerable insights into how poets have viewed bees.
Poetry allows the exploration of themes that can be difficult to express through prose, inhabiting the interstitial cracks between fact and emotion, images and dreams, imagination and language. But poetry is also about sounds, vibration and undercurrents, the song beneath connected words.
And, as we learned through our first public performance, there is a bit of the poet even in those who don’t think themselves poetic.
We premiered our collaboration last month at the Vancouver Public Library, in a program titled “Honey, Hives and Poetry in the City.” It was part of Canada’s national poetry month, which fortuitously had the theme of poetry and food this year.
Rachel Rose joined us on stage. She is the poet laureate of Vancouver and has dedicated her three-year appointment to championing poetry, language and the arts in Vancouver. She’s connecting established and emerging poets with chefs, urban farmers and others engaged in nourishing citizens to create a collaborative book of poetry inspired by food.
Elee Kraljii Gardiner and two members of Thursdays Writing Collective also joined the program. The Collective runs free drop-in creative writing classes at the Carnegie Community Centre for members of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, an area challenged by poverty-related issues. Rounding out the evening with a honey tasting was Sarah Common and others from Hives for Humanity, an urban beekeeping project in the heart of the Downtown Eastside (http://hivesforhumanity.com).
To our surprise and delight, we had a large and engaged audience, ranging from poets to beekeepers, urban residents to foodies, backyard gardeners to food truck groupies, all curious about what inspirations about food might be drawn from bees and honey. Their enthusiasm was palpable, their applause frequent and their response enthusiastic when we turned the tables on the audience and asked them to take a few minutes to write some brief poems of their own.
The quality of their writing was notable, audible gasps of delight erupted spontaneously from the audience as we read a few of their brief poems aloud. Here are two of their poems; I don’t know the authors’ names as they were submitted and read out anonymously:
A sun-fed engine
revving in the garden
spinning, turning its wheels
turning up pollen like petrol
all cylinders firing, making
liquid gold, hot fan of wings,
dancing in circles, humming
and humming. Oh crazy
makers, legs burdened with
yellow. Eat the sweetness,
pace your cell, keep the
Soon the dogs bark and race
out the door careening past
the hives and down the fields
past the apple trees.
Renee and I were stoked by the evening to grow the bee/poetry interface, and hope to write some new work and evolve our collaboration into a multi-media performance with music and other poets.
And we aspire to inspire, by offering opportunities for those who don’t consider themselves poets to dip their toes into language and vocalizations that express the inestimable insights that bees can bring to our human world.