Poets.ca: On Honey, Hives and Poetry

This piece first appeared on the League of Canadian Poets blog on April 24, 2015:

“Next I’ll speak about the celestial gift of honey”

~ Virgil, Book IV, Georgics

From the slow press of hours in ancient times to today’s digital staccato, poets obsesses about bees. For example, there’s Stephen Collis’ bee poems in his award winning poetry book, On the Material as well as Carol Ann Duffy’s The Bees, and of course, famously, Sylvia Plath’s “bee sequence” in Ariel and Yeats’ Lake Isle of Innisfree.

Bee poems pop out everywhere once you start looking, and you might find yourself clipping poems to carry around in your pocket, such as Eamon Grennan’s  delightful “Untitled [back they sputter]. Start googling any poetry website and you’ll quickly discover poems about bees, bee-keeping, hives and honey. As well-known bee expert, scientist and author, Dr. Mark Winston says, “Art with bees energizes our capacity to imagine and deepens our attentiveness to the world around us.” His latest book, Bee Time, Lessons from the Hive, includes environmental analysis, memoir, and a lyric prose meditation on bees, art and culture. In the research for his book, Dr. Winston connected with Vancouver poet, Renée Sarojini Saklikar, author of a life-long poem chronicle, thecanadaproject that includes, among other things, bee-poems.

This year, Saklikar and Winston will collaborate on a lyric prose-poetry performance for which Saklikar has written a sequence of bee poems in honour of, and using text from not only Virgil but also Winston’s scientific data and publications. In preparing for performance, Mark and Renée were delighted to learn of Rachel Rose’s call to poets to investigate, explore, and celebrate food and poetry. As the new City of Vancouver’s poet laureate, Rose’s vision shimmers “bee energy.” She writes, “we want to investigate the ways in which food is ‘personal, political, sensual and powerful.’” Saklikar, a League member who studied with Rachel Rose at Simon Fraser University’s The Writers Studio, saw a nexus of community connections beginning to form: what might poets, community, and bees get going in Vancouver?

Together with Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue, Dr. Winston approached Vancouver Public Library and Saklikar reached out to TWS alumina, author, and activist, Elee Kraljii Gardiner, who directs Thursdays Writing Collective, a non-profit organization of free, drop-in creating writing sessions.  Collaborative artistic and literary work often helps illuminate and deepen existing ideas: along with poetry and community-building, why not give space to eco-efforts to help sustain bee-keeping in the city?

And so an event replete with concentric circles was born: “Honey, Hives, and Poetry in the City” will celebrate National Poetry Month by examining food and poetry as a means of cultural and social activism. In addition to poetry readings, there will be time for public response as well as displays about beekeeping in the city and a honey tasting, provided by Hives for Humanity.

The event, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m., on April 27, at the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, is free, open to the public, and presented in partnership with the Vancouver Public Library and Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue. For more information see http://www.sfu.ca/dialogue/news-and-events/archives/2015/honey-hives-poetry-apr27.html . As Elee Kraljii Gardiner says, “I’m excited because I’ve a poem specifically about supersedure and colony collapse and I have never had a chance to read it in public.” As for Saklikar and Winston, they are looking forward to hearing Poet Laureate Rachel Rose inaugurate what they hope might be a yearly event!

Comments from Vancouver Poet Laureate, Rachel Rose:

“Last night’s reading at the Vancouver Public Library was one of the best events I’ve ever had the privilege of attending. The collaboration between poet Renee Saklikar and scientist Mark Winston was extraordinary, and bees were well represented in poetry, in science writing, by Elee Kraljii Gardiner and the fabulous writers of Thursdays writing collective, by the extraordinary mother-daughter team Sarah and Julia Common of Hives for Humanity, bringing honey, hope and sweetness to the DTES. It was a sweet evening, with deep roots in various communities, an appreciative, gracious audience, and honey tastings that were so specific we could taste the difference between Strathcona and Main Street. Thank you to all.”

– Rachel Rose

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