On Monday night I went to see our current Poet Laureate, the Scottish poet Carol Ann Duffy, read from her latest collection, ‘The Bees‘.
While I was taking my English Literature GCSE, A-level and degree, I read quite a few of her poems, but she had slipped from my mind since. Until I heard about ‘The Bees’, a collection of poems loosely inspired by bees, some more obviously than others. The recurring motif of the bee is interspersed amongst themes of love, loss, war and politics.
The Southbank Centre was packed out on Monday night. I had booked fairly late so had a seat far up at the back, next to a man who kept muttering to himself. Like me, many of the audience seemed to be lone poetry fans, and it was quite amusing to look down on us all busily reading our pale blue honeycombed editions.
Dressed all in black, jewels glittering at her neck, Carol Ann Duffy came out on stage accompanied by a gentleman whose name I didn’t catch but who played a brilliant trumpet solo to announce her arrival. Throughout the evening he accompanied her on various instruments, many of which I had never seen or heard before. She didn’t talk much, apart from reading from The Bees, but she did say that the bee was an image she found had crept into some of the poems. And that there are wonderful long connections between bees and poets, from Virgil to Sylvia Plath.
The Human Bee – this poem she described as inspired by the problems being suffered in the southern Sichuan province of China, following pesticide poisoning killing all the local bees and forcing local farmers to have to hire people to pollinate their orchards by hand.
Here’s a review of the collection by fellow poet Liz Lochhead: www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/nov/04/bees-carol-ann-duffy-review and a less positive one at www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/nov/06/carol-ann-duffy-bees-review.