I have probably spent about a year reading Carol Ann Duffy’s The Bees. I absolutely adored her poetry collection Rapture so I bought this one to explore more of her work. Unfortunately, it left me quite unimpressed and a bit disappointed.
The reason that this book took me so long to read is probably that I didn’t understand much of it. For every poem I read I felt that I had to google it extensively to make sense of the words, references and underlying meaning. This spoilt the enjoyment for me. I like researching poems and seeing what they meant to other people, but first I want to let the poem wash over me and muse on what I think it means. With most of these poems I was simply unable to do that.
Were these poems written for me though? Its difficulty lies partly in its many references to the Scottish culture, landscape and folklore that I’m unfamiliar with, so perhaps I’m simply not Duffy’s target audience.
However, there was more that I struggled with. For example, the blurb describes The Bees as follows: “in [this collection] she uses her full poetic range: there are drinking songs, love poems, poems of political anger; there are elegies, too […]”. In my words, it is a bunch of previously published poems that have been forced together. I am unable to tell what unites them.
The motif of the bee is repeated throughout the collection, but I think it is too vague to keep the poems together. I understand that the bee represents the nice things in life, a precious, natural force in the world that is worth saving, but it is unclear why this motif was chosen, or how it really fits the poems it appears in. However, I feel obliged to add that just because I didn’t find any coherence that doesn’t mean there isn’t any.
Fortunately, not all poems were equally unreachable for me. I very much enjoyed the poems about Duffy’s relationship with her mother, how this carries on in her own relationship with her daughter and the strange grief of losing a parent, such as “Water”, “Orta St Gillis” and “Premonitions”. As I have lost a mother too, it is no surprise that these poems touched me more than the ones I cannot relate to.
I think I may return to this collection in the future, but for now I’m putting it back on the shelf. I was given The World’s Wife for my birthday last year, and it appears to be full of snarky feminism. There’s a good chance then that this book will be much more my cup of tea. To be continued…