Monday, Monday, why have you to be so miserable and mundane?? A dull start to the week after the flashing neon lights of the weekend. Well, have I the perfect anecdote: poetry of course. Poetry combats mundanity by making everything matter again. And what better poetry than Carol Ann Duffy's much-awaited new collection 'The Bees'?
Now before all you non-poetry people reading give up or doze off, or switch blogs - here, listen - just for a moment. Carol Ann Duffy is the ideal poet to introduce to beginners. She's not at all boring or elitist - two of the biggest criticisms poetry gets. Her poetry is so alive its cells are bursting from the pages and so exciting the words spark and glow and glide. She is an all-inclusive poet, hence her UK Poet Laureate status.
Carol Ann Duffy is one of my favourite poets. I love her muscular style of writing, full of metaphors and images, truth and a brutal kind of beautiful honesty, punctuated by musical lyricism and roll-off-the-tongue rhythm. Her poems encompass all moods and themes; she can be wittily sarcastic, bawdy, funny and then lyrically romantic, straight-up honest, clever, mysterious and emotionally raw.
I stumbled upon this new collection in a bookshop surprisedly a while ago and finally got around to getting it last week. Oh and what a joy it is to encounter a poem in a quiet corner of a bookshop that makes you stop and muse and marvel upon its wonder and the wisdom it has to offer; it takes you away from the world for a moment and places you in a still quiet place of truth. While outside the city whirrs and spins and thrums in its incessant destination focus, inside all is calm. From being storm-tossed to being stilled. Poetry allows us meditation in the midst of the riot of routine and the chaos of busyness. It puts things into peaceful perspective.
A good poem, I always maintain, has gold within it. A treasured nugget of wisdom, a warming richness of truth, a glinting sheen of worth. This is so true of this new collection by Carol Ann Duffy. Every poem gleams with treasure. Even the cover, designed like a honeycomb, glints gold enticingly.
And every poem here is worth its mettle. Some of my highlights include: 'Gesture', 'The Bees', 'Snow', 'Virgil's Bees,' 'Atlas,' and so many more. The job of the poet laureate is to make poetry relevant and applicable to society again and Duffy does that brilliantly. From an ode to David Beckham's broken ankle 'Achilles,' to poems about the current political state of the world, Duffy's sharp and witty performance-like style is perfect for subtle criticism and her insights are accurately true - politics 'makes your face a stone/that aches to weep, your heart a fist/clenched or thumping, your tongue/an iron latch with no door.' In 'Miss Schofield's GCSE', a riposte to an English teacher who deemed her poetry unworthy to be on the syllabus, Duffy takes the high-ground praising poetry - 'explain how poetry/pursues the human like the smitten moon/above the weeping, laughing earth; how we/make prayers of it.' And of course, there's her signature humour. In 'Poetry' she makes fun of metaphor by stating: 'I couldn't see Guinness/and not envisage a nun' and a sarcastic ode titled 'Simon Powell' on the X-Factor's 'silver-smile' culture.
And then there are the poems that give you shivers: 'Cold' written about her mother's death, a recurring subject throughout the book and 'Snow', which I've included below. It's a winter poem, a warning poem and a poem that hits you with all the might of meaning and leaves a tingling tremor of truth, like so many of Carol Ann Duffy's. And then the glowing warmth of 'Gesture'. You can't help but smile and your heart swell at the last lines and infact the whole sentiment of the poem. That's what makes her a great poet. And that's what gives poetry its great power to change us, even for a fraction of a moment, into truth-seers and enlightened human beings at peace with the world and ourselves.
This is a book I'd urge all poetry and non-poetry lovers to indulge in. Picking up a random poem can shed light on so many things, and better yet, can shed a golden gleam onto everything ordinary and break the muddy illusion of mundanity into shining golden particles. (Bye bye Monday misery!)
In one of the best poems of this collection, 'Gesture', a poem written for the UK cancer survivors society, Duffy writes: 'Did you know at the edge of your ordinary, human days/ the gold of legend blazed?' and this is what this collection seems to echo over and over: the glinting gold of this human experience we call life. As sweet and nutritious as honey, you won't be disappointed.
Here's three of my favourite from 'The Bees'. Enjoy.
Here are my bees,
brazen, blurs on paper,
besotted; buzzwords, dancing
their flawless, airy maps.
Been deep, my poet bees,
in the parts of flowers,
in daffodil, thistle, rose, even
the golden lotus; so glide,
gilded, glad, golden, thus -
wise - and know of us:
how your scent pervades
my shadowed busy heart,
and honey is art.
Then all the dead opened their cold palms
and released the snow; slow, slant, silent,
a huge unsaying, it fell, torn language, settled;
the world to be locked, local; unseen,
fervent earthbound bees around a queen.
The river grimaced and was ice.
Go nowhere -
thought the dead, using the snow -
but where you are, offering the flower of your breath
to the white garden, or seeds to birds
from your living hand. You cannot leave.
Tighter and tighter, the beautiful snow
holds the land in its fierce embrace.
It is like death, but it is not death; lovelier.
Cold, inconvenienced, late, what will you do now
with the gift of your left life?
Did you know that your hands could catch that dark hour
like a ball, throw it away into long grass
and when you looked again at your palm, there
was your life-line, shining?
Or when death came,
with its vicious, biting bark, at a babe,
your whole body was brave;
or came with its boiling burns,
your arms reached out, love's gesture.
Did you know
when cancer draped its shroud on your back,
you'd make it a flag;
or ignorance smashed its stones through glass,
light, you'd see, in shards;
paralysed, walk; traumatised, talk?
Did you know
at the edge of your ordinary, human days
the gold of legend blazed,
where you kneeled by a wounded man,
or healed a woman?
your hand is a star.
Your blood is famous in your heart.
*Read more on Carol Ann Duffy's The Bees in the Guardian Review here