Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Wild Bees by John Griffin

A death wind swished across your open book
and dusted from its dusty leaves and colophon
the spores that gather in spines and gutters,
that swarm when agitated like motes in sunlight
like mites metamorphosing into seething bees
that set the silence humming, throbbing.

What comes alive in the shimmering shafts,
dancing and lemniscating, constructs infinity
inside a geometry of longing and there too
within its tessellations order hypnotises
disorder and draws out the unctuous drones
till they abandon their myrmidonian binging.

Veined wings made of water lift water’s weight
and flap water’s freight improbably into flight
where it hovers now before the portals of pollen
and fans antigens, powder-down and dander
with such a busy buzz the glassine scales intensify
the air, evaporate the dew and vaporize your tears.

The hive in the eaves was built out of absence,
or rather vacancy was its invitation — the colony knew
and soon occupied the silence with circadian rhythms
and you let them even welcoming the palpitations
they brought to things as a sign of life's affirmation,
and risk should their styli be more apt to sting you.

These insects could raise you out of yourself
and air-condition that claustrophobic infirmary
where sickness had you jailed — Delphic bees
pollinating your mind’s imponderables
with thoughts of correlatives beyond itself —
they could even alchemise your tears to gold:

Each swag has a scarab that the bees bear back
to their Omphalos — the Greeks already knew
and named your girls and the Egyptians before them
put onyx amulets in the woven skeps of dreams
so that the soul might harvest its cosmic course
towards that place where Ra drops honey from the sun.

Published with the permission of John Griffin

This week's editor: Zireaux

Poets are not people. And a good poem abandons all biography. I know almost nothing about John Griffin, whether he's attended schools, programs, workshops, written chapbooks or crap-books, published in lit-mags or shit-rags, or whether he's won any awards (I do hope he hasn't; my estimation of him might diminish).

But I know this poem. I know its instrument, its styli, if you will. I know that what we have here is a genuine work of art -- heroic, honey-tender, precisely beautiful -- created by a genuine poet.

We can talk about the remarkable combination of form and flow in "The Wild Bees," the six stanzas, six sentences, the six-sided honeycomb cell; the fluid phrasing -- "draw out the unctuous drones," "powder-down and dander," "pollinate...the imponderables.'

We can talk about the images, the conceit, the subject matter; how the bees, after all, as teardrops-come-to-life, flapping "water's freight improbably into flight" (lovely stuff, so very bee-like and palpable), are but messengers, workers, drones in the creation of Griffin's poetic unguent. Or how "The Wild Bees" is really a kind of love poem, an offering of soma or salve, a nectar meant to soothe the pain of a writer (a writer-goddess in this case) to whom, or perhaps with whom, the poet is responding.

Rather, what we must talk about -- even more than the sweet affection -- is what the poem demands of us: Not the meaning so much, but the language. Now let me speak softly here, a whisper, lest our real poets, quietly toiling away at beauties in the background, be distracted from their craft:

The poet must have faith in the design of language. In the structure, the honeycomb, the tessellation. "The geometry of longing." In vocabulary. Yes, vocabulary.

From spores to motes, mites, bees, scarabs, from death to golden tears and honey sun (bees were once thought to spring, like maggots, from the dead), from colophon to "seething bees" and "shimmering shafts" -- beauty is in the careful, coordinated, construction of words out of the swarm. And sure, it can be dangerous to "lemniscate" without a permit -- Griffin is no novice (he's waggle-dancing with his bees!) -- but don't be afraid to mingle with myrmidons, or let the bees sting your lips.

And you (exclamatory whisper!), O peddlers of minimalism, hucksters of haiku, I request you keep your smokey spiritualism away from the hive. Can you not hear the growing clamor of the i-Clones, the Fad-Pads, the X-Cubes and MeTubes, the Factor Xs, the Super 3-D Cinema-Plexes? Why should we submit to the blog-fog, the vapors of vacancy (stay calm, my voice!), when language can reach -- or better, ride, fly, however improbably, like Dante's Beatrice (Dante being the CGI animator of his day), to the place where Ra drops honey from the sun, on the powerful, jewel-encrusted Griffin-wings of language?

-- Zireaux


For more information about former Tuesday Poet John Griffin (who lives in Ireland, by the way), visit his website.

You'll find information about Zireaux, as well as his latest verse and commentary, at www.ImmortalMuse.com.

We do hope you'll take some time to enjoy the other Tuesday Poem posts this week, listed in the right-hand sidebar.


AJ Ponder said...

Absolutely scrummy. And I enjoyed the commentary too - a not-too-sweet accompaniment.

Penal-Colony said...


This has been a great honour indeed. Your selection and your amazing reading.

I haven't won any prizes but, as Patrick Kavanagh once said, the only reason to write is to win a big stash of cash, so I'm still hopeful.

Thank you again.


Mary McCallum said...

Zireaux, I know the poem from John's blog and was blasted by it on first reading. Your commentary is an astonishing piece of writing in its own right. I find myself more and more disappointed with the 'economical' poem that minimises everything most especially vocabulary. At the same time, some poems are not about the tapestry of language so much as how the needle pulls through the cloth... if that makes any sense... Thanks Zireaux and thanks John!

Helen Lowe said...

Zireaux, thank you so much for posting this poem. It is rich and complex and layered and I definitely have had to read it a couple of times already--and will do again!

susan t. landry said...

from kavanagh's lips to god's ears. it's an amazing poem, john.
and a well-deserved honor, untarnished by dirty money I trust, from the redoubtable zireaux.


Penal-Colony said...


Thank you.

I've tried to repay the compliment by dedicating a poem to -Z- on my blog.

Ben Hur said...

Wow, language, vocabulary indeed! I consider myself reasonably educated and reasonably wide-read and well-read, but many of these words had me rushing to the dictionary. Certainly a poem that can withstand a lot of re-reading. Don't be in a rush to be down on minimalism though, sometimes the simple can be very beautiful and very accurate. I'll have to lift my game as this poem haunts me with that oft-quoted statistic about how we use only a small percentage of the English vocabulary in daily conversation and even often in written communication. A fascinating and funny commentary by Zireaux. Thanks zireaux and thank John.

Anonymous said...

Appreciate all the comments. A few thoughts to add:

Nothing wrong, I suppose, with raking one's rock-garden. But writers must take a Hippocratic Oath, or Pindarian Promise so to speak: "First, do no blather." As for language, I have no doubt it will once again, very soon, carry the dramatic arts on its wings, especially with such masterful poets as J.G..

If you ask me, the word "epic" is now overused, now embarrassing; and yet language, not drama, defines epic. We've learned this lesson, I think. No more (let's hope) the sweeping fantasies, the lavish locations, castles, hobbit houses, computer-generated dragons, only, at most, to have Legolas gaze dreamily toward the East: "A red sun rises, blood has been spilled this night." (Such beautiful hair, and that's as eloquent as he gets?).

Brings to mind Anthony Lane's now infamous critique of Yoda in Star Wars: 'Deepest mind in the galaxy, apparently, and you still express yourself like a day-tripper with a dog-eared phrase book. "I hope, right, you are." Break me, a fucking, give.'


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