Every week a science book, play, article, etc. will ‘bee’ reviewed (I admit, as an entomologist, that I may use a few too many insect puns). This week’s selection is appropriately themed for the first ‘Bee Reviewed’ post ever – a book of poetry entitled Blind Huber by Nick Flynn.
I originally reviewed this book as part of NaRMo – National Reviewing Month, which occurs in February and is run by my undergraduate institution.
Blind Huber is a poetic masterpiece that brings to life the distinct harmony of Huber, a blind, elderly French beekeeper from a different century, and swarms of honeybees. There is an absolute obsession written into this collection of poems, as Huber observes and speaks with the bees; through him, Flynn comments on the fierceness that underpins all of life. Flynn gives us bees that meditate on love, devotion, knowledge, individuality v. uniformity and more; bees that drink deep of the natural world and show us both the pleasure and the pain of life’s commanding beauty. Huber, while the title character, often takes a backseat to the bees in this collection and yet his story is so inextricably tied to that of the hive that even when he is not in the poem, he is present. The collection is thought-provoking and, at times, depressing as it ruminates on the distorted pallor of death as seen through the eyes of various hive-mates; this book is, in a very visceral way, also about how we see what we see. Huber was a deliberate choice for the beekeeper; while being a pioneer in hive observations, his blindness has a significant impact on his relationship with and trust of the bees and lends itself to seeing all of the collection’s various meditations through a different lens than the societal norm.
While a love of bees is certainly a positive thing to bring to this collection, a reader does not need any biological understanding of eusocial insects to enjoy the sweetness of this collection which is remarkably accurate while still remaining powerful and emotive. I enjoyed the poems “Paper Wasp” and “Worker (lost)” in particular. “Paper Wasp” was first published in the New England Review in 2002, and contains the lines:
“All this time/we’ve been building beside you…fragments of your barn, paint/chewed to pulp. Everything/passes through us, transformed.”
“Worker (lost)” was first published by Tin House and contains the following lines:
“the hive full of strangers,/none remained precisely me, none/ I would die for.”
Flynn covers reproduction, haplodiploidy, royal jelly, and more but in such a magnificent way I am sure that both entomologists and literary citizens with no ‘bug background’ to speak of could enjoy this delightful collection.