Like his two previous books, Asylum was written live on-site; in this case deep within the caves, mines, quarries, geological and archaeological horizons of the Mendip Hills in Somerset. The poems stage modes of exile in the darkness of earth, enacting solidarity with those others who have made their journey into the underworld – Dante, Orpheus, blinded Oedipus, Euripides. These are semi-dramatic voicings, staged across the thirty-mile theatre of the Mendip subterranean: each an act of recovery, of rescue. Traversing the broken, collapsed, eroded stones, looking for voices that express the damaged and the damned, Asylum pays homage to the darkness of the human cave: its memories and ancient histories, and to its more contemporary signals – internationally owned quarries, abandoned coal mines, decommissioned Cold War bunkers.
As with Bee Journal and Human Work, these poems take on the nature of the experience recorded. Written blind, as it were, the diction here becomes mineral, deeply tactile – hard and granular, alert to sound in its own blackness. Descending underground with the poet is to enter a theatre of heightened senses, and these extraordinary poems feel both unearthed and unearthly.
The Birds and the Bees series was designed for Vintage Classics by Timorous Beasties, the Scottish studio famous for their designs inspired by the natural world
Bee Journal is a poem-journal of beekeeping that chronicles the life of the hive. It observes the living architecture of the comb, the range and locality of the colony; its flights, flowers, water sources, parasites, lives and deaths. Because of its genesis as a working journal, there is here an unusual intimacy and scrutiny of life and death in nature. The language is dense and clotted, the imagery thrillingly fresh, and the observing eye close, scrupulous and full of wonder.
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY THE AUTHOR
SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2012 T. S. ELIOT POETRY PRIZE
Human Work was written while cooking. It is the narrative of a voice in domesticity, at the alchemical heart of home – the hearth, or Hestia – where the kitchen is a stage for acts of eating and uttering; for the ebb and flow to the human mouth. The poems were written ‘live’ among pots and pans, beside chopping boards, between plates, bowls, knives, forks, spoons, and servings. Their time is the hybrid time of writing and cooking – where the dimensions of two activities hinge together. The poems occupy a shared space; the work is one work. They live together and cross-talk, like figures in a room, invoking an old story, perhaps one of our very first: how we make food to eat and share, how we draw and transform others’ bodies into being our own flesh and life. Implicit in ingredients are the stories of matter itself: without food there can be no other stories.
Like the poems of Bee Journal these poems started life in notebooks, in situ. Their pages seem marked with the very process of their making: jam, grease, wine stains, crumbs of flour and spice, flecks of meat, fish, fruit, vegetable. Like Bee Journal, this is a book about communal purpose, a record of risk and response – a poetry of the moment, both immemorial and thrillingly modern.
Bee Journal is a startlingly original poetry sequence: a poem-journal of beekeeping that chronicles the life of the hive, from the collection of a small nucleus on the first day to the capture of a swarm two years later. It observes the living architecture of the comb, the range and locality of the colony; its flights, flowers, water sources, parasites, lives and deaths.
These poems were written at the hive wearing a veil and gloves, and the journal is an intrinsic part of the kinetic activity of keeping bees: making 'tiny, regular checks' in the turn around the central figure of the sun, and minute exploratory interventions through the round of the year. The book is full of moments of revelation - particularly of the relationship between the domestic and the wild. In attempting to record and invoke something of the complexity of the relationship between 'keeper' and 'kept' it tunes ear and speech towards the ecstasy of bees, between the known and the unknown.
Because of its genesis as a working journal, there is here an unusual intimacy and deep scrutiny of life and death in nature. The language itself is dense and clotted, the imagery thrillingly fresh, and the observing eye close, scrupulous and full of wonder. Bee Journal is one of the most unusual and exciting poetry debuts in years.
Sean Borodale was born in London and works as a poet and artist. His first collection of poetry, Bee Journal, was shortlisted for the 2012 Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, the Costa Poetry Book Award and the T. S. Eliot Prize. In 2014 he was selected as one of twenty Next Generation Poets.