Book Review: The Bee Hut by Dorothy Porter

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Back in May 2016, I reviewed poetry – some books, some poets – en masse but they were books and poets that I knew and loved. This is the first time I have chosen to read and review a book of poetry by a poet and with poems I’m not familiar with. Reading poetry can be very hit and miss. Something that speaks in whispers to one person might speak to another in a scream or not speak to them at all. For the most part, this book was like a recording that needed the volume turned up. Sometimes I could make out what was being said but mostly it was too quiet.

Dorothy Porter died in 2008 and The Bee Hut was published after her death, bringing together poems from the last five years of her life. Because it was published after her death, I wondered if part of the reason why I couldn’t find as much magic in these poems as I want to find in poetry is because she never had a chance to review, to revise, to change her mind, to exclude, to re-order the poems, that maybe they were simply abandoned rather than finished through no fault of her own.

I could only find one whole poem of brilliance, which this extract was taken from:

and any gay,
determined to make
their own way,
will tell you straight –
blood is no reliable
home
nor fix
against intolerance.

From “Sister-in-Law”

The rest of the poems had a sense of almost rhymes (something that drives me bananas) and felt like an endless exercise in name dropping – of other poets Porter will never be in same league as and countries around the world she extensively travelled to – but there are moments of brilliance:

We were never married, Dido.
Believe me, I’m sad too that you can’t
sweeten me and I can’t comfort you.

From “Aeneas Remembers Domestic Bliss”

Every poet wants to write the poem
that penetrates
with the ice-cold shock
of the Devil’s prick.

The poem that will fuck you awake
or kill you.

From “Three Sonnets”

I am not here
silent and alone

Do you hear
the fighting hiss
of this geyser
in me?

I stand my ground
in the undaunted spray
and company
of my own words.

From “The Ninth Hour”

It heartbreakingly ends with the last poem Porter wrote from her hospital room before her death and confirms that despite her challenges, she was more often than not happy, satisfied and aware of her general good fortune:

Something in me
despite everything
can’t believe my luck.

From “View from 417”

It’s the nature of poems that once we know the subtext, they often get better but without that knowledge, the meaning and the poignancy can elude us. They have eluded me a little here. But there were enough small moments to save The Bee Hut from me not liking it at all.

3 stars

*First published on Goodreads 4 June 2016

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