Winged (Review Series #1)

I’ve started writing little reviews for ImageUpdate. What a pleasure, to receive delicious new books in the mail and dash off anonymous thoughts about them. Here’s my first: A review of the new anthology Winged.

Winged: New Writing on Bees edited by Melissa Reeser Poulin and Jill McKenna Reed


wingedbookjacket“A single bee’s life’s work amounts to a quarter teaspoon of finished honey,” writes Craig Goodworth in his prose-poem “The Hive.” “The Bulgarian army, having run short of medical supplies, dressed wounds with honey…. Reduced vigor of bees means earthly fertility could be ruined.” Read enough of this, and two things happen: the drizzle of honey on your morning cereal begins to feel as decadent as 24-karat cornflakes, and you start to sense the value of bees to life on Earth. This kind of awakening would surely please the editors of Winged: New Writing on Bees, a tall-and-slender anthology of poetry, short essays, and stories, which began as an Oregon-based teacher’s effort to “do something for pollinators” in response to “the disturbing decline of honeybees.” (More on that—“doing something”—in a moment.) For readers simply drawn to the bee as metaphor, image, or living creature, however, there is plenty of just-plain-beautiful between these covers. Standouts include “The Beekeeper’s Boy” (Rachel Cochran’s story of a fierce friendship between two boys), “Free Bees” (Adrienne Flagg’s humorous piece on hipster beekeepers), and a posy of good poems too numerous to name. Occasional religious references glint throughout Winged—in the poems, especially—but this book’s real spiritual content is found in its power to summon wonder, and in its moral call to see. As co-editor Jill McKenna Reed writes in her afterword, the decline of bees is not only an ecological and economic tragedy, but an aesthetic and spiritual one: “We as artists and humans on Earth stand to lose the beauty that honeybees produce simply by doing their work.” If this alarms you as much as it does the editors, you will appreciate the book’s opening and concluding essays, which explain threats to bees (climate change, Colony Collapse Disorder) and assemble a manageable handful of ways to take action. But if the very thought of “taking action” sounds daunting, then read this book for the quiet contemplation it offers. Bees intrigue; they invite contemplation; and these teeming pieces prompt contemplation, too. 

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