Poetry Pages II: Honeybee, By Trista Mateer [Second Edition]

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For this second instalment of Poetry Pages, I’ve chosen a collection with one of the prettiest covers I’ve ever seen - the second edition of Honeybee, by American poet Trista Mateer with cover art by Marissa Johnson. Ever since a tiny chapbook I ordered from Mateer arrived with a handwritten note and an envelope stamped with honeybees (something of a recurring theme in her poetry), I’ve found myself in love with her sensitive, honest poetry. On the blurb, Mateer instructs us to ‘consider Honeybee like a memoir in verse’, and this it certainly is. Telling the fractured and fragmented story of a relationship with another woman that didn’t work out, Honeybee is painfully necessary, from the raw confessions of a young bisexual woman that send a powerful message of recognition to others like her, to the art, pressed flowers and fill-it-yourself journal pages that allow the reader to make a real connection to Mateer through the pages of the collection.

Structure: Mostly poetry - I’ve not counted, but there must be around 100 poems at an average of one page long - interspersed with doodles, lists, sketches, scans of pressed flowers and handwritten extracts that elevate the collection to another level. From around halfway through the book, the poem titles begin to count down to something, which eventually reveals itself to be the day Mateer’s ex-girlfriend marries someone else. This realisation is simultaneously hard-hitting and obvious. On the surface, there’s nothing at all wrong with this new relationship, but Mateer’s visceral narrative up to this point means the reader feels just a faint shadow of the hurt as it was first experienced. At the end of the book, there are a number of prompts such as ‘what do you still need to say to them?’, inviting the reader to engage with the themes of the book in relation to their own life.

Aesthetics: ‘letting something go but not knowing where to put it down’ / peach juice irritating a scab on your chin / unpicking shoddy needlework / unpicking perfect needlework because you need the yarn for a new project  / ‘tenderness and honey, the bandage on the bee sting’ / therapy worksheets / newly-hatched chicks / empty cocoons / being the last one in the club when the lights go up / weeding the garden and accidentally pulling up a plant that was meant to be there / not being able to weed the garden because killing anything is unbearable / ‘cutting love loose like a kite string’ / endlessness / infinity / a paper cut from the packaging of a long-awaited parcel.

Favourite poem: If I had to pick one, it would be You Couldn’t Just Leave? because I read it at exactly the time I felt I was meant to, but these poems are really not meant to be read in isolation - I devoured it, crying slightly, in one sitting, and I can’t help thinking that’s exactly what Trista Mateer intended.

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Favourite quotes:

  • ‘I was not always the bad thing. Sometimes it was you. Sometimes it was just the two of us together.’ - Luna Park

  • ‘I still remember you / as a little girl / who overwaters plants / because she doesn’t know / when to stop giving.’ - p. 134

  • ‘Go on vacation with someone else’s family. See the way they treat each other. Remember how you would like to be treated.’ - Here’s Your Permission

You’ll like it if you like these songs: A week, a year, by Liam and Me / Untitled, by Charlotte Loseth / Ophelia, by the Lumineers.

Lucy AllisonComment