other gods, Regina O’Melveny
Southword Editions, 2019 €6 (within Republic of Ireland), €8 (shipped internationally)
An entomophile’s dream
This pamphlet is swarming and crawling and buzzing with all types of insects. Its poems constitute a world dominated by bees, spiders, locusts, ants, caterpillars, moths, butterflies, and fireflies. There is also a poem titled, Corydalidae cornutus, ‘otherwise known as the Dobsonfly’, one of whom, despite being ‘skanky’, is allowed to stay near the poet’s dinner-table lamp because, ‘One must always treat the god / in disguise as a guest at one’s table’.
The divine status of insects is confirmed in ‘Fireflies’: unlike the chapel-worshipped ‘faraway God and his brown clay Son’, these are ‘other gods who [don’t] share our form’.
Throughout the pamphlet the poet draws on the lives of these ‘other gods’ for insight into the human condition. The poems about, or involving, bees are a good case in point.
In ‘The Scent’ the hive in the back garden inspires meditations on beauty, friendship and death, as well as reflections on the nature of the mind, the soul and the heart (which ‘may be a hive after all, hidden, / honeycombed and humming.’)
In ‘Hive’ it is the same backyard hive that scares and fascinates the poet, with an account of bee sexuality concluding bluntly, ‘Some life, eh? And sweetly precise.’
Memories of buzzing, painted, and picnic bees mingle in ‘Swarms’ with a ‘congealed fist of sex / on the lemon tree, / queen at the center / encrusted with drones’ that provokes reflection on ‘the long afternoons’ of marriage.
In ‘The Locust, the Bee and the Spider’, the poet imagines her skull softening at night
like warm wax in the hive
where the bee squirms
in dark hexagonal cells
thick with honey and stiff white larvae.
In some poems, bees make a cameo appearance. The bees featured in ‘Tassajara’, for example, simply ‘swarm / to the dusky poppies / and leave the yellow dahlias / alone’ at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California.
Those afflicted by entomophobia or acarophobia — fear of insects — may not warm to this pamphlet, but its accounts of bees and other insects are the basis for some fascinating poetry.