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19 January 2011 @ 12:40 pm
For Book Lovers:- The Honey Month, by Amal El-Mohtar  
"Books are small gods" runs the tag line on the website for Papaveria Press.  It is utterly true of the one Papaveria book that I have--and treasure:  Amal El-Mohtar's (tithenai's) The Honey Month.  I am hopelessly, madly in love with this small book.  In the time since discovering it, I've fallen back into poetry, written my way through a sharp storm of inspiration, and even been elated to have one of my poems accepted for publication.  This is a book worthy of worship, and I encourage you to enjoy its succour in small doses of devotion, one honey at a time.

I first learned of The Honey Month back near Autumn Equinox, when Charles Tan's Bibliophile Stalker linked to Jeff VanderMeer's review of it.  VanderMeer's review is a good endorsement for the book, but it was the quotes from the book that drew me in.  Entranced, I looked up everything by El-Mohtar that I could find online.  The search led me to Stone Telling, Goblin Fruit, Mythic Delirium and Cabinet des Fées, but I settled most with El-Mohtar's poem 'Eshet Hayil' and the other deeply woven, finely wrought work in the debut issue of Stone Telling.

Enchanted by those words, ensorcelled with sounds of scent and texture, I woke up--and abandoned myself into writing poetry.  Although I've written poems off-and-on in the last fifteen years, including a good run in the summer of 2009, this fall was the first time since 1994 that I gave myself fully to my muse, writing down paths sometimes veiled in shadows, sometimes limned in sudden, searing light  Two weeks into the tempest, I received a copy of The Honey Month and, drunk on devotion, fell in love with it. 

The book itself--from the texture in the cover to the depth of the art--is a delight.  It's a chapbook-sized paperback with a bee hive design theme.  Oliver Hunter's cover art is delectable.  I'm no art critic or historian, but it reminds me simultaneously of Art Deco, Victorian folklore collections, and the kinds of illustrations I'd expect to find in an old copy of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.  You can see it here, and judge for yourself.

But what you cannot do, unless you buy the book--and I heartily recommend you do--is *feel* the book.  Not being a publisher or printer, I don't know what would cause this, but the cover illustration, the title, the by-line, and Mike Allen's back cover invitation to the book are all slightly raised above the surface of the cover.  You can run your fingertips over the surface and gain a different sense of the words and images than is offered to the eyes.  That texture is immensely pleasing to me as a book lover, and not something I would expect from books produced nowadays, especially paperbacks.

Inside the art continues. However still it lies upon the page, the artwork of Oliver Hunter--from black-and-white silhouettes to full color pages--moves the viewer with the intimacy of hidden meadows, open flowers, remote trees, misty ponds and the hush of bee-keeping at night, beneath the stars.  Upon first paging through the book, I imagined, just from reading Mike Allen's and Danielle Sucher's words on and inside the book, that Hunter's art is a perfectly imperfect echo of El-Mohtar's writing, capturing the essence of the words, and giving them back, transformed.  And so it is, as I found while reading from cover to cover.  The art is a lovely introduction, and invitation, to the book. 

Sucher's Introduction is entrancing as well.  Naturally enough, she writes of how El-Mohtar's honey month began after she and El-Mohtar met, how others' recommendations encouraged the creation of the book, how she found herself and her life spoken back through another's voice.  Sucher makes The Honey Month personal: something the reader desires to experience because they can feel the imprint of the book on her, and they want to experience the book themselves:  "...every day I thought of the smell of beeswax and the buzzing that comes when you work with bees. ... I thought of girls I'd known and been and wanted to meet and thought I could fall in love with, of stings I've felt and kisses I'd ached for. ... All of these honeys had lives before my pantry... I only know what it's like to be that girl, trying to rely on the strength of my want... But I want you to understand this: every honey has its story, and if some of those stories are darker and more complicated than we might like, so be it."

The poems and stories inspired by Sucher's honey give the reader poignant glimpses of the vulnerability and fulfillment of living life with an open heart.  Each chapter is a day, and each day begins with the smell, colour, and taste of one of the twenty-eight honeys which El-Mohtar sampled.  From those thresholds, the stories emerge.  There are regional honeys, from Sag Harbor, NY through Zambia to the Malaysian rainforests.  There are creamed honeys and blossom honeys, and fruit remains a recurring theme, from three varieties (each) of blackberry and raspberry to blueberry, honeydew, lemon, cranberry, peach, and tart cherry.  Often, a hint of intoxication follows the reader from the introduction of each piece on into the clutch of emotion coiling out from the prose and poems--for El-Mohtar has a fondness for wine and whiskey comparisons in noting the character of each honey.

Though I love all of them, my favorite days are 1, 7, 9, 16, 19, 24, 25, 27, and 28:  firewood and thistle, zambian honey, blueberry, honeydew, apricot creamed honey, raw manuka, leatherwood and french chestnut.  I fell apart reading each of them--and, sometimes, clambered back together by composing some piece of writing.  Closing the book each time, though, I felt more whole than I had before.  Reading these vignettes, I remember my own dance with fulfillment and vulnerability, with longing and love:  losing myself in the grass and the dirt and the hidden nooks of the woods while playing as a young child;  wanting to join the girls' club at the baby-sitters and having no interest in the boys' play;  offering myself in early adolescence as a foundation for my mother, a support against the terrors of her madness, listening to the point of deafness, unable to hear myself;  trembling on the edge of my first kiss at sixteen;  breathless before the woman who became my wife, kissing me on the cheek, holding my hand as I asked her to handfast;  utterly taken, whether alone or in shared moments, with the hush of the sea's waves, the feel of spring wind on a new-moist night, the glory of thunder in the distance, the slow sip of rain through the trees, the ache of the moon on a cold, clear night, pierced by stars...

Amal El-Mohtar's writing in this small god is a devotional to the forgetting and remembering of oneself in offering, and consuming, love.

I urge you to buy a copy of The Honey Month if you have not already--though I advise you to read it in sips and tastes.  When the words touch you, let them linger awhile.

As an enticement, here are a few tastes from the pieces I savor most:

Firewood Honey draws one in with loneliness:  "It is pointless to say she was beautiful.  It cannot mean what I want it to mean.  When I looked at her, I wanted both to touch her and watch her from a distance, to hold her and hide from her, to kiss her and ask her to forgive me--for what, I couldn't say, except that she looked so sad."

Thistle Honey tells a tale of the unspoken rules of intimacy, of a fey bargain entered into unwittingly but fulfilled with care and honesty: "I didn't dare say what I was thinking: that it made me happy to see her again, that I wished we could be friends, that I wanted to run down hills with her and ask her about her family."

Zambian Honey speaks with the voice of the ever-giving, ever-parched earth, longing for the flitting bees with their cooling touch: "my heat is too greedy, too grasping, / it burns as it longs." Yet, the bees never come near enough to the earth herself: "Scorn me for my frankincense, my bare trees, their thorns?"

Honey Dew honey waits by the roadsides with offerings at dawn: "She baked bread of the morning, made it into pie crusts and scones, broke Venus into sultanas and pistachios.  She offered them up to passersby, saying only taste, taste, and tell me what you hear."

Apricot Creamed Honey ebbs and flows with gifts of love between herself and the bees whom her scent draws ever near: "They crown and armour her, they hide her while she dissolves into a joy too keen for eyes that come in simple pairs, eyes that could not possibly appreciate the peace, the thrill, the trembling, the way those thousand bodies do."

Current Mood: filled
Current Music: Niyaz - Nine Heavens
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Tithenai: honey month bashfultithenai on January 20th, 2011 04:27 pm (UTC)
Dan, this is amazing. Thank you so much. I'm completely overcome.
articulate_ungulate: vidholfart_ungulate on January 20th, 2011 04:38 pm (UTC)
You're most welcome! It is such a lovely piece of work. :-)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )