SFU world-renowned bee expert Mark Winston and the City of Surrey's poet laureate Renee Saklikar collaborate on book about listening to bees.

Why we should listen to bees—scientist and poet collaborate on new book

May 08, 2018
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A shared interest in bees between a scientist and a poet—both nationally recognized writers—has led to a new perspective on what bees are telling us.

Mark Winston, SFU’s globally known “bee” expert and Renee Saklikar, Surrey’s poet laureate, collaborated to write Listening to the Beesa new book being launched at free, public events in Vancouver (the Western Front, 303 E.8th Ave) on May 10 (7-9:30 pm)  and in Surrey (City Centre Library) on May 11 (7-9 pm).

The book is a “call-and-response” collaboration between the two writers, who share a common passion for bees and language. It features a collection of essays by Winston on his 40-year career as a scientist studying bees and is interspersed with Saklikar’s eloquent poems.

Winston interviewed Saklikar for his 2014 award-winning book, Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive and discovered that she had been interested in “bee-content” poetry most of her life.

“Renee expressed an interest in seeing my research papers as a possible muse for her own writing, and discovered a world of language and ideas that stimulated some beautiful poems,” says Winston, who was drawn to write essays in response to the poems. After some public readings of their work, Winston’s wife suggested the material may be book-worthy.

And as it happens, there is good reason to draw attention to bees, suggests Winston. “Like much of nature around us, bees are hurting, challenged by our human impact. A deadly mix of pesticides, diminished floral resources and diseases/parasites have diminished wild bee populations and cause annual losses of 35-45 per cent of honeybee colonies.

“What’s happening to the bees predicts what could happen to us, if we don’t learn to live in better harmony with the planet with which we are blessed.”

Saklikar’s work on the project unlocked a personal connection with bees that goes back to her childhood in India. “My grandmother kept a rose garden and was besotted with bees. She and my grandpa sort of anointed me with honey before I left for Canada, a ritual ,and part of my family’s mythology, that drew bees to dance around my forehead.”

The pair drew from Winston’s nearly 160 scientific publications as a resource to focus on key questions about society and where we are heading.

The book is intended for a general audience, from those interested in bees, nature and science, to those who appreciate poetry. “The actual results of research, interesting as they are, are only the beginning of contemplating the mysteries that deep study of another organism can reveal,” says Winston. “Listening to the bees connects us to the ineffable mysteries we will never resolve or fully understand, into the realm of wonder.”

Winston’s 2014 book Bee Time, Lessons from the Hive won the Governor General’s Literary Award. The director of SFU’s Centre for Dialogue for 12 years, he founded the centre’s Semester in Dialogue.

In 2014, Saklikar received the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry for children of air india, un/authorized exhibits and interjections. She became the City of Surrey’s poet laureate—its first—in 2015.

This story originally appeared in SFU News.