As part of the 2022 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Luisa A. Igloria in response to a video of her reading her poem “Ode to Tired Bumblebees Who Fall Asleep Inside Flowers with Pollen on their Butts” aloud. Luisa A. Igloria wrote letters back to seven of these students; their letters and her replies are included below.
Luisa A. Igloria also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
It’s such a gift and privilege to know that you’ve read my poem “Ode to Tired Bumblebees Who Fall Asleep Inside Flowers with Pollen on their Butts.” I’m so grateful for your letters, and for words that tell me you fell into my poem and, even if only for a brief while, found some pleasure, joy, or respite there.
Some of you made comments about the amusing title, before asking how this poem came to be. I wrote it in the early part of the pandemic, after a student in one of the poetry workshops I teach for The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk sent me a link to a story on these bees. The article had lots of adorable photos of so many different kinds of flowers, with bees that had dropped headfirst into them to take a bee-nap. My student said, “I bet you could write a poem about that!” How could I not?
Writing this also gave me plenty of opportunity to use some favorite strategies for getting more deeply into the subject or structure of a poem. Since a poem lives most vividly through the specificity and immediacy of its details, I loved exploring things like the names of flowers and of bee anatomy (corbiculae!) and reading up a little bit more on the particular type of behavior described in the article. I thought only female bees gathered nectar and pollen; but I found a few science articles saying there are some bees, like carpenter bees, who drink nectar as well as carry pollen back to the colony.
By the time I’d finished writing the poem, it didn’t feel as though I needed to back up every part of every line with footnotes and bibliography—it felt finished as soon as I arrived at the lines on the bees’ retreat from the overwhelming world in a way that mirrors our own. That’s where the bees took me. When you read the poem, or any other poem for that matter, your own experiences, ideas, and memories add to how you interact with it and interpret it.
Many of you immediately zeroed in on how the bees “dropped mid-flight,/mid-thought” and made a connection to how we’re feeling as we live through these difficult times:
...How we all retreat
behind some folded screen as work
or the world presses in too
soon, too close, too much.
My family and I hunkered down at home to try to stay safe and well. I taught my classes remotely, my youngest daughter attended her classes remotely, my husband worked at his job also remotely. Each of us did what we needed to do in our own separate corners of the same house. And while, thankfully, we had each other instead of having to suffer through this time completely alone by ourselves, the absence of physical connection to all the places we used to go and all the people we used to hang out with before, also gave us a sense of incredible isolation.
There’s only so much bread you can learn to bake, so many dalgona coffees to whip up, so many crafts you can start or finish during a pandemic. But at least there was, is, poetry—reading and re-reading the words of poets I love as well as finding the words of poets new to me is comforting and reassuring in so many ways. I feel I’m not alone. And I hope you’ll always feel that there’s someone you can talk to and someone who’ll listen.
May you never stop dreaming of what is good and possible for our world. May you always find the tools and teachers and the community you need.
Yours in poetry,
Luisa A. Igloria