The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – a review

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is a second collection from David Coldwell whose debut , Flowers by the Road, won the Templar Poetry Portfolio Prize in 2016.  In this new collection there are some very enjoyable and straightforward poems which will appeal to anyone who loves the wilds of Yorkshire. The main themes are change and time, growing up and mortality.

David Coldwell is also a visual artist and he observes the world with an often dispassionate artist’s eye. In fact the poems that work best are ones when the language is grounded in the landscape without straying into abstraction; when the word choices are monosyllabic, even harsh, producing their own bleak musicality. There are poems written in form, as in the technically accomplished title poem where the rhyming of cold… old, ground… sound or colours… flowers make the poem feel rooted in the landscape. Many of these poems are written in an informal, flowing free verse which, at its best, can be moving and is strongest when line breaks are really effectively used.

In Clocks Coldwell uses the familiar image of walking through a field and picking dandelion ‘clocks’, teaching a child how to blow off the seeds and count the hours; but what gives this poem its strength is the narrator’s acute awareness that time is passing and the young child will grow up and move away. The last stanza is particularly poignant:

Make a wish, you shout

with excited eyes of something only you know.

I take back your hand, swinging it as you skip

I already have, I say, before letting you free.

When a very specific image is described these poems really sing as in Bright Thing; here the poet captures memories of his father in ‘the roughness of his skin; the oil / and coolant ingrained that scratches against ink’. Again in The Conversation we see ‘the spider balled up in remnants’. This precision serves to ground the poem and can also bring out a generous sense of humour as in the poem In the end:

Ian downs a Pot Noodle cup

full of local ale;

Wendy paints the moon

and stars above a child’s eyes…

The vein of darkness and loss that runs through this whole collection is well articulated in Embers where the three intriguing final lines resonate long after the poem has ended.

And it troubled me,

watching that endless flow,

more than I can reason.

This sense of foreboding, is also evident in Swan where, what at first seems to be a conventional poem describing the loneliness of a swan, turns into something altogether different with intimations of a troubled future, albeit with an interesting juxtaposition of humour. ‘where a man sits in a morning suit / practicing his wedding speech/to a single mute swan…’

In Scarecrow, a  bittersweet, almost nostalgic poem, the line: Everything seemed simple certainly strikes a chord in these uncertain Covid 19 times; it could sum up our lives with a continuous harking back to ‘before’. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is an accessible collection of poems that will appeal to anyone who enjoys the Yorkshire landscape. It will be published in autumn 2020 by Maytree Press.


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