By Jose Valle
One would be hard-pressed to find a beekeeper who understands and appreciates bees as much as local poet Jeffery Beam.
For the past 34 years, Beam, who resides in Chapel Hill, has been working on his original series of bee poems called “Life of the Bee.”
This collection consists of 12 poems. The first five were set to music by composer Lee Hoiby and performed in Carnegie Hall in 2001.
“I’m always working on ‘Life of the Bee,’” Beam said. “I’ll probably work on it from the grave.”
In addition to his original pieces, Beam has collected more than 120 poems about bees by various authors.
Beam’s fascination with the insects stemmed from a love of nature.
“His life and his poetry is centered around nature,” said Stanley Finch, his husband of 35 years. “Those kinds of aspects of his life and his work are the same.”
Beam has devoted his life to capturing the beauty of nature through poetry.
“Sometimes he’ll go 40 minutes without even referring to the page,” Finch said. “He’ll completely memorize every single poem, and that’s unusual. It brings a whole different dimension to both the verse and the reading itself.”
It is this additional dimension to his poetry that caused Beam to stick out to Lynn Knauff.
“These are not just readings that he gives,” Knauff said. “They are performances. And he spends time selecting poems that would, for him, resonate.”
Knauff, an N.C. Botanical Garden volunteer, heard his most recent performance at the garden on July 19. It was the third time Beam performed his bee anthology “Bee, I’m Expecting You,” a series of poems by various authors that he has been collecting for over 20 years.
“When you have an audience that’s so receptive, it pulls stuff out of you that you don’t even know,” Beam said. “You find yourself doing more than you thought yourself capable of or more than you thought would work.”
When Beam isn’t performing poetry, he’s usually found writing or reading for one of his upcoming projects.
On his own, he is writing “The Porch Letters,” a series of love poems about a broken relationship. He’s collaborating with another artist on three projects, including an illustrated children’s book about fairies.
Additionally, Beam is working with three composers across the country to produce cycles of his poems set to music.
“He tries to work every day,” Finch said. “And if he doesn’t work every day, it’s because he’s fretting about not working every day.”
Knauff, a self-titled groupie, said she loves how he transports his readers to another universe.
“He captures the small moments. He is an observer,” Knauff said. “There is nothing like those special glimpses into nature that he provides through both his own poetry and also his selections.”