About 34 years ago, two men moved into a basement apartment in a triplex at the end of a dirt road in Chapel Hill.
After turning on the light in the new kitchen, bees came out of the light fixtures. It was not until a beekeeper was called to retrieve the insects that they swarmed onto a tree, inspiring poet Jeffery Beam to write his collection of poems, “Life of the Bee.”
Sunday he will recite five of the 12 poems — along with others from a variety of authors — at a reading titled “Bee, I’m Expecting You” at the N.C. Botanical Garden as part of their Saving Our Pollinators program series.
“That event in the basement was the beginning of all of it,” Beam said. “My poetry is nature based, so all of it before that time and everything after has really been focused on the natural world. I was just primed, really, for an event like that to sort of grab my imagination.”
It was this passion for nature that persuaded Nancy Easterling, director of education for the garden, and other garden directors to reach out to Beam to perform the reading again.
“Jeffery, as a poet — his heart and soul is infused into this natural world of ours,” Easterling said. “He really understands the mission of the garden and how he can bring this poetry to the garden in an interesting way.”
This reading is one in a series of 29 events to help inform the public on the importance of pollinators and their preservation.
“It’s a wonderful way to come and see the garden, be in the garden and hear a beautiful presentation on pollination through word and prose,” Easterling said.
The events — which range from exhibits to classes about pollinators — will continue until Oct. 3.
“I was really glad they asked me back the second time,” Beam said. “I’m always thrilled to do something for them because they’re one of the major things I support.”
Once he had written the first five poems over a period of three years, friend and soprano singer Shauna Holiman commissioned composer Lee Hoiby to set them to music. During the two years it took Hoiby to compose, Beam continued writing bee poems. The commission ultimately led to a reading and vocal performance with Holiman at Carnegie Hall in 2001.
Since then, he has collected over 120 bee poems from other poets, a task simplified by his 28 years of experience as the assistant to the biology librarian at the botany library UNC.
He has performed the anthology “Bee, I’m Expecting You” twice: once at FRANK in June 2010 and then again at the garden in June 2013.
Anne Lindsey, former president of the N.C. Botanical Garden board of directors, has attended one of Beam’s readings. She said she recalled being taken away by his poetry and the essence of his subject.
“What’s really drawing about this whole Saving Our Pollinators program is this variety of programming,” Lindsey said. “You have the arts involved, which invokes a whole different way of interacting and perceiving, as well as the direct science.”
She, like Beam, said she likes the merging of art and science in the garden events.
“It’s what I love: to bring science and art together whenever possible,” Beam said. “I love collaborative experiences, too, so any time I can find a way to bring what I do into another world of knowledge, I think it’s really important.”