Sweet, Sultry Summer Nights: The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar

This is a small, slim book, and I read it at nights, over the course of about a week, sitting in my overly warm house during a heat wave. It was perfection.

The Honey Month is a collection of poems and vignettes that envelop you in a world of sensuousness, magic, and metaphor. It balances on a tightrope between timelessness and immediacy, skilfully managing to invoke both at once. And when I say sensuous, I mean it in a very literal way—this is a collection that plays to your five senses, that affects you in a tantalizing, physical way.

bee photo by Raphael Renter on Unsplash

The story behind the story here is a time that Amal El-Mohtar was sent “thirty some odd vials of honey” by Danielle Sucher. The two had recently met at a literary convention, where El-Mohtar was a guest and Sucher was catering. One day at a time, Amal El-Mohtar tasted these honey samples, and wrote a piece for each one. Thus—The Honey Month.

The book is structured to follow along on this sensual journey: Day 1 ~ Fireweed Honey; Day 2 ~ Peach Creamed Honey; Day 3 ~ Sag Harbor, NY, Early Spring Honey; and so forth, all the way to Day 28 ~ French Chestnut Honey. Each day begins with a summary of Colour, Smell, and Taste. Following that is a poem, prose poem, or mini-story. These are short, saturated pieces, exploding through your senses. None of them are longer than a page or two, and they linger in your mind like a wonderful aftertaste.

The back of the book describes this collection as a “fascinating experiment in literary synesthesia,” and this is an apt description. Boundaries between senses are dissolved and a honey can taste “blue and cold,” or smell “like spring sunshine, golden without heat, because the wind’s stolen it away.”

Morning tastes of honeydew and the fading of candles. It tastes of fingers on guitar strings, of a voice the colour of dimmed lights singing. It tastes of green honey and spring. So spoke the cloudy-haired woman who stood by country roads, near rivers, between beech trees and birch. Her fingers wore no rings, her wrists no bracelets, her feet no shoes.

No one believed her, of course. Who could properly taste the morning?”

Day 19 ~ Honeydew Honey

Each day, each kind of honey, and each accompanying piece has a fairy-tale-esque sensibility. Fey folk turn up regularly, a lost silver ring reappears growing on a tree, ravens speak and bees lick honey from your lips. And yet the book does not lack depth—stories and poems give up offerings that speak to depression, war, temptation, fear, addiction, as well as joy, desire, and connection.

To me, this collection felt like a perfect companion to hot summer nights, and so I was surprised to learn that Amal El-Mohtar wrote this during a cold February (hence the 28 days of the month). Before I read the introduction by Danielle Sucher and learned the history of this book, I was typing the different kinds of honey into my search bar to find out if “Leatherwood Honey” and “Malaysian Rainforest Honey” actually existed. (They do.)

As a person who chooses not to eat honey for ethical reasons, this book was something of a enormous temptation. But even though I may not give in to my desire to taste Thistle Honey (“it’s playful, a child among honeys, but a wise-eyed child, somehow, the kind to whom you’d speak seriously one moment before tickling the next”) or Red Gum Honey (“It’s all gold brown and dark sugar, all mellow, its texture that languorous liquid that makes women sing slow like honey in aching voices”), reading this book is a sensual delight in and of itself.

Artwork by Oliver Hunter

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