The first two years after graduation have been busy for Timothy Stobierski ’11 (CLAS).
Stobierski’s first collection of poetry – Chronicles of a Bee Whisperer – was released by River Otter Press in the fall of 2012. A short time later, he learned that six of his poems had been nominated for a coveted Pushcart Prize, the literary awards handed out annually by Pushcart Press to honor the best short stories, poetry, and essays published by small presses in America. And a few months ago, he was invited to talk about his book on “The Faith Middleton Show” for Connecticut Public Radio and WNPR.
Not bad for a first-time young author.
“It still doesn’t feel quite real, it’s strange,” says Stobierski, who, at the time of this interview, was doing freelance writing and editing jobs while working a regular gig stocking produce at a local market. “No one at the store knows [about the book or the Pushcart nominations]. I don’t want them to know. I get the feeling they would look at me differently if they knew.”
Stobierski’s genuine humility belies his significant talent.
English professor Regina Barreca – who mentored Stobierski as a student in her creative non-fiction class and authored the preface to his book – has this to say about her former student’s first published work: “Stobierski’s insight into the shadowed corners and sealed-off cupboards of family life … illustrate both his knowledge of and his willingness to subvert conventional form. … While Stobierski has a remarkable perspective on the potential claustrophobia of family and familiarity, the flashing sharpness of his wit, his awareness of the dangers of intimacy, and his fierce involvement with the nuances of language guards his poems against sentimentality. The undercurrent of possible – even if unpremeditated – savagery is rarely far from the surface of even his lightest pieces.”
Chronicles of a Bee Whisperer is filled with bits and pieces of Stobierski’s life fused with dreamscapes from his imagination that are at times beautifully romantic and, at others, hauntingly dark. Stobierski says his poetry often gives a voice to characters that otherwise might not be heard. Themes of family, sustenance, and loneliness emerge in poems both poignant and playful. Stobierski, who cites Billy Collins as one of his favorite artists, admits he has a fascination with words. His playful style is evident in poems like “Falling to Pieces”:
I fell to pieces today in the kitchen/where a shard of me got stuck/in my older brother’s toe./I asked him if it hurt and he said no;/I asked if I could have it back and he said/finders keepers/and scampered away/to compare it to the other bits of me/he’s hoarded over the years.
The piece ends on a soft note.
“I’m going to fall to pieces tomorrow in the bedroom/somewhere in the void between the sheets,/and you’re going to do the same./We’ll look at the pieces and trade with each other/and if you end up with the green of my right eye,/I’ll take your irrational fear of socks and say/fair trade/and we can work on putting each other back together,/stronger for the glue.
Stobierski plays with the reader again in “Gastronomica,” where he offers a new take on a boyfriend sampling his girlfriend’s cooking.
My girlfriend puts her heart and soul/into everything she cooks,/and it’s nice to know she loves me enough/to tear out those essentials and share –/don’t get me wrong –/but I don’t think she realizes just how chewy valves can be,/or how difficult it is to eat a waffled soul,/however much syrup is applied./Some things go down easier than others, /and Eggos are certainly kinder on the stomach.
Stobierski says he wrote most of the poems featured in the book during his last two years of college, when he was working for UConn’s literary journal, the Long River Review. He credits Barreca, associate professor Penelope Pelizzon, and English professors-in-residence Sharon Bryan and Darcie Dennigan with having the most significant influence on his writing.
The title of the book comes from a poem that Stobierski wrote while attending classes at UConn. While Chronicles of a Bee Whisperer tells us the story of the first time Stobierski was stung by a bee, it also reflects a larger tale of a young man’s struggle to find himself and his place in a world fraught with bees of all sorts.
There was a brother once – whether he was mine/I can’t recall – but he taught me the syntax/the secret language of bees./I was eight, and he had just scooped /a bumblebee out of our dog’s water dish,/and it sat there in his palm, vibrating itself dry./It was a wet cat of a bee;/it had gone too close to the water’s edge and fallen in/and would have drowned, /save this brother fished him out./It stayed nestled in his hand ‘til dry,/and that next spring my mother’s roses bloomed/with a fervor I’ve not seen before nor since.
Some men wear a beard of bees,/some harvest honey,/some acupunct their clients with a sting on the joints/to relieve a decade-old arthritic ache./To each his own./I sit in the clover and listen to bee songs –/their hungry songs, their happy songs,/their working songs, their lusting songs – I listen/and whisper my response and we are brothers, sisters/in the clover.
“The poem that the book takes its name from is about a character that grows up surrounded by bees in various ways,” Stobierski says. “It is sort of mystical in its feel and aspect, and I think the title and the poem best capture the overall sense of the book.”
Looking forward, he says he would love to make a living as a writer and that he will always write. He has had several internships in the publishing world and enjoyed them, but is currently employed as an assistant to a project manager at a software development firm. He misses the college atmosphere.
“UConn was extremely influential on me,” Stobierski says. “It was a big four years of my life. It helped me come to terms with myself as a writer and as a person. It’s your first time away from home, you’re experimenting with different personalities, who you are and who you want to be. I can’t think of a place I would have rather spent those years than at UConn.”