Reviews

Everything on Earth

Kathleen Murdock

Cicely Belle Blain’s debut collection of poetry, Burning Sugar (Arsenal Pulp Press), is a deeply personal exploration of racism, resilience, rage, and joy. In three parts, “Place,” “Art” and “Child,” Blain reflects on displacement and belonging, art and activism, and experiencing queerness and anti-Black racism as a child. In “Place,” Blain titles poems by location: Dallas, London, Banjul, and Chilliwack (“Chilliwack,” a one-line poem states: “It’s just a Walmart”). In “North Carolina,” Blain sees a whipping post and is “almost disappointed by how dull it is,” after expecting to feel a “haunting chill.” “Instead it stands there / in all its regularity and reticence / with no stories to share / as if all the violence of white supremacy / would simply fade with time.” In “Art,” Blain craves Black joy but often finds Black pain in art and activism, noticing the overwhelming whiteness of art spaces (also spotted: kale snacks, man buns, chinos and Birkenstocks). “Child” covers Blain’s first queer memory and how white supremacy, organized religion, heteronormative narratives and other institutions impacted coming out. “It is not anything specific that silenced my queer truth. / It’s everything on Earth.” Blain’s vulnerability is a superpower that makes Burning Sugar sweet, painful, and powerful. I won’t spoil anything else; read the haunting collection to spend more time in Blain’s beautiful mind.

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