Burning Sugar by Cicely Belle Blain

Burning Sugar by Cicely Belle Blain

Arsenal Pulp Press
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The latest from Vivek Shraya's VS. Books: a poetic exploration of Black identity, history, and lived experience influenced by the constant search for liberation.

In this incendiary debut collection, activist and poet Cicely Belle Blain intimately revisits familiar spaces in geography, in the arts, and in personal history to expose the legacy of colonization and its impact on Black bodies. They use poetry to illuminate their activist work: exposing racism, especially anti-Blackness, and helping people see the connections between history and systemic oppression that show up in every human interaction, space, and community. Their poems demonstrate how the world is both beautiful and cruel, a truth that inspires overwhelming anger and awe - all of which spills out onto the page to tell the story of a challenging, complex, nuanced, and joyful life.

In Burning Sugar, verse and epistolary, racism and resilience, pain and precarity are flawlessly sewn together by the mighty hands of a Black, queer femme.

This book is the second title to be published under the VS. Books imprint, a series curated and edited by writer-musician Vivek Shraya, featuring work by new and emerging Indigenous or Black writers, or writers of colour.


Cicely Belle Blain's Burning Sugar beautifully narrates a journey over more than lands and waters. It is an exploration of the near perfect bliss of brazen blackness, interrupted by in all its forms. But even that intrusion is outmatched by the beauty of Blain's wildest dreams that offer a sharp and unflinching analysis, with a tender belly and a steady voice. Each poem pulls its teeth from the book's title, and offers the soft and deliberate sweetness of what could have been - before the burning. -Jillian Christmas, author of The Gospel of Breaking

Burning Sugar is - many magical things, but still - unexpected. Like reflections of the moon in dark waters, Cicely Belle Blain lights up a landscape that will haunt you, gently, with its aching beauty. In these pages, you will travel through time and across places while Blain's poetry invites you to linger for a moment longer on the transformative political power of unrequited endings. -Amin Ghaziani, Professor of Sociology, University of British Columbia

Burning Sugar is a vigilant time marker and vivid place maker. The bearings of colonial violence and of Black resistance are physically present on every page of this debut collection by Cicely Belle Blain. From "the air [that] smelled like violence" to the poet's own "stretch marks [that] show this body holds the weight of a thousand lives," these poems ask us not only to witness, but to implicitly and accountably feel. -Amber Dawn, author of My Art Is Killing Me and Other Poems

This collection is an excellent example of how poetry can be used for revolutionary resistance, exposure of systemic oppression and inspiration of rage that can move the world. -Ms. Magazine

An intimately powerful debut . .. Throughout the collection, Blain crafts and moulds clear and patient learning into their verse, alongside more searing and powerful analysis. Burning Sugar is a testament to tenderness, Blackness, and joy. -Quill and Quire (starred review)

Cicely Belle Blain's Burning Sugar is a compelling collection of letters and intimate poetic conversations to and through place. Blain is a careful wordsmith. We are welcomed into an oral history that spirals, burns, narrates, and then - redefines family, diaspora, and queer identity. This book is indeed "freedom that tastes like lust. " -Chelene Knight, author of Dear Current Occupant