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Burning Sugar

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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 color.

112 pages, Paperback

First published September 29, 2020

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Cicely Belle Blain

2 books28 followers

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5 stars
160 (47%)
4 stars
126 (37%)
3 stars
47 (13%)
2 stars
4 (1%)
1 star
0 (0%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 53 reviews
Profile Image for darce vader.
179 reviews
April 19, 2021
10/5. I love this book. It makes me question all the other books of poetry I said I loved.

"I grew up on MSN /
catfishing myself into straightness"
Profile Image for MissBecka Gee.
1,606 reviews639 followers
May 15, 2022
"I've never given birth but my stretch marks show this body holds the weight of a thousand lives."

This felt like I found a journal in a park and decided to read it.
Of course I would read it, I'm a nosy bitch.
I regret nothing.
I think this feels like reading someone's journal, because, essentially I was.
All the poems and letters are deeply personal, and highly powerful.
So happy I randomly grabbed this on indie bookstore day!
Profile Image for Bek (MoonyReadsByStarlight).
275 reviews64 followers
April 10, 2021
This was such a beautiful collection. Individually, the poems were powerful and beautiful, but also as a collection, it felt very cohesive. I loved that there were three distinct parts with their own motifs, but they were still all connected by other themes. I cannot wait to see what other collections they put out!
Profile Image for Shannon.
4,553 reviews226 followers
May 1, 2023
A deeply powerful and personal collection of poems from a queer, British/Canadian, Black poet/activist about her travels, her journey coming out and her deeply felt internal racism and activism. My heart ached reading this book and I learned a lot. I was in awe of this collection of very moving words and it was by far the standout of my National Poetry Month reads! Highly, highly recommended, especially for fans of Amanda Gorman.
Profile Image for OK.
257 reviews
September 9, 2020
Fierce and revelatory poems from this brilliant human who burns so bright and makes art and activism of the forces that shape their life. CB is a master of endings that both surprise and move the reader. Their writing is raw, unflinching, and tonally honest, their voice, spliced with longing and visionary dreams. Love: I can feel Peter in every page—broke my heart and sewed it back together.

“We stood at the foothills of Davie Street; she seemed dormant, unexpecting, pressing snooze on liberation.”
Profile Image for Karla Strand.
386 reviews46 followers
April 18, 2020
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.
157 reviews
July 7, 2021
Cicely Belle Blain creates a strong narrative pull from one poem to the next. When reading poetry, I typically read 2-3 poems a night before going to bed, but I found that with Burning Sugar I was reading at least 4. Blain mixes up formatting, prose, and the end result is beautiful. I didn't want to put it down!

I like to save a favourite line to put in my reviews but I couldn't choose, so here is the last section of a poem that I really loved.

"They served me a platter of mangoes; they were made of aortas and heartstrings / splendid and aching. In England, mangoes are small, soggy, unripe / it's almost as if we they were never meant to be there / I miss the mangoes he grew in his backyard / the mangoes I never ate / I imagine they taste like freedom dreams love warmth / I took a boat to Canada / in 1800 and in two thousand and twelve and today / knee-deep in the golden blood of my ancestors / Mango stones ebb in the wreck of slave ships"
Profile Image for Jamie.
134 reviews15 followers
August 22, 2020
Many moments of Burning Sugar by Cicely Belle Blain made me feel seen and heard. Exploring multiracial identity, queerness, childhood and socialization, I agree with Vivek Shraya that the voice of this collection feels in conversation with other queer iconic writers in its clarity, imagery and precision. The collection is split into three sections: Place, Art, and Child. “Place” takes us city to city, looking at the beginnings and ending of living in a place, of understanding how and if we feel belonging there. Blain invites the dialogue of ancestors in each space, questioning how ancestors linger in the physical places we explore. Each city leaves a specific imprint on the narrator as they navigate the intersections of lineage/identity/home. And with movement, the idea of freedom is corroded by the acknowledgment of colonization, by the trauma that is embedded in our personal and ancestral memory, and the questioning of whether one has voice in any of these spaces. In the poem, “Toronto,” Blain uses prose to explain coming into queer, activist identity. “Art”, the next section, opens us critical dialogue about these activist/ art spaces, calling for a recognition of how white supremacy functions in them as Blain moves through modes of observation and critique of exhibit events. The final section, “Child,” adds layers of personal reflection of growing up and realizing what may be missing, from the poem “Father” with its intentional use of quotation marks, to “Dear Diaspora Child,” validating the search for an identity that can feel at odds with what you know. Blain explains the hesitancy of coming out, even being “born into a family built to withstand justice,” after growing up with conflicting messages of self worth and belonging.
Profile Image for Zuri Scrivens.
61 reviews1 follower
September 2, 2020
Reading Burning Sugar was like having a conversation with the Black best friend I never knew I needed. Cicely Belle Blain highlights what’s been dismissed, erased or forgotten, and brings voice to so much that I’ve felt, yet couldn’t articulate.

With “Toronto”, I was shocked to realize that I didn’t know about the 2016 march on Davie St., while “First Grade” rendered me furious and distraught for the child that Cicely once was.

Blain’s collection of truths helped me feel seen in so many ways, which, I believe, is one of the many values to be found in reading poetry.

Thank you, Cicely, for sharing your stories and your talent.
396 reviews
June 28, 2021
There is so much here. A lot of different styles of poetry and some really caught me.

The book is made up of perspectives that are neither mine to comment on nor even observe (or rather this is how it felt to me).

I think the following lines are what I'd like to comment on:

From the poem 'Dear Selina':

"Under the dim lights, I felt the vibrations of white people. Consumed by an intergenerational fascination with you/me/us. Enraged at their ancestors and counterparts--but never at themselves. Oblivious, mostly, to their complicity in the story you tell."

This poem moved me away from somewhere that I think I'd been stuck for probably a long time.
September 8, 2020
I had the pleasure of meeting Cicely when I lived in Vancouver. I attended many of their trainings and learned so much about anti-black racism. This collection of poems was simply... magical. I felt so connected and saw myself in SO many of the topics and emotions. I am also a biracial queer person so it was truly entrancing. The kind of book to read again and again!
August 30, 2021
A beautiful book. Raw, gut-wrenching emotion.

It has been 20 years since I set foot on The Gambia and Blain transported me back there in poetry as if I had never left. Highly, highly recommend this book.
7 reviews1 follower
February 22, 2021
I’m not usually into poetry, but I absolutely loved this book. Equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring.
Profile Image for Caitlin Conlon.
Author 2 books124 followers
August 3, 2022
A solid debut collection tackling identity, race, & queerness (among other topics). Really especially love how this moved between prose essay & poetry so fluidly!
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,769 reviews68 followers
February 5, 2023
This had gorgeous writing with a depressing subject matter. It was also way above my comprehension.
Profile Image for Emma Harris.
133 reviews1 follower
April 20, 2022
Turns out I really love poetry when it’s written by a queer person.. Cicely Belle Blain writes eloquently about colonization, Blackness, queerness, and what it means for all of these points to come together. They are poignant, and funny, and the poems are interspersed with letters and short notes that still read like prose. Excellent excellent excellent.
Profile Image for Julie.
122 reviews3 followers
June 7, 2020
As I stated before in an update I was kindly sent a digital copy of this by the lovely people over at edelweis. All of my thoughts are my own. 4,5 stars. I am not someone well versed in poetry. But I’m making work of it to read more. After seeing on my goodreads how shockingly small the number of black authors was from which I had read books, I wanted to make work to read more black authors. I applied for a prerelease digital copy about a month ago, and I got accepted. I was over the moon and so excited to read a book in this to me unknown medium about a variety of things. I was expecting to learn about the black experience, about systemic racism, about generational trauma. And this collection of poems delivered. It gave me everything I wished to learn about and more. It gave me answers to questions I didn’t even stop to think to ask because of my whiteness. It showed me that I still have so much to learn, but also that books like these are a very accessible way to learn about them. That I don’t have to be ashamed because I didn’t know something already. This poetry collection took me through a plethora of feelings. I was mostly angry and sad. But also soothed by beautiful descriptions. I felt the duality and nuance jumping off of the page. I loved this so so much. I feel that with everything going on in the world right now, I am happy poetry collections like this exist. I think this really is a poetry collection to look out for when it comes out.
Profile Image for 2TReads.
821 reviews37 followers
September 3, 2020
3.5 stars

yes, blood is thick,
but water is life- from "Father"
When I started reading these poems, I wasn't sure that the flow was for me. But the truth, pain, power, beauty, darkness, rage encased within each line and stanza spoke to the answering anger in me for our Blackness and shared history.
Each poem read, was like having the conversation, as I'm sure many of us have had and are tired of having, especially in these times, which are not that different from times past. Our bodies have always been vulnerable. Cicely Belle Blain is sharing with this collection: experiences, thoughts, feelings, queerness, beauty, and witty humour.
Throughout there are some one sentence poems that really pack a punch and made me laugh and sigh in exasperation and commiseration, because they conveyed much with little.
Letters/thinks pieces entwined with poetry give the reader a deeper understanding of why Blain is writing. An important voice in the Black queer community, sharing their hopes, dreams, lives, struggles, sacrifice, fear, violence, and ongoing fight for true equality. A fierce and necessary voice.
Profile Image for Hanaa.
59 reviews
February 25, 2021
Cicely Belle Blain's debut poetry collection, Burning Sugar, is an experience. Cicely is a Black/mixed queer femme from London, who writes nuanced pieces on Black and queer identity, colonization, survivor’s guilt, and the longing for the ancestral home. Their poems range from short to letters, written to individuals such as Philando Castile and Archibald Motley Jr, written with gratitude and questions long left unanswered to victims of crimes repeated throughout history.

These poems move through space and time, 1940s to present-day, Canada, Africa, America to London all in Cecily’s shoes within the ancestral footprints. They also write distinctly to the displaced (read: African diaspora) by first coaxing out the guilt attached to living in a world built on the backs of our ancestors in “Oakland”, “North Carolina” and “Penticton” and then gently soothing with their words in “Dear Diaspora Child”, that managed to calm the storm inside as I read. The author had me questioning myself, how many of us confuse intergenerational trauma for survivor’s guilt?

I wish I could share all my favorite poems from this collection (choosing just one took me hours) but you’ll have to get a copy to take in all its beauty.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,028 reviews57 followers
May 29, 2023
I loved this collection. Somewhere in between a collection of individual poems and a memoir in verse -- this book as a whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

Divided into three sections, these are snippets of a Black, queer, femme finding/making her place in the world. Place takes us through cities/states/regions of the poet's life, what she found/learned/lost in each place, with a chaotic mix of joy, pain, humor, and introspection. In Art she recounts growing up with an artist for a mother, trawling galleries in Europe on weekends. The poems address artists and specific works, they address white supremacy in the art world and how it affects how Black art is displayed, received, consumed. Finally Child moves back and forth in time, navigating family and identity, the wounds of absence, of racism, sexism, and homophobia. But Blain is bold in reclaiming trust and love and self-worth.

Raw and powerful.
28 reviews
November 27, 2020
Cicely Belle Blain has created a masterpiece. This book is a must read. Their careful attention to detail and diction creates a collection of poems that you feel rather than read. It’s moving, informative, transformational, personal, poignant, and so much more. Blain gives readers a glimpse into their personal experience as a black queer individual growing up and living on different continents yet experiencing the intergenerational and ongoing trauma that colonization inflicted on black people worldwide. Go read it!
Profile Image for Madison Barnes.
283 reviews46 followers
March 30, 2022
"I rediscovered friendship
I twisted my ankle falling into Earth's core
I forgot you could be loved like this"
-Alexandra Bridge
Profile Image for Sam - Spines in a Line.
609 reviews21 followers
December 3, 2021
This is a really powerful collection told through different places and works of art as the author looks at race and queerness in these different spaces.

I’d seen this one shared by a lot of bloggers so I knew it was well-liked plus that cover is beautiful! But I was so surprised when I opened it and saw the first poem was titled Manitoba, as well as poems for Toronto and Vancouver. So nice to see parts of home in this collection and be able to recognize the descriptions.
Profile Image for Danielle.
140 reviews
February 13, 2022
This was a fantastic collection of poetry and so many of the poems were striking with lines and messages I hope to revisit. I will be honest, I've mostly been reading anthologies recently and hearing only from one author was enjoyable because of how the poems created both a story and a person. Beautifully done
Profile Image for Laura.
3,114 reviews
November 29, 2020
this book came with glowing recommendations.
I loved the themes and stories in this book. The explorations of home, identity, place and resistance.
I did not as much feel the poetry but fall into the stories.
I look forward to reading more of their writing.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 53 reviews

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