12 August 2022

Burning Sugar Tastes Sweet

burning-sugar

BY EVELYN C. WHITE

As a former resident of Salt Spring Island, I was immediately drawn to a poem of the
same title in Cicely Belle Blain’s engaging debut collection.

“a dry and radiant sun … the slap of wooden sandals,” Blain writes in Burning
Sugar, a collection of poetry about the celebrated west coast arts community.
“abruptly, ‘Get off my land’ shouts a white man.”

Crafted in similar vein, the short poem “Vancouver” gives voice to generations of
non-white people in Canada: “I’ve never been asked so many times if I ‘m the help.”
A self-described Black/mixed race queer femme from the United Kingdom
now living in B.C., Blain displays a sharp wit and a fierce commitment to social
justice in the prose and poems presented in Burning Sugar.

In “I Hate White People in Art Galleries,” the author melds fury with a comedic
touch:

“I swear the devil is in chinos and Birkenstocks. … blonde hair/gold rimmed
spectacles… Kale snacks/ man buns.”
“Manitoba” probes the complexity of race in the prairie landscape: “I found
Black people between groves of wheat/ drove hours along open road back to
Winnipeg/ heard whispers in the topography… we do travel though/ some of us
are still/ on ships”.

Readers mindful of the scores of Black and Indigenous people who’ve perished
at the hands of white police officers (and everyday citizens) will find troubling
Blain’s trio of offerings titled “Minnesota,” “Saint Paul,” and “Dear Philando Castile.”

In the latter piece, the author writes: “How many white people can say their
death will end up on YouTube? Nestled between Ariana Grande and reruns of
Ellen. I watch it. I watch you. Calmly you explain you’re licensed to carry. Gently
reach for your ID card. Fall back, skin broken open, crimson washing over your
crisp white shirt. Die. I watch you die.”

“Third Grade” pays homage to the poet’s long journey to self-acceptance.
“how weird it was that Mama Africa gave me hips before I needed them,” Blain
writes. “how do you defend a body it will take you twenty-five years to love?”
A poignant and provocative release.

Burning Sugar is published by VS. Books/Arsenal Pulp Press
— BY EVELYN C. WHITE