VS. Books

An imprint of Arsenal Pulp Press

The second title from VS. Books: a poetic exploration of Black identity, history, and lived experience influenced by the constant search for liberation.

Burning Sugar cover

Released September 2020 by Arsenal Pulp Press

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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 colour.

Advance praise for Burning Sugar

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 poets 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 How Poetry Saved My Life and Sodom Road Exit

Cicely 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 award-winning memoir Dear Current Occupant

Cicely Belle’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 caucasity in all its forms. But even that intrusion is outmatched by the beauty of Blain's wildest dreams. 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

Cicely Belle Blain bears their soul with full vulnerability in their new work, Burning Sugar. Blain connects the sights and sounds of places from their life and travels with the familiar elements of popular discourse that took place there. One need look no further than their letter to Philando Castile to see why this work is relevant to not only Black diasporic communities but to lovers of poetry and literature at large.

— Blair Imani, author of Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History


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Cicely Belle Blain is the CEO of a social justice–informed diversity and inclusion consulting company with more than 100 clients worldwide. They are the founder of Black Lives Matter Vancouver and one of 150 Black women and non-binary people making change across Canada. Cicely Belle is an instructor in executive leadership at Simon Fraser University. Burning Sugar is their first book.