In poems that beautify and destroy, Black’s eighth book Radium Dream offers clear-eyed and equally complex conversations about the disabled body, family, violence, and the climate crisis. If, as Czeslaw Milosz writes, poetry is defined as “a passionate pursuit of the real,” then these poems pursue reality full force, from the girls who starve themselves to the women who ask “why/so hard to love the only skin in which you will ever breathe?” The final coup (which, remember, means “a blow”) is the long poem at the end of the book, one memorializing another poet, a passionately loved mother, New Yorker. Using bits and pieces from Paul Celan poems and works by Rynn Williams, as well as Black’s own acute eye for details of their shared city of New York, Black demonstrates the struggle for an answer to “what in this world is there to love?”
author of The Bower and Rare High Meadow of Which I Might
Dream (finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize)
“It is terrible to forget / you have a body,” yet “It is terrible / to have a body.” Therein lies one complex concern of this image-rich book; in what way do we recognize and resist the physical self? In tactile, textured poems this collection fluidly navigates the boundary between beauty and what is broken, between being wounded and the question “what in this world is there to love?” Here is something to love: the honest, perceptive, insightful voice in Radium Dream that is wide-awake as it guides us through hurts and hungers, figs and fruit trees, subways and chicken wire. Around every corner we may find “a new form of loneliness,” but these poems invite readers, despite grief or loss, to connect to ourselves and to each other. Sheila Black’s wonderful poems are embodied, fierce in clarity and direct in truth.
Laura Van Prooyen
author of Frances of the Wider Field
Each poem in Sheila Black’s new collection, Radium Dream, gleams with a glow never seen before, dangerous and beautiful. In the gospel of these poems, the body is elegant, fragile, and barely there. Beyond the body, we discover a wild path that transcends the real with surprise. Open your mouth, and a bird flies out; suddenly you are finding signs of hope in every sky and every cloud.
author of Into The The, winner of the UK's Best Book Award
Sheila Black’s poems navigate, with a lyrical ferocity, the precipice between elegy and acceptance, between grief and delight for the lives we find ourselves living. The emotional range of Radium Dream, Black’s fifth book of poems, makes for a vivid, never predictable, page-turning journey. There are humorous poems on a daughter’s surreal experience working customer service at a Microsoft Store and breathtaking close-ups of nature, such as “Amaryllis,” in which the bloom becomes, in Black’s deft iconography, “the gift/of a red instant. Your/ mouth a parachute silk.” Many of the poems in this collection merge environmental stress with personal loss to depict a larger grief—both human and nonhuman. Black also documents our relationships to our own bodies with a fearless exactitude. Vividly rendered, Radium Dream offers its astute takes on an uneasy world in flux and our lives within it.
Alexandra van de Kamp
author of Ricochet Script and Kiss/Hierarchy