Grove Press: Elements of Fiction by Walter Mosley

Bright Stain

Poet Francesca Bell shows she's one of the most exciting--and disturbing--voices in contemporary poetry with her dark and resplendent debut collection, Bright Stain.

Bell exhibits a thrilling fearlessness in her subject matter. These are poems about sex, crime, violence and desire. She employs multiple points of view to explore taboo characters like pedophile priests and serial killers. She even dramatizes the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Mixed in with these narrative poems are lyrical pieces on sexual experience, the female body, divinity and redemption. The collection strips down each speaker, including the poet herself, to a visceral level. The sensuality is striking, and the reader is "laid open/ on the blade of its loveliness."

Bell takes an incredible risk in extending this sensuality to abusers and killers. There is always moral hazard in humanizing monsters. Yet the risk pays off, as Bell is able to elicit humanity, and even divinity, from the worst of the worst. "The Curator," for example, ends with notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer being beaten to death: "He waited, patient/ on the prison's bathroom floor, for God/ who gathers our shards, every splintered/ fragment, into His boundless hands."

Bell reveals a faith--if not in religion itself, then in religious experience--that is as vast as the pain her characters cause. There is something that binds this "world of hunger" together. It may be the ability to move beyond pain. Perhaps Bell's poem "Benediction" says it best: "May each loss leave/ only the bright stain/ of a new beginning."

Beware: Bright Stain is an addictive read, almost impossible to put down once started. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset