“Stabbing in the darkness of empathy” – Review of There’s No Such Thing by Lily Blacksell

Oxford Writers' HouseFeatures2018July“Stabbing in the darkness of empathy” – Review of There’s No Such Thing by Lily Blacksell

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“Stabbing in the darkness of empathy” – Review of There’s No Such Thing by Lily Blacksell

“I’ve been declared a good listener. To be perfectly honest it’s true” Lily Blacksell writes in ‘Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing’ and Blacksell’s magnificent ear is the quality that first comes to attention as one reads the poems in her debut pamphlet, Theres No Such Thing. They are incredibly musical, each a tribute, an imitation and an interpretative dance on the theme of the poet’s favorite artists. She channels The Rolling Stones so aptly that her words unfold with young Mick Jagger’s cadence in the reader’s head. When Blacksell summons Nina Simone in the devastating ‘Nonina,’ the dead singer’s ancient pain comes through to swirl with the author’s youthful buoyancy. 

 

“Stabbing in the darkness at empathy, because I’d seen so little and listened to so much,” Blacksell writes, and it becomes apparent that paying attention has borne fruits of wisdom. Blacksell is not only a talented medium, but is also a mouthpiece for the millennial experience and where others could have fallen for platitudes in sealing their poetic time capsules, Blacksell creates intricate collages of things remembered, things lived, and things courageously awaited. The tumblr technique of juxtaposing the mundane with the transcendent is where she feels most at home, and the parallels Blacksell draws between things are the original, intelligent definition of our time as if forwarded (backwarded?) from the future: alienation of relationships as inseparable from wilderness preservation; abortion and horse riding as events of the same order; a bad trip through today’s circles of Inferno; death in the emails and desire sprayed over a skateboard deck.

 

And then there is ‘Sparrow’s knees,’ a poem of a mother’s trepanation that’s a love letter to the reclamation of our hysteria. In the dim light of the claustrophobic, anxiety-inducing poem the truth is propped up: “All women are berated equal,” Blacksell writes, “in a variety of different ways.” Sometimes, like in this case, her truths are concise and prim; sometimes they are busy, chatty, flashing through an overstimulated contemporary brain, like in ‘Meanwhile Back at the Ranch,’; sometimes they are tensely constrained, yet fertile, like in ‘Loose lips.’ Either way, they are rigorous but forgiving comments on the world of uncompensated misery we all inhabit, and its small unfettered joys here and there.

 

Concise as it may be, there is so much to love in this fantastic debut. Lily Blacksell’s poems, three-dimensional, ripe for the plucking, bursting with sense, are a veritable pick-n-mix of things to feel and think about while alive today, either one by one, savoring carefully, or in bulk, getting giddy with the rush. A poet in her twenties, Blacksell is yet to have her talent swell further along with the universe. It’s exciting to be able to follow it horizontally, from the very beginning, to long to learn what other skins she will shed, what different lives she will inhabit, what other records she will put on.


Katya Kazbek

Katya Kazbek

Katya Kazbek was born in the South of Russia, near Sochi, a tangle of ethnicities and identities. A graduate of Oxford’s writing MSt program, in 2019 Katya is expected to graduate with an MFA from Columbia University. Katya currently lives in New York City with their partner and is working on their first novel “Bruises Tender Red”, a binary-bending queer coming of age story set in Putin’s Russia. Katya’s writing has appeared in Guernica Daily, Creative Time Reports, GQ Russia, Vogue.ru, and others. Katya likes Marxist inquiry, drag queens, messy cooking, walking all over the 5 boroughs, and their dog Ritoozik’s belly button. You can check out their website at katyakazbek.com.


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