Winner of the 2020 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, Belli hands the stage to a luminous constancy in this deftly lyrical and incisive collection. Structured around a central poem, "Billet Doux," which is a love letter to the bones—and their persistence when faced with the solemnity of ruin—these magnetic poems are illuminations, repositories for strong-willed, existential deliberations, and stoic reckonings of the ravaged, lone self and its forsaken thou. A Sleep That Is Not Our Sleep cuts to the bone with its sensual turns and its linguistic ingenuity.
One introductory poem and four parts compose this volume, whose spirit is one of melancholic yet decisive persistence uttered in spare, spellbinding truths. A first section reckons with failed intimacy in terse and articulate lines that pace the small universes that are each one of Belli's poems. In a letter to the bones, which constitutes the temperamental and winged second section, the bones are dear companions that cannot be left, for, in their absence, the speaker asks, what "would be left to break?" The third section is inhabited by a shrewd stoicism that works to preserve the speaker from certain terror and keep a loosening grip on reality at bay. Lucidly, the speaker finds a sometimes cutting strength: "I am… more of a household chemical / flammable / and if misused / will stain the skin." In the final section, an imaginary constitutes itself through the light of the surreal and a sultry lyricism. Although "an ancient nakedness is being held against its will" and "to live is to learn to be barely there," the speaker hopefully begins "considering the dahlias."
Belli's vision is tender and daring, at times indignant, but always intending to grasp with authenticity our transactions with intimacy through a succinct and pointed verse, whether the self lies face down in the grime or whether it is aimed at the sun.
E.C. Belli is the author of Objects of Hunger (SIU Press, 2019). She is the translator of I, Little Asylum by Emmanuelle Guattari (Semiotext(e), 2014) and The Nothing Bird: Selected Poems by Pierre Peuchmaurd (Oberlin College Press, 2013). Her manuscript, A Sleep That is Not Our Sleep, won the 2020 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry.The recipient of a 2010 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, her work in French has appeared in Europe: revue littéraire mensuelle and PO&SIE (France), among others. She is also the author of the chapbook, plein jeu.