Review: The Fire Eater’s Lover by Sophia Blackwell

For this month’s theme of Book Club, Lois Shearing reviews second anthology The Fire Eater’s Lover, which celebrates all things related to performance. Whether its getting up on stage, dressing up for a night out, or seducing a lover, The Fire Eater’s Lover heaves with the beauty of all the rituals and tribulations of everyday life.

The Fire Eater’s Lover is the second anthology by performance poet Sophia Blackwell, following her novel After My Own Heart and first anthology Into Temptation. Her pieces have also appeared in an anthology edited by Paul Burston celebrating same-sex attraction entitled Boys and Girls, as well as its sequel, Men and Women.

This new anthology, comprised of over 50 poems, is inspired by ideas of performance, whether that’s “rituals of seduction, the trials and triumphs of squeezing into a red vintage dress, or the adrenaline of putting a mic to your lips,” as stated on its back cover.


The Fire Eater’s Lover opens on the first day of the year and ends on the last, taking the reader on a year long journey through the smoggy back streets of London, the joys of love, seething anger, and the challenges of family life.

“Throw me if you want, the pressure’s off and I am stronger for being broken.” – Kintsugi

Blackwell’s pieces weave together familiar everyday imagery and carefully chosen lay-terms with a thumping rhythm, conjuring strong imagery that everyone can relate to, while still feeling high concept and abstract. It’s a wonderful mix that makes even first-time anthology readers feel well versed and completely immersed in Blackwell’s beautiful and chaotic world.

The accessibility is one of the most enjoyable factors of this book. Blackwell feels like a friend, leaning over her drink in a dark crowded bar to tell you a story. Despite many of the pieces having been written as performance pieces designed to be recited in a crowded room, there’s still a real sense of intimacy and honesty in every piece.

Accessibility is an important issue to Blackwell, who hosted a workshop at Queer’say a few months ago. Queer’say was a showcase of queer spoken word recorded by Out In South London, which gave a range of queer artists and poets the opportunity to take center-stage in an inclusive space.

“I think [events like Queer’say] are necessary because, as you say, not much of the poetry was queer-focused but the show’s title means we don’t need to explain ourselves or ‘out ourselves,’ to the audience, or decide not to do so. This is an issue for queer artists that straight ones probably aren’t aware of,” Blackwell told Polar! Magazine at the time.

Blackwell’s experience as a lesbian seem to inform many of the pieces, coming across as heavy odes to lovers and playful trysts through past escapades.

One of the most uplifting things about this anthology is how Blackwell’s sexuality and experiences like coming out, first kisses, and coming to terms with the fact, are all there in the background, yet the pieces themselves are dripping with the joy of being gay.

“Lightening can strike the same place twice. She’s proof.” – The Diary of Frida Kahlo

None wallow in the pain and rejection we’ve all experienced as gay and queer people. Instead they celebrate love, sex, and relationships for what they are. Although poetry and art about the struggles of being LGBTQ+ is always necessary, gaiety around our relationships and love are a breath of fresh air.

Although her past works have encompassed political rants, social media, and oppression, The Fire Eater’s Lover focuses more on the performances of everyday life. It’s a book pulsing with energy, the artistry hidden in the mundane, but human relationships. It is a wonderful and bright book perfect for warming up the remaining winter months ahead.

Follow @LoisShearing on Twitter.

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