Bright Stain


Product Details

$16.95  $15.76
Red Hen Press
Publish Date
5.9 X 0.3 X 8.9 inches | 0.3 pounds

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About the Author

Francesca Bell is a poet and translator and is the current poet laureate of Marin County. Her debut collection, Bright Stain (Red Hen Press, 2019), was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award and the Julie Suk Award. She translated Max Sessner's collection, Whoever Drowned Here (Red Hen Press, 2023), from its original German. Her work appears widely in literary journals, and she has received a Neil Postman Award for Metaphor from Rattle and an Honorable Mention in Nimrod's Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize. Bell grew up in Washington and Idaho and did not complete middle school, high school, or college. She lives with her family in Novato, CA.


Poetry Matters Interview with Francesca Bell on her poetry book Bright Stain.

Video by Blank Verse Films of Francesca Bell's poem "You Can Call Me Ma'am".

Excerpted in Women's Voices for Change.

Interview with Max Sessner on Body

Conversation with Lisa Higgs in The Adroit Journal

Beware: Bright Stain is an addictive read, almost impossible to put down once started.
--Scott Neuffer, starred review for Shelf Awareness

From Bell, a gritty poetry debut that examines the power and perils of womanhood, sex, and religion. Bell finds beauty and horror in the tiny moments of life and turns them into art. "Besos" sensually recalls a first kiss with a boy who is later brutally beaten. The speaker unpacks the mortifying experience of developing breasts at age 14 but soon discovers how they make young men quake in "In Plain Sight." In "Narrow Openings," the speaker admits she doesn't like her lover and longs to argue with him; instead, she goes for a walk, delighting in the idea of him "pacing / the closed rooms, stupid and lovely." The author doesn't shy away from tough or taboo subjects; "With a Little Education" examines the life of a gigolo, and "The Curator" is a visceral recounting of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer's monstrosities. The work is entirely unsentimental, from a remembrance of an unimpressive paramour to a poem in which the poet plays with excuses used by football players accused of sexual assault. Several unflinching looks at the body include a birth poem so gruesome it reads precariously close to murder, and "Guilt Tastes Like Summer" finds a 4-year-old wondering if sunburn is her penance for sexual desire. Womanhood and religion are interwoven here. Unclasping a bra is "a relief like prayer," while menstruation is "the reminder / of the gash God made in me." The imagery is incisive and unique: Boys' voices "creaked like screen doors"; spent lovers are "rubble, still and separate"; and a tongue "leapt / like an animal from its cave." This collection is not for the faint of heart, however; rape, abortion, and child sexual abuse by men of the cloth are all par for the course. And in "In Persona Christi," she compares fellatio to the Eucharist.
A penetrating collection of ruthless, unapologetic poetry
--Kirkus Reviews

How deeply gratifying to see Francesca Bell's electric, erotic and completely ravishing debut collection, Bright Stain, at last in the world. For the past ten years she has been writing some of the most charged, subtle and yet devastating poems in American poetry. Many of these dramatic vignettes are laced with a rare sexual candor and a whip-smart emotional intelligence. Bright Stain is one of the most darkly elegant and luminous books of recent years; it is, in all ways, truly a wonder.
--David St. John

Unflinching, tender, and sensual, the poems in Francesca Bell's, Bright Stain reach straight for the aorta and never let go. The poet asks nothing less than to face oneself honestly, yet with compassion.
-- Sherry Smith from Rhino

Francesca Bell's poems are fierce and tender, passionate, compassionate, disturbing and delightful. Wide-ranging, finely-honed, smart and surprising, Bright Stain is a compelling debut collection!
--Ellen Bass

Francesca Bell's first book of poetry...reflects a dark universe in which sexual pleasure and pain are intricately linked....This debut collection is impressive for its distinctive voice and pungent imagery.
--Meryl Natchez, from Zyzzyva

--Scott Neuffer