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Amber Dawn’s poetic justice 

Her book How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir illuminates serious issues.

click to enlarge Author Amber Dawn visits Halifax for the first time to share her Hustler’s Memoir.
  • Author Amber Dawn visits Halifax for the first time to share her Hustler’s Memoir.

Poetry is renegade. Poetry is sex. Poetry is rebel. Poetry is Amber Dawn's first love.

Her sophomore book, How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler's Memoir (Arsenal Pulp), brings the award-winning author to Halifax for the first time, reading with Kaleigh Trace, author of the forthcoming Hot, Wet and Shaking: How I Learned To Talk About Sex, at Venus Envy, Monday June 9.

"To honour my hosts and my co-performer, Kaleigh, I'm going to bring the sex," Dawn says. "I'll be reading a mix of work from How Poetry Saved My Life and brand-new work---all very sexy."

Dawn's first book, Sub Rosa, winner of a Lambda Literary Award in 2011, is a dark fantasy about a posse of magical sex workers who fend off bad johns in the underworld. Her new one charts more personal turf--- survivor pride, sex work and queer identity. Part prose, part poetry, Dawn explores the years she spent hustling the streets of Vancouver with harrowing honesty.

While aspects of sex work took away elements of her self-esteem and sense of self, she found a lifeline in poetry and literature. This is survival unhinged, and poetic. Dawn is fierce and tender. Her powerful voice resounded so deeply in the city of glass, her poetry collection was awarded the Vancouver City Book Award 2013.

"I made a promise to Vancouver that if it took care of me that I'd take care of it," she says. "I'm keeping my promise in the ways that I know how: using my voice, volunteering, activism and on-going learning."

Dawn's memoir illustrates parts of the city invisible to the tourist's eye. Even though the issues of sex work, risk and violence against women are palpable in every Vancouverite's mind, the number of murdered and missing women is inexcusable.

"We know that Vancouver is changing in ways that cause homelessness to continue to rise. I can't speak for the vulnerable people in Vancouver, but I can speak about a set of close-to-the-bone experiences. I'm so grateful the city recognized me for speaking up."

Dawn's voice pierces, and courses deeply. Gertrude Stein is her personal grandmother of inspiration, yet jazz poetry, language poetry, hip-hop ignite. In the introduction of How Poetry Saved My Life, she quotes Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? embodying the toughness of poetry. How it is a finding place, not a hiding place. "A tough life needs a tough language---and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers---a language powerful enough to say how it is."

Currently, Dawn is finishing a second poetry manuscript, an entire book of glossa poems, a form where the poet selects a quatrain of another poet's work---her references include Stein, Trish Salah, Leah Horlick---and builds their own poems. The book hits shelves spring 2015, meanwhile she continues to work her second novel, a queer horror. She sees no division oscillating between poetry and fiction as a writer. It's all life, and she couldn't understand why an artist would want to focus on a single form or discipline.

"I deeply enjoy not being tethered to narrative and all the expectations of plot. Poetry helps you let go of this dominant cultural idea that everything needs a reason or an answer," says Dawn. "If we want to truly rebel against the mainstream, we can do it through poetry. Poetry has nothing to do with the status quo."

Amber Dawn reading and signing
Monday, June 9 at 7pm-9pm, free
Venus Envy, 1598 Barrington Street



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