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How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler's Memoir

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As raw and fiery as its author, How Poetry Saved My Life is a powerful account of survival and the transformative power of literature. Amber Dawn's acclaimed first novel Sub Rosa, a darkly intoxicating fantasy about a group of magical prostitutes who band together to fend off bad johns in a fantastical underworld, won a Lambda Literary Award in 2011. While the plot of the b As raw and fiery as its author, How Poetry Saved My Life is a powerful account of survival and the transformative power of literature. Amber Dawn's acclaimed first novel Sub Rosa, a darkly intoxicating fantasy about a group of magical prostitutes who band together to fend off bad johns in a fantastical underworld, won a Lambda Literary Award in 2011. While the plot of the book was wildly imaginative, it was also based on the author's own experience as a sex worker in the 1990s and early 2000s, and on her coming out as lesbian. How Poetry Saved My Life, Amber Dawn's sophomore book, reveals an even more poignant and personal landscape—the terrain of sex work, queer identity, and survivor pride. This memoir, told in prose and poetry, offers a frank, multifaceted portrait of the author's experiences hustling the streets of Vancouver, and the how those years took away her self-esteem and nearly destroyed her; at the crux of this autobiographical narrative is the tender celebration of poetry and literature, that—as the title suggests—acted as a lifeline during her most pivotal moments.


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As raw and fiery as its author, How Poetry Saved My Life is a powerful account of survival and the transformative power of literature. Amber Dawn's acclaimed first novel Sub Rosa, a darkly intoxicating fantasy about a group of magical prostitutes who band together to fend off bad johns in a fantastical underworld, won a Lambda Literary Award in 2011. While the plot of the b As raw and fiery as its author, How Poetry Saved My Life is a powerful account of survival and the transformative power of literature. Amber Dawn's acclaimed first novel Sub Rosa, a darkly intoxicating fantasy about a group of magical prostitutes who band together to fend off bad johns in a fantastical underworld, won a Lambda Literary Award in 2011. While the plot of the book was wildly imaginative, it was also based on the author's own experience as a sex worker in the 1990s and early 2000s, and on her coming out as lesbian. How Poetry Saved My Life, Amber Dawn's sophomore book, reveals an even more poignant and personal landscape—the terrain of sex work, queer identity, and survivor pride. This memoir, told in prose and poetry, offers a frank, multifaceted portrait of the author's experiences hustling the streets of Vancouver, and the how those years took away her self-esteem and nearly destroyed her; at the crux of this autobiographical narrative is the tender celebration of poetry and literature, that—as the title suggests—acted as a lifeline during her most pivotal moments.

30 review for How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler's Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Morgan M. Page

    This book was really wonderful. As a sex workers' rights activist, I was particularly enamoured with how she managed to portray her experiences of sex work as complicated -- rather than distilling them into an easy "it was all great, sex work = work" or "it was all terrible, I've been victimized!" stance that so many people fall into when talking about sex work. So powerful, so worth the read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tom Léger

    This book is sexy and honest and so, so, so smart. Ms. Dawn teases apart feminism with the sharpest of needles in How Poetry Saved My Life. She opens a door to a world many folks would never experience, but she welcomes us and offers us a place to sit. I feel like I learned a lot and also gained enormous respect for the authorl I generally avoid first-person narratives of feminist awakenings because they tend to be dripping in the sticky-sweet sap of freshman discovery, or the sensational, or lac This book is sexy and honest and so, so, so smart. Ms. Dawn teases apart feminism with the sharpest of needles in How Poetry Saved My Life. She opens a door to a world many folks would never experience, but she welcomes us and offers us a place to sit. I feel like I learned a lot and also gained enormous respect for the authorl I generally avoid first-person narratives of feminist awakenings because they tend to be dripping in the sticky-sweet sap of freshman discovery, or the sensational, or lacking in serious reflection. NOT SO with this one. I'm honestly blown away with the talent in this thin volume, both the essays and the intermingled poems. Bravo to the author and her editors/publishers who were able to envision this unique book and make it happen. We are living in a better world by sharing space with How Poetry Saved My Life.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Julene

    I read this book before reading Amber Dawn's novel Sub Rosa. It is a mix of excellent essays and poetry that starts in her present life. She has an MFA in poetry and has used poetry to build her life from being a sex worker, thus the title, How Poetry Saved My Life. In the introductory essay she discusses how it took time to take ownership of her writing. Coming out of the sex workers world is the journey of an outsider, and as an advocate making her voice heard has been a challenge, so when she I read this book before reading Amber Dawn's novel Sub Rosa. It is a mix of excellent essays and poetry that starts in her present life. She has an MFA in poetry and has used poetry to build her life from being a sex worker, thus the title, How Poetry Saved My Life. In the introductory essay she discusses how it took time to take ownership of her writing. Coming out of the sex workers world is the journey of an outsider, and as an advocate making her voice heard has been a challenge, so when she wrote her first book, she was surprised people read it. This book is in three sections: Outside, Inside, and Inward. Outside, she presents with a trigger warning. It is her testament to outdoor or survival street work, and the section she feels the most pride in. She says, "Crisis and creativity can be a potent combination." Inside marks her transition to inside work, safer and higher paid, this is the period she was able to go to school and perfect her art. Inward is her journey out of sex work, to settling and marrying a parnter. It is also a call to the community to tell your truth, whatever it is. In her work are themes of love, survival, voicing the impossible, finding community and treasuring your own experiences.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    Stirring, fierce, honest. I want to quote from so many of the essays collected here, but especially this passage from "How to Bury Our Dead": "Make two lists, one of queers you know who have died, and a second of queer funerals you've attended. How do your lists compare? My first list is a whole lot longer than the second. What I've learned about queer funerals is--they don't exist. In the worst-case scenario, we are forced back into the closet at our funerals. At best, our deaths become politica Stirring, fierce, honest. I want to quote from so many of the essays collected here, but especially this passage from "How to Bury Our Dead": "Make two lists, one of queers you know who have died, and a second of queer funerals you've attended. How do your lists compare? My first list is a whole lot longer than the second. What I've learned about queer funerals is--they don't exist. In the worst-case scenario, we are forced back into the closet at our funerals. At best, our deaths become political platforms for public education and human rights lobbying. They become measures of the work that still needs to be done in this world."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    A poetry/memoir/short essays from a queer woman who worked as a prostitute on the streets and in massage parlours. Very personal, raw beautiful essays. The book was eye opening and thought provoking on a political and personal level. Some of the essays are sure to become classics, including the one about queer funerals. Lots of food for thought in her. Such a beautiful, brave and honest book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    C.E. G

    Yesterday, we got the first slush of the season in MN and rush hour traffic was really bad, so I just parked in a random neighborhood and read this book to the end while freezing in my car. I can tell that this is one of those books that's left traces of itself in my brain tubes, and it'll pop up whenever I think about sex work, old school and new school butch/femmes, and queerness in relation to class and geography. Highly recommended (though trigger warning - lots about sex work and violence) Yesterday, we got the first slush of the season in MN and rush hour traffic was really bad, so I just parked in a random neighborhood and read this book to the end while freezing in my car. I can tell that this is one of those books that's left traces of itself in my brain tubes, and it'll pop up whenever I think about sex work, old school and new school butch/femmes, and queerness in relation to class and geography. Highly recommended (though trigger warning - lots about sex work and violence) (and Not Safe For Breakroom at Work warning - there are some *sexy* queer sex scenes that might make you blush a little too hard to be work appropriate).

  7. 4 out of 5

    Terence

    ”I’m asking you to entertain that wish I made earlier: to treat this like a two-way conversation. My dear reader, you’ve caught on by now that this is not really about sex work. Sex work is only one of many, many things that we learn we are not to talk about, one of many things we’ve been asked (but never agreed) to keep silent about. “This is about the labour of becoming whole and letting yourself see a wider panorama. It’s about allowing yourself to listen to broader conversations – with your v ”I’m asking you to entertain that wish I made earlier: to treat this like a two-way conversation. My dear reader, you’ve caught on by now that this is not really about sex work. Sex work is only one of many, many things that we learn we are not to talk about, one of many things we’ve been asked (but never agreed) to keep silent about. “This is about the labour of becoming whole and letting yourself see a wider panorama. It’s about allowing yourself to listen to broader conversations – with your voice included – to visit the places that have been made silent or small or wounded. “Locate yourself within the bigger, puzzling, and sometimes hazardous world around you…. What combination of facts and lies represent you? What spectrum of identities do you hold dear while the larger world tells you that these identities doesn’t even exist?” (p. 119) Recommended.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Audrey

    This book has stolen my heart

  9. 5 out of 5

    Inken

    "People lie when they are told their truth holds no value." This was not an easy book to read. The unflinchingly honest depiction of life as a sex worker never is and should not be easy to read about. The line above comes from the book and it struck me so hard I can't forget it. Ms Dawn is a talented writer, an activist in the sex trade, an LGBT feminist and makes no excuses for her life. I believe it's too easy for the rest of society to dismiss people like her without ever having to face the re "People lie when they are told their truth holds no value." This was not an easy book to read. The unflinchingly honest depiction of life as a sex worker never is and should not be easy to read about. The line above comes from the book and it struck me so hard I can't forget it. Ms Dawn is a talented writer, an activist in the sex trade, an LGBT feminist and makes no excuses for her life. I believe it's too easy for the rest of society to dismiss people like her without ever having to face the reality of their world. It's not Pretty Woman! It's seedy, grubby and dangerous. Sexual encounters do not take place in 5-star hotels, but in back seats of cars and alleyways and motel rooms. Every single time a sex worker goes with a john there is the possibility of not coming back alive. And Ms Dawn makes that very clear. The line above is in response to the death of one of her friends and the tragic truth that the killer will probably never be found because a) her friends/coworkers will not talk to the police and b) the police will not care. She has lost friends along the way to drugs, murder, AIDS and knows that most of society will not care or even think about them. But this does not stop her from trying for years to get the world to see sex workers as people just as deserving of respect, dignity and decent treatment. Ms Dawn's poetry is also moving and honest and sometimes funny. She is evidently a highly intelligent and talented writer - even her prose is searing in its depiction of life as a sex worker trying to deal with that world and using her writing as a lifeline out of it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Rose

    Call yourself a feminist? Then you must read Amber Dawn’s new book, How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir. Scratch that. Call yourself a human? Read this book. Immediately. Amber Dawn has written a collection of wry, witty and heartbreaking observations on gender, butch-femme relations, desire and capitalism. Punctuated with finely-wrought poems that illuminate her memoir, How Poetry Saved My Life is full of unexpected gems, both in the muscle of the language and the beauty of the truths Call yourself a feminist? Then you must read Amber Dawn’s new book, How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir. Scratch that. Call yourself a human? Read this book. Immediately. Amber Dawn has written a collection of wry, witty and heartbreaking observations on gender, butch-femme relations, desire and capitalism. Punctuated with finely-wrought poems that illuminate her memoir, How Poetry Saved My Life is full of unexpected gems, both in the muscle of the language and the beauty of the truths she is unafraid to speak. Until Amber Dawn’s book, I had never realized the grief associated with lack of mourning rituals in the queer community. It was painful to remember my own dead, the dead that have simply disappeared, without services, without ceremony. The self-proclaimed possessor of “an enterprising pussy,” Amber Dawn is also extremely funny. Refusing sentimentality, she maintains a fierce control of how and what she reveals in this memoir. When reading autobiography, I seek work that challenges my own unexamined beliefs and stereotypes, and gives me a window on life experiences outside my own. Amber Dawn delivers all this and more in her unforgettable new memoir.

  11. 4 out of 5

    CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian

    I debated whether or not to use a really tired cliché when I sat down to write this review of Vancouver writer, filmmaker, and performance artist Amber Dawn’s recently released memoir, How Poetry Saved My Life. In the spirit of a writer who’s not afraid to title two of her poems “What’s My Mother F***ing Name” and “Hey F*** Face,” I then thought ‘fuck it,’ I’m going to say it anyway: this book made me laugh and it made me cry. I mean this in the best and the most sincere way. Let me tell you why I debated whether or not to use a really tired cliché when I sat down to write this review of Vancouver writer, filmmaker, and performance artist Amber Dawn’s recently released memoir, How Poetry Saved My Life. In the spirit of a writer who’s not afraid to title two of her poems “What’s My Mother F***ing Name” and “Hey F*** Face,” I then thought ‘fuck it,’ I’m going to say it anyway: this book made me laugh and it made me cry. I mean this in the best and the most sincere way. Let me tell you why. There’s a certain messiness and refusal to be contained that this book, subtitled A Hustler’s Memoir, celebrates and shouts from the rooftops... See the rest of my review on my blog: http://caseythecanadianlesbrarian.wor...

  12. 4 out of 5

    kat mokus

    Great memoir of an incredible poet sex worker.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ai Miller

    Really beautiful and deeply generous. Dawn's poetry is cutting and tender at the same time, and the prose pieces here are really beautiful and invite the reader to sit with her (in some cases literally!) The movement across these aspects and times of her life give a good arc while also really just settling in with what it means to be older than you ever thought you would be, and what that can look like. The last piece about her wife was a really incredible and tender one to end on, and I'm reall Really beautiful and deeply generous. Dawn's poetry is cutting and tender at the same time, and the prose pieces here are really beautiful and invite the reader to sit with her (in some cases literally!) The movement across these aspects and times of her life give a good arc while also really just settling in with what it means to be older than you ever thought you would be, and what that can look like. The last piece about her wife was a really incredible and tender one to end on, and I'm really grateful to read it from where I'm sitting now. Just lovely.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Danny Mclaren

    INCREDIBLE BOOK and a quick and captivating read. Dawn writes about her life experiences that have been shaped by her identities as a queer woman sex worker, and the violence, politics, joys, friendships, and other complications that come with this identity. The poetry is beautiful and emotive, and move the pace of the book along by being intermixed with the prose accounts Dawn provides. And the prose itself is written with a poetic quality. Beautiful!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    a candid mix of prose and poetry about life as a sex worker, dealing with childhood trauma and coming of age as a queer femme. an empowering book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sharlene

    I received this book as the result of a First reads giveaway. I feel ashamed with myself after reading this book...Oh, don't get me wrong. It won't be for any of the reasons you are considering right now...especially if you are reading the title of this book. We sometimes judge too quickly....don't we? I'm ashamed because I had planned to read this book slower...Let me explain. I am not a poetry master. I do not know all the ins and outs nor is it one of the genres I pick up to read anymore. When I received this book as the result of a First reads giveaway. I feel ashamed with myself after reading this book...Oh, don't get me wrong. It won't be for any of the reasons you are considering right now...especially if you are reading the title of this book. We sometimes judge too quickly....don't we? I'm ashamed because I had planned to read this book slower...Let me explain. I am not a poetry master. I do not know all the ins and outs nor is it one of the genres I pick up to read anymore. When I was younger, I loved poetry and so when I opened this book, I wanted to enjoy it again. I wanted to breathe in each poem and think about it for a while, before devouring the next one. This worked for me for the first three days...I would wake up, read until I hit a poem and absorb it and feel it. By day three I felt like an addict who had finally snapped and NEEDED her poetry! I'm not sure this needed to be discussed in this review but since the author mentions it, I wanted to give it some of the merit it was due: This book is unlike many of the poetry books I have read in the past for several reasons. The author reveals that she is/was a street walker and is quite open about it. One may never need to know this, but I actually appreciated it. I could feel her pain, her desires and her experiences even more so, knowing that it wasn't just someone's perception of someone else's life. A very brave move and I think a worthwhile chance that works in her favor, in my opinion. You will find a dialogue between sections and even poems to help explain the prose and why they were written. Don't expect it in a step by step boring diatribe, expect to get cozy because this is just as exciting as the poetry for it is a memory and shouldn't be ignored...there is a story, a legend or maybe a lesson in there. Some readers may be surprised to find an intelligent and caring woman within the pages. Poems have been divided into three sections. The author will tell you right from the start that the first section is her favorite. I actually enjoyed the last section the best as I saw more of who she really is...a vulnerable part exposed but one that left me understanding who she is more than the superficial outside that can fool you into believing a façade. Certain poems touched my heart and caused me to set down the book to just reflect on them. To say, I enjoyed them all, would be a lie...they are all well written, but I would be lying if I said they all spoke to me. The ones that did speak to me were scattered throughout the book and I am happy that there were more poems that I enjoyed, than the ones I didn't. Well written, smart and daring!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Laurel

    Grief is an underdeveloped language and so your body is tasked with mourning. And can the body remember correctly? Or is this heat this scorching asphalt heat under your skin a sign of something yet to come? Anyway, are Canadians that different from us? And do you remember when by virtue of femininity, womanness alone, you could preface a statement? As a woman... But you don't get that anymore. You are not removed from the cultural norm anymore, as a woman. The blank verse is the default. Better add l Grief is an underdeveloped language and so your body is tasked with mourning. And can the body remember correctly? Or is this heat this scorching asphalt heat under your skin a sign of something yet to come? Anyway, are Canadians that different from us? And do you remember when by virtue of femininity, womanness alone, you could preface a statement? As a woman... But you don't get that anymore. You are not removed from the cultural norm anymore, as a woman. The blank verse is the default. Better add like, eight more adjectives in front of that qualifier, grrrl. it's time to cede other.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alexa

    I found that this collection of poems and prose pieces needed to be read in small bites, because otherwise it was just too intense and over-whelming. I’m really, really glad I read it – it took me places I’ve never been before, places I didn’t think I ever wanted to go.

  19. 5 out of 5

    George K. Ilsley

    Years ago, at a reading in Robson Square, I heard Amber Dawn read an earlier version of some of this text and it shook me. Now, this collection of essays and poetry has been crafted into a unique, heartfelt and thoroughly engaging memoir. Inspirational and affirming. Congratulations Amber Dawn!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    This shit is my bible. Read it, be changed by it, I don't even know what I loved before I found Amber Dawn's poetry.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jessie McMains

    The writing in this book is both sublime and gritty, and it will make you cry. Especially if you are queer, a queer femme, or have ever been a sex worker; especially if you are all three.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Gritty but beautiful story of a prostitute who put herself through college and graduate school through her sex work, and turned out to be an incredible poet. Really worthwhile reading.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    I cannot think of a way to describe this book that would give it justice. The words that come to mind are intense, powerful, and beautiful.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ash

    "A tough life needs a tough language-- and that is what poetry is. " - Jeanette Winterson Amber Dawn's How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler's Memoir is autobiography on how Dawn started off as a sex worker in Canada and was able to find her way out of the trade by focusing on creative writing. She also became an avid advocate for The rights of sex workers, gender and queer biases. The book is in three parts: Outside, Inside, and Inward. In Outside, Dawn describes the everyday life of being a going "A tough life needs a tough language-- and that is what poetry is. " - Jeanette Winterson Amber Dawn's How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler's Memoir is autobiography on how Dawn started off as a sex worker in Canada and was able to find her way out of the trade by focusing on creative writing. She also became an avid advocate for The rights of sex workers, gender and queer biases. The book is in three parts: Outside, Inside, and Inward. In Outside, Dawn describes the everyday life of being a going sex worker and the perils of the job. Her poetry and prose here is very gritty, visceral, and very graphic. For me, being the prude that I am, those parts were difficult to read. In Inside, Dawn has made it, so to speak. At this point of her life, she's in college taking creative writing classes while working in a "massage parlor." It's step in the right direction as she is relatively safer than out in the street. This is also the time that many of her friends are dying outside. It makes Dawn pondered how do queer funerals work? How can they bury their dead. Dawn also worries if all her activism is working and can incite change. Inside is very reflective and pensive. It's not as dark as outside but there are different shades of darkness. In Inward, Dawn is finally at a good place. She's completely out of the sex trade, she has a wife, and she has a career as an author. It took a lot for her to get there. Inward is the triumph. I enjoyed A Hustler's Memoir. I didn't have the slightest clue about sex work especially in Canada where this memoir takes place. Also, all of the gender and queer biases I was also clueless on. This was a very informative book. I can see why Dawn was able to break free and became a writer. She definitely has the talent for it. It doesn't matter if it was reading her prose or poetry, it still elicit a reaction from me. If I had to chose, I would pick her prose because it provided more depth and insight. I want to check out the book that launched her from obscurity: Sub Rosa. She won the Lambda Literary award so it must be something. A Hustler's Memoir is a good book for people who feel hopeless. Getting out is a possibility.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    The actress’s A-note sighs turned to dog-like whimpers. Her brow furrowed. I suspected that if she was going to get off, the moment had already passed, but still I kept fucking her. Roxanne eyed the time on her watch, and still I kept fucking. I heard the tiny bones in my wrist creaking. I kept fucking. A turn-out would have given up and handed the client a vibrator, but I kept on fucking. The white robe trembled on the clacking headboard like an old ghost, still haunting me. I understood very cl The actress’s A-note sighs turned to dog-like whimpers. Her brow furrowed. I suspected that if she was going to get off, the moment had already passed, but still I kept fucking her. Roxanne eyed the time on her watch, and still I kept fucking. I heard the tiny bones in my wrist creaking. I kept fucking. A turn-out would have given up and handed the client a vibrator, but I kept on fucking. The white robe trembled on the clacking headboard like an old ghost, still haunting me. I understood very clearly then that there would be no cumload of cash or fame. No Ricki Lake Show. No free condos. No Viva Las Vegas. I could fuck and fuck and still never satisfy the makeover dream. The bubblegum had already been removed, and I knew that this is what I am: a queer femme who often has misguided crushes, dances low-rent burlesque in sticky-floored dyke bars, and writes goddamn poetry. And what, I asked myself as I pulled out of the famous actress’s pussy, is wrong with that? *** Amber Dawn’s debut novel Sub Rosa stands neck and neck with Suzette Mayr’s Monoceros and Robert Wiersema’s Before I Wake as one of my favourite examples of contemporary Can Lit. As an exploration of memory and identity, Sub Rosa was a magical realism tale of “Glories”—prostitutes gifted with otherworldly abilities—and the “live ones”, those who would visit the Glories in Sub Rosa to find reprieve from the dark of their everyday city. The novel was richly drawn, playing on—and often subverting—the stereotypes of sex trade workers by positioning them as saviours of sorts, offering escape, salvation, and satiation. How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir is Dawn’s follow-up to Sub Rosa—a no-stone-unturned combination of poetry and prose that is less of a biography and more of a conversation Dawn is having with the reader. The book is divided into three parts: “Outside”, “Inside”, and “Inward”. The first section, “Outside”, is more poetry than prose. These are survival-based works, dealing with fear, drug use, depression, and isolation, with brief interludes related to Dawn’s introduction into the sex trade. The poems in this section are barbed and vitriolic—not as manicured as later works in the book, but punctuated, given a degree of immediacy and importance. Dawn shows us the origins of her voice, of embracing “ghetto feminism”; she makes clear the mental divide between the two sides of the river via clients like Paul, who gifts and provides for and shelters the still-fresh-to-the-trade Dawn, likely to make himself feel less like he’s conducting a transaction for sex and more as if he is entering into an exclusive relationship, minus any emotional requirements. She writes: “Is it easier for him, I wonder, to fuck a whore with a big-screen TV and 400-thread-count sheets than to fuck a whore in an apartment sparsely furnished with chairs found in an alley.” “Inside” offers a more balanced split between poetry and prose. In this section, Dawn details what it was like to move off the streets and away from the greater threat of violence and rape while simultaneously getting her post-secondary education. In this section the setting changes, and in fact she changes a great deal, but the work by and large remains the same—and the same threats are still present, if not as readily apparent. The more she learns in school, however, the greater her pull to the poetry of others, the more the cracks in her complacency begin to show. Disenfranchisement—not consistent, but in fits and starts—is visible as street survival is replaced, to some extent, by numbing self-critique. Dawn’s identity is more acutely defined in this section, and the book transitions from an education to a conversation: the author asks readers to address what it is that defines or is defined by the identities we construct for our selves and in our private lives, the identities we reveal openly to the world, and our acceptance of identities that might challenge what hard and fast perceptions we might have of the world beyond our safe social and familial microcosms—to become a part of a larger conversation and to not be so prone to strive for the high ground from which to look down and find reason to criticize. The final section, “Inward”, offers fewer poems and more prose. This section is more a series of direct addresses: to past selves and lovers, to accomplishments and movements taken part in, and to finding love—and through love, a sense of satisfaction and contentment in the moment, and embracing happiness in not knowing what tomorrow will bring. If “Outside” represents first wounds, “Inward” is about healing—about finding closure and accepting the mistakes and successes of one’s past in equal measure. Artistically, “Outside” was, for me, the strongest section in the book. As Dawn writes in the book’s introduction, “Crisis and creativity can be a potent combination.” The poetry in this first section is sharpened to a point; the confusion and instability on display is densely constructed, tangible, and highly visual. The transition in Dawn’s writing from the beginning to the end of this book is more about refinement than voice; there is a clear through-line to her personality and the changes she experiences, and it is her writing that becomes, simply, more elegant and precise. How Poetry Saved My Life has an essential quality to it—not just for the realities of the sex trade it presents, but for the personal struggles regarding self and sexuality addressed, both separate from and affected by her career in the sex trade and her development as a writer and public figure. If Sub Rosa is the statement, How Poetry Saved My Life is its definition—together the two works feel as if they embody a greater sense of being removed from one’s past while respectfully acknowledging the impact, importance, and in a sense, the magic of what was experienced and the worlds, eyes, and minds opened as a result of it all.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Amber Dawn: How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler's Memoir A tough life needs tough language – and that is what poetry is. (Jeannette Winterson) Amber Dawn writes her autobiographical novel in a combination of prose and poetry which works wonderfully well. In frank and tough (but never rough) language she tells her story. A story of hustling the streets of Vancouver, sex work, queer identity and survivors pride. Revealing and touching for anyone - like me - not too familiar with the subject. Fortuna Amber Dawn: How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler's Memoir A tough life needs tough language – and that is what poetry is. (Jeannette Winterson) Amber Dawn writes her autobiographical novel in a combination of prose and poetry which works wonderfully well. In frank and tough (but never rough) language she tells her story. A story of hustling the streets of Vancouver, sex work, queer identity and survivors pride. Revealing and touching for anyone - like me - not too familiar with the subject. Fortunately poetry and literature were Ambers lifeline in that period. For me she may tell the story of how that came about more in detail in her next novel. Looking forward to it.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Laura Frey (Reading in Bed)

    Really really good. This is the kind of poetry I like to read - actually, I'm trying to figure out why Bluets didn't work for me, but this did. Maybe because it reminded me so much of Evelyn Lau's Runaway, which was a defining reading experience in my life. Maybe because Bluets was too theme-y, this was a broader view, still on a theme, but more variety in tone and form. Anyway, read it!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

    so GOOD!!!! i will be thinking about this passage forever: “lying is the work of people who are told their truths have no value. the labour of survival is laden with myth and misunderstanding. silence is the work of people who can’t comprehend that change is possible.” (p. 114) i feel so seen. she is such a charming, brilliant, fantastical writer.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jessi Joan

    This book was so powerful. It was beautifully and artistically written. I appreciated the rawness and honesty. This book brings to light the power behind whatever traumatic history you come from. It creates a space for anti-shame and ownership of your past. It was written passionately and unapologetically. Well done.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Really great memoir - I just wished it had been longer. Dawn hints at some wonderful critical analysis of systemic oppression but doesn't really delve much into details. I wanted more!

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