Vancouver Book Award winner; Lambda Literary Award finalist
A memoir about sex work and sexuality, and how writing became the author's lifeline.
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. 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 story, told in prose and poetry, offers a frank, multifaceted portrait of the author's experiences hustling the streets of Vancouver, and 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, which--as the title suggests--acted as a lifeline during her most pivotal moments.
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 How Poetry Saved My Life made my hard femme heart burst out in tears in a working-class bar an hour away from my hometown. I've read a lot of mediocre queer poetry; this isn't it. This is a queer femme survivor sex worker love song triumph every single piece of which made me yell goddamn. I can't wait to gift this book to every single femme I know who will knock you flat for no goddamn reason--who are the femmes I love the most. I cannot thank Amber Dawn enough for living to tell this brilliantly gorgeous, needed offering. How did we live this long without this book? These poems didn't just save Amber Dawn's life: they will save yours.
-Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Lambda Literary Award-winning author of Love Cake
How Poetry Saved My Life is painful but also nurturing. I suspect it will act as a radical gathering place for all of us - queer femme folk - who are road-weary, and have lives to grieve and lovers to remember.
-Tulia Thompson, blogger
Amber Dawn documents her profound journey through the indoor and outdoor sex industry, offering up awkward, tough, funny, and tenderhearted reflections on her survival and emergence as a gifted poet and novelist.
-Zoe Whittall, author of Holding Still for as Long as Possible and Bottle Rocket Hearts
In her witty, difficult, frank, marvelously varied book How Poetry Saved My Life, the writer Amber Dawn peels back the veneer society has imposed and humanizes the sex trade. In so doing she claims her voice. Part confessional, part polemic, part pure poetry and prose, Amber Dawn shows herself to be an author worth watching.
True and shining genius ... Amber Dawn writes with profound clarity and eloquence.
How Poetry Saved My Life is part prose, part poetry, all nerve. It's a visceral collection of stories and poems, charting sex work, queer identity, and a testament to language's ability to save.
Amber Dawn isn't asking me to think of her as the coolest woman ever, but I can't help it.
Lit by compassion and courage, How Poetry Saved My Life is a tribute to the marginalized and maligned, the survivors and statistics.
Powerful and necessary ... The book's very structure rails against convention and expectation, linking together poems, prose poems, and narrative storytelling to build a cohesive portrait of Dawn's queer identity, her life as a sex worker, an assault survivor, an activist, a writer and an artist. It is tender and biting, gorgeous and courageous, even heroic and, above all, it is hers.
The hundreds of thousands of sex workers in North America suggest there are forces propelling women into the sex trades beyond their free choice, external to their personal "agency." And powerful enough to challenge any Gender Studies "sex-positive" stand, is the argument against the purported joys and self-empowerment of sex work inherent in How Poetry Saved My Life. The new book makes this argument eloquently and forcefully while revealing the gifts of author Amber Dawn.
-San Diego Gay & Lesbian News
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 Amber Dawn's novel 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.
Defiant and proud, Amber Dawn's memoir categorically refuses silence, daring to imagine a better world while offering hopeful testimony for those subsisting in abject spaces its author has since vacated.
How Poetry Saved My Life is an all too common story uncommonly told ... Amber Dawn is determined to be a voice for those who have been silenced.
An instant classic, Dawn's memoir is extraordinary not only for its tale of personal survival in a community raged by poverty, serial killings, disappearances, drugs, and disease, but also for her representation of arrt as integral to personal and collective survival. -Canadian Literature
How Poetry Saved My Life is an exquisite piece of work. It reaffirmed to me why I'll never stop advocating for women to use their voices.
How Poetry Saved My Life is a memoir, a call to action and a celebration of poetry. It's honest and heartbreaking, it's funny and exciting and it leaves the reader in a loving place. What more could you want?
-Canada Arts Connect
An emotionally difficult but revealing read about the sex industry and the lifestyle of sex workers in which the author encourages more frankness and discussion in the future.
Amber Dawn's account, which includes wise reflections on class, queer identity, and the way in which sex work can change its practitioners, is compulsively readable and nuanced. -Room
There are few books that will take you by the hand and lead you into the sometimes seedy, sometimes bawdy, and all times heart-wrenching world of Amber Dawn's memoir. This is work that not only flows from her pen, diaries, and thoughts, but blood-love seeping out onto the page, necessary and honest. From "Before I Found a Lesbian Feminist Doctor" to "What's my Mother F***ing Name" to "Missing Children," you will be kaleidoscoped inside this special world of seemingly lost souls-only to be brought back to what is real-and what has been seen by many but written by few. Be brave in your reading. And appreciate the beauty inside the so-called filth of the street-see beyond the mask of that massage parlour girl. She will show you how she soldiered on-and how many women out there continue to do so.
-Cathleen With, author of Skids and Having Faith in the Polar Girls' Prison
How Poetry Saved My Life is every bit as forthright as Amber Dawn's novel Sub Rosa, with the bonus of being a subtly pitched call to arms.
-The Globe and Mail
Amber Dawn's story is told as much in its form as in its content. Weaving between memoir and verse, the book embodies the way that poetry has influenced her life. Many of the poems play with repetition and lines plucked from epigraphs, techniques that highlight the imposition of poetic form, without undermining an inherent accessibility and narrative power in the lines.
-Arc Poetry Magazine
How Poetry Saved My Life is not just about queer and survivor identity, or sex work, or the life-saving and transformative power of poetry and writing, but all of these things at once, and more. It's a tender, nurturing book while being necessarily hard-hitting and painful. Reading it is a cathartic, fulfilling experience, but it's also not one that ends when you close the back cover. Make no mistake, this is not a book that is easily forgotten. And that's a great, and important, and vital thing.
-Casey the Canadian Lesbrian
How Poetry Saved My Life is like watching Melhos Place (the nickname given to an apartment complex where Amber Dawn lived with other sex workers in the 1990s). The episodes are filled with scandal, struggle, and heartbreak, but you're eager for it to all play out, because this is Amber Dawn's show - and it has a happy ending.
Amber Dawn's voice is heartbreakingly sensitive, yet unabashed. The empowerment and solace she found in the poetry that saved her life is contagious.
Amber Dawn's new memoir maps the heart of one feminist sex worker poet ... Do not look for a plea for attention, a whitewashing, a simplification that can allow you only to sympathize or discount or pathologize. To feel this work is to feel yourself.