Danika reviews Where the Words End and My Body Begins by Amber Dawn

WhereWordsEnd

 

Where the Words End and My Body Begins is a collection of glosa poems, which means, in part, that each poem incorporates four sequential lines from another poem. What makes this collection especially interesting is Amber Dawn’s selections: each poet glossed “find[s] themselves somewhere along the queer, gender-creative, feminism and/or survivor spectrum.” Although each poet has a different style, which helps shape the glosa created from it, there are some themes that weave the pieces together, including mental illness, sex work, and above all, survivorship.

It’s fascinating to see the different ways that Amber Dawn works with the original poems and creates something new out of them. Some seem to be organic expansions on the original, like she found more words hidden between the lines. Others reinterpret each line and put them in a completely different context. Probably because these are glosas, her writing style varies dramatically throughout the collection. Some worked a lot better for me as a reader–I tend to prefer more grounded, prose-y poetry.

This was an interesting collection that really explores different styles and voices. I think most people will find some poems that speak to them in here, though they may not all hit their mark, depending on the reader. I had to read out the lines “[Sadness] is always here / like a lake forever fed by a cold creek. / Damn right a nature metaphor! / Want more?” to my roommate, because I was cracking up at that interjection.

I never quite know how to review poetry without just quoting it and letting you see for yourself if it’s your style, so here’s part of one of the poems that stuck with me:

I’d sooner howl at a wounded moon, yes, I might
swoon at a questionable light
but at least I still swoon–my scabby kneecaps
may always weep pink, I’m so often floored.
I’ll never be a two-feet-on-the-ground girl.

. . .

Never confuse hold fast with hold still.
There’s so much yet to do. Swoon. I say swoon forever! Apathy
is the world’s worst lover

Danika reviews Fist of the Spider Woman edited by Amber Dawn

fistofthespiderwoman

 

This book freaked me out. Again, it was one I meant to read in October for my Halloween-y reads, but my inter-library loan didn’t come in until late November. It’s a bit of a shame, because it would have made for a fantastic Halloween read. It’s a short story collection (with a few poems) that mixes erotica and horror. The stories will go from a sexy place into a kinky place into an outright horror place. This kind of slipping between genres was especially unsettling. The standard of writing was high for the entire collection, with authors like Amber Dawn, Michelle Tea, and Kristyn Dunnion contributing. The subjects varied. Some were very much in the horror genre, and some were more light.

Fist of the Spider Woman doesn’t ease you into it: the first story, “Slug”, has the main character having vicious fantasies (again, they start out as kinky… and then often end in slow death), and that’s before the “slug” element takes place. If you read the first story and enjoy it, you’ll definitely like the collection. It is horror, however, so pretty much all the trigger warning apply, including gore, rape, and gaslighting.

This may be my favourite queer Halloween/horror book that I’ve read. I especially enjoyed Amber Dawn’s “The Last Lesbian Rental In East Vancouver” and Kestrel Barnes’s “Shark”. I also personally liked that many of the authors included are local British Columbia authors. For next Halloween, or any time you want to be creeped out and unsettled, I definitely comment this collection.

Casey reviews Sub Rosa by Amber Dawn

Vancouver writer Amber Dawn’s Sub Rosa, published in 2010 by the radical and remarkable publishing house Arsenal Pulp Press, is a fantasy novel that is both familiar and fantastic. It deals with (what should be) a recognized reality in its depiction of gutsy, gritty, strong women doing sex work in Vancouver’s East end. But Dawn—a writer gutsy, gritty, and strong like her characters—has imagined a world that is a glittery yet tough fable twist on the story of a teenage runaway turned sex worker. Little, the ironically named plucky protagonist, is one of those so-called lost girls whose stories the newspapers tell after it’s too late to save them. Little, however, does not need saving: she is decidedly capable of negotiating her options, no matter how slim they might seem. When Little is initiated into the magical street called Sub Rosa, home to a community of eclectic (female and male) sex workers, she is soon a legend. In fact, she is the heroine of her own story, navigating her position in her new found family of sister-wives, her house Daddy, her often eccentric colleagues, and her new-found magical power. Little also battles the literally and figuratively shady area known as the Dark, where she confronts a few different kinds of zombies: men from whom she must earn her dowry in order to become a full-fledged Glory—the term for working girls on Sub Rosa, sexual assault, and her own haunting memories from her past in the city, which are suppressed by the amnesiac climate of Sub Rosa. The surprise ending of the novel is like Little
herself: complex and both inspiring and difficult.

What was a little surprising for me in a different way was the relative lack of queer content in the novel—obviously something I’m looking to highlight for the lesbrary. Sub Rosa is a fascinating read nonetheless and I wouldn’t say the novel suffers in any way or that I enjoyed it less because of this lack. But because Dawn is a queer identified writer, was voted Hero of the Year in 2008 by Xtra! West (Vancouver’s gay and lesbian newspaper), and is the director of programming for the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, I was expecting a bit more queer content in her debut novel. And, while Arsenal Pulp Press doesn’t exclusively deal with queer authors and topics, it does have a fantastic record of publishing queer writers’ stories; they generously sent me a copy of Dawn’s novel to review for the blog (thanks to the impressive team at Arsenal!). That said, Little does have a short-lived school-girl flirtation and a few make-out sessions with a fellow Glory named Isabella, who is reliving recently recovered memories of a relationship with another girl at her Catholic school for orphans. I also thought that Little’s relationship with the character First—the first recruited woman/wife of Little’s family—was a tad homoerotic even though it was mostly one of maternal mentorship. In short, Sub Rosa is a full banquet of sex work activism and dark sparkly fantasy with a little dash of queer on the side. If this sounds like an appetizing meal to you—and it should—then let yourself fall, like Alice did long ago when faced with the rabbit hole, into the world of Sub Rosa.

Laura reviews Fist of the Spider Woman edited by Amber Dawn

Fist of the Spider Woman, edited by Amber Dawn, is an anthology of 16 poems and short stories written in the queer space where fear meets desire. With subject matter ranging from vampires to pubic lice, this coolly creepy collection is the perfect paperback to pick up as Halloween draws near.

As Dawn notes in the introduction, “Fist’s contributor’s know what it means to operate outside of the norm. This puts us in a position to uncover distinctively queer, distinctively woman-centered horrors, and bring life to empathy-worthy victims and villains rarely seen before.” Yes, yes, and yes. The overall execution is marvelous; I’ve been turning these stories over in my head for weeks now, and I’m still not sick of it. If you’re looking for vivid characters and situations, this collection has it in spades.

While I wouldn’t say that all the pieces are hits, none are misses, either. A few are just stunningly, dazzlingly, take-your-breath-away beautiful. Here are a couple of my favorite passages:

From “All You Can Be” by Mette Bach:

“Do you believe in fate?” Brianna asked. “Do you think that maybe all this was meant to happen so that we could meet?”

Sal, who had always been an atheist and a practitioner of science, mathematics, and calculable randomness, heard her voice declare without hesitation, “Yes. I believe in fate.”

“I really like you, Sal.”

The phrase, like butter melting on toast, seeped into Sal.

“I really like you too, Brianna.”

From “Shark” by Kestrel Barnes:

I’d been scared that Carling would be born a shark, but she wasn’t, I soon satisfied myself of that. Her eyes were green as the tidepools and filled with life. Her mewls held no menace, her mouth was toothless and birdline. She smelled like the rainforest after it rained. She couldn’t swim, not in the bath, where I carefully examined her — no fins, no gills, no cartilage, and no tail. After that I knew for sure Carling wasn’t a shark. She was just my little sister.

For a memorable fix of fantasy mixed with a little terror, you really can’t do much better. Check out this exquisite read out for yourself: $17.95 from Arsenal Pulp Press.