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How Poetry Saved My Life

Amber Dawn's memoir is about sex work, sexuality, and how writing became her lifeline.

Amber Dawn

How Poetry Saved My Life reveals a 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. (From Arsenal Pulp Press)

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From the book

"How old are you?" he asks as he opens the door.

There is no right answer to this question, so I guess. "Twenty-seven."

"Becky told me you were twenty-five."

Becky isn't a real woman. She is the name that all three of the receptionists at the escort agency use when arranging outcalls. Becky's job is to move product. The product is sexual fantasy, which differs from other products in that the buyer wants to be an uninformed consumer. In this marketplace of attractive inaccuracy, if the client on the phone likes breasts, Becky makes double Ds out of C-cups. If he likes younger women, Becky tells him I am twenty-five.

As the worker — the sex worker — the job is less about embodying the client's fantasy and more about making the imitation seem like money well spent. Lying about my age, breast size, weight, cultural background, hair colour, college education, lust for certain sex acts and so on, is a routine guile that routinely causes me anxiety. Where will the client draw the line between fantasy and deception? The fantasy holds my payment. But finding myself on the side of deception is delicate. Let's just say that in sex work, there is no standardized way for a client to lodge a complaint.

Standing rigid and at least six feet tall in the threshold of his waterfront home, this man begrudgingly decides it is worth $250 to pretend that I am twenty-five, when actually I am thirty. He hands me a billfold and ushers me in.


From How Poetry Saved My Life by Amber Dawn ©2013. Published by Arsenal Pulp Press.

Author interviews