The telling of queer stories feels necessarily communal — we lift up each other’s voices so we can all be heard, because alone, we can only whisper. In her first collection of poetry, Where The Words End And My Body Begins, Amber Dawn draws on her intimate community and the larger world of queer poets to tell new stories. The book is a collection of glosas, a poetry form that involves pulling a quatrain from another person’s poem and incorporating those four lines into the four 10-line stanzas of an entirely new poem. In this wonderful collection, Dawn glosses everyone from legendary lesbian poet Adrienne Rich to Canadian trans activist Jamie Lee Hamilton.
The result is a rich, rewarding set of stories about queer identity, surviving abuse, sex positivity and personal identity. Dawn uses poems to lift up other poets and be in conversation with their narratives. In “Three Portraits of Femme Queens, Ousted,” for example, Dawn riffs off the poem “Black Feminist” by Jillian Christmas to lift up the work of three feminist women she admires. In the book’s intro, she explains, “I am bound to these and other poets in an allied exchange of language and significance and possibility.”
So although it is an individual’s work, it feels collective and empowering to see so many voices and ideas represented. Her celebration of queer community inside the poems reflects that, too. In “Queer Grace,” she writes:
I tell you
It’s worth it to find yourself, no matter how briefly
in a community-driven, collectively-run, anti-capitalist, gender-nonconforming, sex-positive hotspot.
Here. Now. Raise our voices.
Here. Now. Shake our asses.
Sounds like utopia. Or A-Camp.
Though the book is Dawn’s first poetry collection, she has written about poetry and published her own extensively. Her 2013 memoir How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir, which won the Vancouver Book Award, wove poetry and non-fiction narrative to create a moving work that everyone, including our own Ali, really loved. It’s exciting to read a collection of her poetry, one that she create so passionately and that draws together so many amazing elements. “How many rhymes are made from scarcity?” she ponders in “On and Up.” So many, and they are life-giving.
Where The Words End And My Body Begins is available in bookstores and online now.