A book like Hustling Verse is long overdue. Co-edited by Amber Dawn and Justin Ducharme, the anthology is the first of its kind, a collection of poetry from more than fifty sex workers from across the globe. There are few anthologies with its finger on the pulse of the street quite like Hustling Verse. There are even fewer books vibrating with this level of urgency and necessity to be read.
The collection offers an unflinching look at the spirit and resilience of sex workers, a group of marginalized people deemed invisible by mainstream society. The poets unabashedly share themselves in the work. The writers refuse to be dismissed and rightfully insists on being seen.
“Every time a sex worker writes a poem; we transcend all the harms that have been done to our stories. Every time a sex worker writes a poem, we rise above subjugation.” says Amber Dawn.
The work often employs vulnerability, humor, lyric, irony, and unique styles to address the seriousness and gravity of the poet’s reality. Even the forms of these poems exhibit their own wildness and demand attention. Jaene F. Castrillon’s poem A Celebration of Darkness uses direction, capitalization, and numerical breaks to create a participatory reading of the piece, inciting a deeper level of engagement. Akira the Hustler’s Excerpts from A Whore Diary embodies the fragmentary nature of its subject, piecing together experience through recollection. Jaye Simpson’ godzilla (2014) toys with and repeats a sound and phrase until it morphs and recontextualizes its relationship with the reader. In these poems, the shape of the text breathes new meaning into its words, going beyond the mainstream of formal poetry and thriving in the fringes of language.
These poems bear witness, one of the most powerful gifts writing can give. The experiences are palpable, each new poet delivering their unfiltered truth, their magic woven intrinsically into the pages. “When people are given the reins to tell their stories in the way they choose, it has an extreme impact on the way they navigate the world, the way they value themselves.” says Justin Dumarche.
One poem can be red-hot and bring tears to your eyes, like Gregory Scofield’s the dancer (club mix), harmonizing sultry rhythm throughout a lamenting ballad. Another poem can be writhing on the page and evoke holiness, like kiran anthony foster’s beatitudes, incorporating the biblical verses inside of a brutal familial narrative. Dawn puts it best, “We can embody a dozen personas a night. We can spin the five senses into divinity. Our very bodies act as bridges between the mundane and the fantastic.”
This book belongs in the hands of lovers of poetry, survivors of trauma, connoisseurs of sex, advocates of human rights, cravers of raw artistry, and desirers of writing dripping wet with vibrancy and honesty. Amber Dawn and Justin Ducharme along with the contributors have created a resource for healing, courage and empowerment as well as a source of understanding, empathy and visibility. Hustling Verse is a collection that more than deserves its space on your book shelf, so make room.
About the editors:
Amber Dawn is the author of the novels Sodom Road Exit (2018) and Sub Rosa (winner of a Lambda Literary Award, 2010); the Vancouver Book Award–winning How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir (2013); and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize–nominated collection Where the words end and my body begins (2015). She teaches creative writing at Douglas College in Vancouver and leads several low-barrier community writing classes.
Justin Ducharme is a filmmaker, writer, dancer, and curator from the small Métis community of St. Ambroise in Treaty 1 Territory. He is a graduate from Vancouver Film School and the writer/director of three short narrative films. He has been jigging since the age of seven, performing with the St. Ambroise Youth Steppers and the Louis Riel Métis Dancers. His poetry has been featured in Sex Worker Wisdom and PRISM international magazine. He lives and works on unceded Coast Salish Territory.
Amber Dawn and Justin Ducharme will be launching Hustling Verse at the Lambda LitFest in Los Angeles, September 25th. Hustling Verse will be available October 2019.
Nicholas Goodly is the writing editor of Wussy Magazine.