On Amber Dawn’s ‘Where the Words End and My Body Begins’

Dawn’s poetry of the marginalized and forgotten is an informal manifesto for our time, a landmark on the queer, feminist landscape.

Amber Dawn
96 pages
5.4” x 7.8”
Perfectbound Trade Paperback
ISBN # 9781551525839 
First Edition
Arsenal Pulp Press
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Available HERE

Mamma. I’ve been working lines and verse
for long enough now to finally find you
in the white space. I’ve claimed the page
is where a poet heals.
(“Sandra Anna’s Baby Book,” p. 62)

With everything that’s going on right now both on this continent and in the world, what literature needs most is writing that is almost uncomfortably raw. The kind that isn’t afraid to get in your face and hover there for a while until its presence is acknowledged and any discomfort is sucked up. Writing that is simultaneously personal and historical, acknowledging the various types of roots that tie the individual and the collective together. Though Amber Dawn’s collection, “Where the Words End and My Body Begins,” was released in 2015, its applicability and timelessness is worthy of applause, and its direct language is a salve to comfort the disturbed while disturbing the comfortable.

The collection is made up of glossa that transform and elaborate on the original cited poems, creating stories of love, loss, pain, and identity. Running through the collection is the strong queer narrative that dominates the latter half of the poems, presenting them as a call to action and self-reflection that doesn’t mince or cherry-pick its words. This creates a rather startling effect while reading, for while the reader has come to expect the appearance of these themes, the poems still serve as little bursts of shock that awaken the senses. It’s a welcomed kind of shock, one that has been long overdue and necessary in addressing the issues of queer identity and community.

As an adult reading these poems, and as a young woman, there was a touch of mentorship in the voice that I found myself welcoming and needing more than I realized. There were lines that felt relatable because of how close to home they hit, lines like:

The therapist
asked, “What have you made, Amber Dawn?”
I said “A Bird house
where no bird will ever nest.”
(“Autophobia,” p. 13).

Others did a better job at tackling issues of sexual violence than any news report could ever do, relatable because of the sad reality and looming fear that still has to fight for acknowledgment:

Once upon an early childhood, sackcloth and ash
took up my hands, one nicked my lips, the other
horned between my thighs, one pinked my eye
the other marked my voice.
(“Story Book,” p. 30).

Don’t let the whimsical cover fool you into thinking this collection is sanitized, for it is anything but. What it is is a safe zone for the open-minded and allies, the marginalized and forgotten. It is the hands reaching out from the darkness and clawing their way into the sunlight, because there is no time for bureaucracy and polite procedures, for these lead nowhere. This is a collection that confidently shoves its readers from their comfortable spot knowing they will later thank it for that. Amber Dawn comes as close to formulating an informal manifesto for our time as one has come in a while, and has succeeded immensely, adding a landmark to the queer and feminist poetry landscape.

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