Hustling Verse: An Anthology of Sex Workers’ Poetry, edited by Amber Dawn and Justin Ducharme, will be a trailblazing collection in which sex workers share their experiential knowledge through the expressiveness, nuance, and beauty of poetry. Currently, Dawn and Ducharme are calling for self-identified sex workers from any part of the industry (survival or trade, past or present) to submit. Poems specifically about sex work are strongly encouraged, though writing about relationships, healing, identity, and other themes that may overlap.
The book will be published by Arsenal Pulp Press in the fall of 2019.
With the submission deadline nearing, Jónína Kirton caught up with the co-editors for an interview.
ROOM: Hustling Verse may be one of the first published anthologies of sex workers' poetry. Why are there are so few anthologies of sex workers' writing, especially highly expressive or imaginative genres like speculative fiction, narrative film or poetry?
AD: There are many many barriers to sex workers talking or writing about our experiences. Studies show that most sex workers never even disclose their involvement in sex work to a health care provider, let alone write and craft their experiences on the page. Even the phrase "studies show . . ." illuminates how most writing about sex worker is done by researchers, with very few first person, creative accounts out there. What happens to a population is highly researched, while being silenced at the same time? It renders our stories into reports and academic studies. It strips us of our magic and uniqueness. I think poetry can help us remember how extraordinary we are. I believe sex workers need poetry.
ROOM: Do you remember the first poem you wrote that portrayed themes of sex work?
JD: The first would probably be when I started writing a screenplay (if you could call it that) based on my experiences hustling. I hate sticking to traditional form, so when I start a screenplay most of it is put to page in prose or poetry form first. Early on in my experience I found myself wanting to document certain things in a way that felt sacred to me, and writing had always been one of those things. The piece was titled "Daddy Tales" so you can imagine what that was about.
ROOM: What kind of submissions are you hoping to receive?
JD: I want honesty. I want grit. I want truths. I want sexiness. I want all the things that sex workers are "not allowed" to be or talk about to have some form of expression through the writing. Most importantly at the very end of it all I want our contributors to feel proud and excited about their submissions.
AD: Justin and I are going to be looking at poetry very broadly. Slam and oral-based forms are encouraged. Found poetry. Free verse and form poetry. Rants. Love poems. Erotic poetry. Prayers and spells. Humour poems. We also welcome submissions that have been previously published in zines, self or micro press publications, or online.
ROOM: How do you hope your future readers will respond to the anthology?
JD: Honestly I hope readers can see how complex and diverse sex work experience and sex workers are. Stereotypical representation of sex workers in film and media has done an excellent job at making it seem like its one type of person that does Sex Work, like we're so easily identifiable. I think this anthology will show people that that is indeed false and that so many different kinds of folks do sex work and our experience within that community is different - based on human agency and circumstance. Someone you love is or was a sex worker.
AD: There's an audience for this book. We have a growing number of allies out there, who understand that the ways sex workers stories have been told for us is highly oppressive. I hope our future readers see the power of first-person poetic expression of experiences that are all too often co-opted or under-told.
JD: Above all, I hope that readers open their hearts and minds to these very human experiences and narratives.
Justin Ducharme was born and raised in the small Métis community of St. Ambroise, Manitoba. He is a graduate for Vancouver Film School, and the writer/director of four short films, most recently the 2018 drama, Positions, which tells the story of a queer, Indigenous, male sex worker in Vancouver. Justin has been a Metis dancer since the age of ten, performing with the troupes The St. Ambroise Youth Steppers and the Louis Riel Métis Dancers. He is currently finishing first poetry collection.
Amber Dawn white queer femme survivor currently living in Unceded Coast Salish Territories, Vancouver. She is the author of four books (the most recent of which is the novel Sodom Road Exit) and the editor of two anthologies. Her memoir How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir (2013) won the Vancouver Book Award and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. She currently teaches creative writing the University of British Columbia, as well as guest mentors at drop-in, sex work-driven community spaces.