It’s not often that we get the chance to look at life through the eyes of a sex worker or someone using Victoria’s shelter system, but that’s changed with Voices from the Edge, a new book of poetry featuring works by people using Cool Aid’s Rock Bay Landing shelter and PEERS Victoria Resource Society.
Editor Dvora Levin runs weekly writing workshops at both centres, and when she won a poetry prize at The Well’s Spirit of Canada Contest in July, which included 100 copies of a book of poetry by Ekstasis Editions, she knew right away what she wanted to do with it.
“It was clearly understood that this prize was to publish my own poetry,” says Levin. “I probably had 100 of my own poems ready to be published, but I was lying awake one night and I had this idea.”
Levin has been working with budding writers at PEERS for almost two years; and those at Rock Bay for almost a year. When she approached her poetry group at Rock Bay, they were quick to jump on board. The result is Voices from the Edge — poetry from the banks of the mainstream, edited by Levin. Part One includes poetry from 10 members of the Rock Bay poetry group, while Part Two includes poetry from 11 members from the PEERS group — some with named authors, while others are anonymous.
“If you write two poems a week, over a year you write over a 100 poems,” she says. “Lots of people who talk about others, talk about homeless and addicted and sex workers, and some of them care for them, work for them, against them, but how seldom do they hear their voices and their stories?”
“The talent is there, the gift is there. It’s so important that people have a chance to hear these voices. This poetry is without screens,” says Levin.
Rock Bay Landing front-line shelter worker Hannah Rabinovitch had the idea for the program and asked her friend Levin to facilitate it.
“It was advertised as a writing group and when I showed up and said we were going to write poetry you should have heard what they said. They were snarling,” says Levin.
Doug Fraser, who has the most poems in the book, joined the poetry group on its first night.
Fraser says it was surreal to see the book in his hands for the first time.
“I think it’s pretty cool. It blows my mind that everyone says I’m good at it because I hated it in school. I couldn’t stand it — it was all butterflies and flowers,” he says. “I thought this is a writing group, and I’ve always wanted to write a book, so I thought, we’ll see what happens. And look, I have a book!”
Monko, with two poems in the anthology, joined the group just two months before the book was published. “It’s been great. I used to write a lot when I was younger and I always thought about writing a book, but I put it on hold and took care of other things. When I heard there was writing here I thought it was a good place to go back to.”
The poets often contribute works at open mics (Planet Earth Poetry and Pen In Hand), and they’ll be launching Voices from the Edge officially at the Mocha House (1633 Hillside), Friday, Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Copies of the book and a spoken word CD they recorded will be available. Admission is $3 and all proceeds raised will go to fund creative projects for PEERS and Cool Aid clients. M