Duncan-based poet Cassandra Blanchard reads from her debut book of poetry, Fresh Pack of Smokes, at Well Read Books on April 27. (Photo submitted)

Poems come from personal experiences in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

‘Fresh Pack of Smokes’ reflects on author’s history of transience and drug addiction

In her debut book of poetry, Fresh Pack of Smokes, Vancouver Island newcomer Cassandra Blanchard looks back on her former life of transience and drug addiction in Vancouver and reflects on the people, places and experiences that have shaped her.

“I want this book to be a record of what I went through, what I did and what I witnessed,” said Blanchard, who moved to Duncan with her family last January, via e-mail.

Fresh Pack of Smokes covers topics like drug use, crime, violence and sex work, as well as Blanchard’s time spent on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She said she wanted to discuss what she witnessed there, “Because it has been a big part of my experience.”

“I met so many different types of people down there, too, and I write about them in my book,” she said. “Places have their own personality and spending time in these places is like developing a relationship of sorts. I also wanted to describe the DTES to people who do not have any knowledge of the area.”

Blanchard said this is an exciting time for her. She said she’s enjoying her new surroundings (“The view of Cowichan Bay is absolutely fantastic and full of birds, rabbits and deer … I also find that people in Duncan are a lot friendlier than in Vancouver”), her new book is being well-received and now she’s getting to share it with an audience for the first time.

On April 27, Blanchard and four other poets from the province – Ali Blythe, Sarah de Leeuw, Laura Matwichuk, and Victoria Hetherington – are holding a joint reading at Well Read Books in Nanaimo.

“This book tour will be the first time I have ever done a reading,” she said. “I am very excited to embark on this new journey. I am also happy that I will be reading with other poets as then I won’t be alone.”

Writing Fresh Pack of Smokes was a gradual, two-year process for Blanchard. She said it’s been therapeutic and after many years she is finally able to look back on her experiences with addiction in an objective way.

“I want the reader to know that one can be in the gutter and still rise above,” she said. “I want this book to help other people, whether it’s people in the throes of addiction or those who are in recovery. I also hope this book will shed light on the drug lifestyle for people who are not familiar with the streets. Mostly I think it is important to pay it forward.”

WHAT’S ON … Literacy Central Vancouver Island and Goose Lane Editions present Ali Blythe, Sarah de Leeuw, Cassandra Blanchard, Laura Matwichuk, and Victoria Hetherington at Well Read Books on April 27 at 7 p.m.


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