Fresh Pack of Smokes
Cassandra Blanchard, Nightwood Editions
Amidst the overlooked overdose and poverty crises, Cassandra Blanchard’s debut Fresh Pack of Smokes is literary cold water, splashed in readers’ faces to snap them out of cycles of misinformation and prejudice. It’s a poetic record of a transient time in Blanchard’s life, one involving a substance misuse disorder and an abusive, manipulative ex-girlfriend who pushed Blanchard into sex work to feed a drug habit. Harrowing as the poems are, Blanchard is never gratuitous in the way that authors can be when tackling violence, drug use, and abuse — so often romanticizing or feeding into stigma towards underserved communities and peoples. As she unravels her visceral stories of significant personal pain, she’s well-metered and unflinching, compact and forthright, making it impossible for readers not to question what they think they know.