Writing the Dispossessed
- Bud Osborn (Author)
Hundred Block Rock. Arsenal Pulp Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Bud Osborn (Author)
Keys to Kingdoms. Get to the Point Publishing (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Adam Beardsworth
Vital and intense, the work of Vancouver-based writer Bud Osborn offers piercing observations of society’s marginalized people and the social factors that sustain their dispossession. Perhaps more activist than poet, Osborn verbalizes the plight of Canada’s neglected and addicted, in a voice that is at once caustic and empathetic.
In Keys to Kingdoms, the reformed addict turned poet acts as a mouthpiece for the residents of Vancouver’s notoriously impoverished Eastside. In the foreword, Libby Davies, Vancouver East’s New Democrat MP, exalts Osborn’s efforts: “[t]hese poems . . . make us think; they make us care for society’s most unwanted, and they propel us to act.” Davies’ endorsement suggests Osborn’s aesthetic intent: his is not high art; rather his work aims at raising awareness and thereby increasing the potential for social change. Stylistically plain, Osborn’s poems read as prosaic vignettes arranged into choppy verses that recall the lyrical style of 1960s folk protest songs. (Osborn has in fact made the collection into a CD and frequently performs the poems with musical accompaniment.) Thematically, Osborn has forged his poems into mantras of alterity, frequently revisiting the violence, abuse, and desperation of society’s urban “others.” Though his thematic range is limited, both the conviction of his voice and honesty of his imagery are arresting chronicles of “those whose love is crippled & twisted / yet bursting to give / but can find no one able / to heal & receive it” (“Down Here”). The exacting quality of his verse coupled with its profound compassion makes Keys to Kingdoms a potent document of resistance.
In Hundred Block Rock, the poet-activist revisits many of the themes expressed in Keys to Kingdoms. The more recent collection, however, exhibits a markedly greater range in tone and style. Here Osborn experiments with form, using line length and placement to approximate the confusion and intensity of violent urban situations, as in the fragmented “jazz after midnight along granville street,” and a frenetic account of life in urban housing entitled “gentrification.” In this collection Osborn adopts a more personal tone, at times exploring his own struggle with poverty and addiction and the circumstances that led to his displacement, as in the startling “four years old,” where he recalls being present while his alcoholic mother is raped by a man she brings home from the bar: “and that was how evil entered me / like a knife / I vowed I would never again be vulnerable / to another human being.” Osborn resists self-pity; rather, he is able to identify humanity in the strife of urban poverty and in the impoverished decisions made by the dispossessed. Overwhelmingly raw and dark, Osborn also makes room for hope by identifying his own journey from victim to addict to activist as testament to the poten- tial for individual change: “the high threshold for pain burned into my bones / remembers / despite myself / who I am.”
Though Hundred Block Rock’s litany of harsh social realities borders redundancy, Osborn’s crisp commentary resounds with the experience of disenfranchisement and, as in Keys to Kingdoms, demands attention to social reform.
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MLA: Beardsworth, Adam. Writing the Dispossessed. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #187 (Winter 2005), Littérature francophone hors-Québec / Francophone Writing Outside Quebec. (pg. 154 - 155)
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