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Book Reviews

Hundred Block Rock

by Bud Osborn

Bud Osborn is one of those rare poets with something important to say. And we should listen. In fact, Hundred Block Rock should be required reading for every CEO in North America … not to mention any hard luck case who sleeps in an alley with a needle or a bottle for companionship. Sometimes raw and rough around the edges, sometimes a little bit loose at the seams, these are street-wise words from a poet with an activist’s heart – one who’s clearly been around the block more than once.

Lyrically, Hundred Block Rock is a closer cousin to church sermons and grunge songs than it is to Pound’s Cantos or Eliot’s Wasteland. Vive la Difference! These are populist poems, and the message reigns supreme. Named after the hundred block area in Vancouver, Canada’s most impoverished urban neighbourhood, rife with the downtrodden, unemployment, and crime, Hundred Block Rock effectively delivers Osborn’s report from the underworld, his message about the evils of poverty and addiction, while offering accounts of personal redemption and the value of a strong community, not only identifying the problems, but also inspiring hope.

While my own secular sensibilities bristled at the book’s more devotional poetry, like the overtly didactic “Street Sermons,” I was won over by gritty documentary-style poems like “toledo blues,” in which the author recounts the final, brutal fates of old friends and acquaintances, and the horrifying “four years old,” in which a young boy witnesses his mother being raped by a man she’s brought home from a bar. Certainly not subject matter for the faint of heart. Osborn writes, “and that was how evil entered me like a knife/I vowed I would never again be vulnerable/to another human being.” Few of us have the notches to be so generous with that word: human. Osborn does. That he has written down his experiences with such courage and passion is an eye-opening gift for all of us. If you ever meet him, say thank you.