A Really Good Brown Girl

A book came into my hands via Bud Osborn, a poet, writer and activist in Vancouver who died in May 2014. Bud is known as the Bard of the Downtown Eastside for putting into words what he saw around him. Aside from his solid trade book titles he published scores of texts/rants/poems/essays in Carnegie Community Centre‘s newsletter, a publication I read every two weeks. Every Thursday when I walk up the spiral staircase to Thursdays Writing Collective I walk by a photo of Bud, hands in pocket, on the street scrunching his shoulders against the wind.

IMG_7034Before I get to the classroom I walk by a vitrine marked as the Bud Osborn library. More books of Bud’s are downstairs in the Vancouver Public Library Carnegie branch Special Collection. The volumes there include Bud’s own annotated books, his journals, too. It’s fascinating to read the journals and see where he refers to, say, a book of modern Korean poetry and then to pick up the book itself and read his marginalia. What’s clear from the range of titles in the collection is how broad his reading was – every continent, impulse, trajectory seems to have piqued Bud’s interest.

When Natalie, the VPL Carnegie librarian, brought two boxes of Bud’s personal books to us at Thursdays Writing Collective she let us know how much they had wanted to include all of Bud’s books in the collection. Space being at a premium, they needed to select volumes and disburse the rest to DTES readers and writers. From what we hear Bud’s family and friends are happy to know we were interested in the books.

We spread the books out against the blackboards for browsing. Everyone left with at least one treasure.

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One of my choices is below – A Really Good Brown Girl by Marilyn Dumont (Brick Books, 1996). IMG_7116It has an inscription:
IMG_7117I had never read Dumont’s work and can’t figure out how or why not. What matters is that it flew into my path now. I love the sense that Bud, a man I never met, whose commitment to social justice and peripatetic reading appear tantamount, gave me the book.  It’s hard not to feel him saying, “here, you need to read this.”  As Dumont writes in You Only Know After, “there is something thankful in events that take place without plan.”

Dumont’s poems are just that. Right now I am writing with a residential school survivor, a person who has been silenced and abused in ways I am learning about through their brave and rhetorically impeccable essays. What strikes me is how necessary Dumont’s work is and how much more we need. Dumont is Métis and writes her poems about racism, halfbreededness, white judges, misogyny, internalization of oppression:

I would become the Indian princess, not the squaw dragging

her soul after laundry, meals, needy kids and abusive husbands.

These were my choices. I could react naturally, spontaneously to

my puberty, my newly discovered sexuality or I could be mindful

of the squaw whose presence hounded my every day life.

(from Squaw Poems)

Another connection-Dumont’s poem “One Hand Drumming” quotes Robert Priest’s “Thirst”:

             It is not the end of all being. Just a small stunting of a road in you

Priest is a poet I met when Thursdays Writing Collective performed at the Verses Festival in Vancouver in April 2015. He did a reading from his book Rosa Rose and we read his Ali poem in class.

All of this leads back to Dumont’s poem “Circle the Wagons”! I love the fatigue, fury, onus in this. Deft. IMG_7118

Will I be passing the book on to others to read? Yes. And I will be reading it again before moving on to Dumont’s subsequent books.

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