From the Archives: Lonesome Monsters by Bud Osborn

Lonesome Monsters (Anvil Press, 1995) is a collection of prose and poetry from Vancouver writer Bud Osborn. Mr. Osborn’s writing is as much chronicle, confession, testimony, as it is poetry—an unwavering account of inner-city struggle and the tenacity of the human spirit.


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Lonesome Monsters
 (Anvil Press, 1995) is a collection of prose and poetry from Vancouver writer Bud Osborn. Mr. Osborn’s writing is as much chronicle, confession, testimony, as it is poetry—an unwavering account of inner-city struggle and the tenacity of the human spirit.Walton Osborn (“Bud”) died of pneumonia in Vancouver on May 6 at the age of 66. Bud’s poetry is honest, dark, enlivened by dialogue. Lonesome Monsters, his debut book of poetry chronicles life as an addict, and gives voice to those who are often shunned. After emerging clean and sober from a detox program in his mid 40s, Bud became a community organizer, activist, award-winning poet, and voice of the dispossessed.Bud’s activism and poetry inform each other equally. In a 1999 interview with BC Bookworld, he speaks of his troubled childhood, and how he later found poetry: “there were poets whose lives were as messed up as mine. They seemed to understand me better than anyone in my life. … Rimbaud, Baudelaire. And I had an anthology of Beat poets. Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ and ‘Kaddish.’ Reading poems helped me get through another hour, another night, another day. I had been very suicidal until then. … One day I emerged, 45 years old, broke, homeless, in a detox centre, with nothing, and I thought, ‘Well, what am I going to do from here?’ I decided I didn’t want to be so self-absorbed. Since then I’ve been able to contribute, to work with other people, and to passionately advocate for others. I’m still kind of stunned, going from one place to another.”Brian Kaufman, publisher of Anvil Press recalls: “In 1994, Bud delivered his typewritten manuscript, Lonesome Monsters, to the Anvil offices on the second floor of the Lee Building at Main and Broadway. And what I saw in Bud’s work then was the same thing I see now when I open one of his books: raw, brave, human, unadorned depictions of people caught in the meat-grinder life of poverty, homelessness, addiction, and violence. He gave voice to the many that could not put it down in words, to the many who are never listened to. The epigraph he gave me for the book was this: ‘the primary intention of my writing has been fidelity to my experience and those of the people about whom I write.’ And in that, he never wavered.”In Lonesome Monsters, Bud writes about fellow junkies, suicide attempts, homelessness, addiction, and loneliness. His poetry refrains from self-pity and the romanticization of addiction. Instead, every poem is stark, intimate, resonating between fear and tenderness.
In poems such as “reality for rent,” Bud’s capacity for empathy prevails as he shares his landlord’s sense of fear and poverty:
reality for rent

cheap & clean

in the old woman’s house

hunched between larger houses

like she is between people

at 81


an arthritic hump wrenching her back

she lives with her ex-husband

a parkinson’s victim she let move back in

when he got sick

& she has to rent a room

to almost



she has latches chains bolts & bars across the

doors & says
            “I’m so afraid


             every day

             I’m so afraid!”

afraid if I turn on a light I’ll burn the house down

afraid if it snows the roof will cave in

afraid if I use the phone I’ll call hong kong direct

she’s so afraid she can’t sleep

afraid my kidneys are bad & I’ll wear out the carpet

going back & forth to the bathroom

afraid if I wash my face
the water bill will soar

she’s afraid of all this & more & tells me about it

barging into the room where I’m typing

              “I can’t stand it!”

              “that barking machine you got there!”

then she tells me to check the traffic

& see if any of the cars speeding out of control

are about to crash
into the front of her house
*Bud’s empathy in “reality for rent” is one revelation of the recognizable love and resilience that drove his later community work.Lonesome Monsters is testimony not only to his community, and life as an addict, but to his capacity for empathy; the civic potential Bud found in his poetry.Bud Osborn played a crucial role in advocacy for the establishment of Insite, Vancouver’s first legal supervised injection site, which continues to function in the Downtown Eastside. A former director of the Vancouver/Richmond Health Board, he was also instrumental in founding such harm reduction organizations as Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, GTA (Grief to Action), and PRG (Political Response Group). He launched Creative Resistance, a group that advocates the repeal of drug prohibition and its “War on Drugs” strategy. He has published six books of poetry including the chapbook Black Azure (Coach House, 1970), Lonesome Monsters (Anvil, 1995), Hundred Block Rock (Arsenal Pulp, 1999), Oppenheimer Park (1998, in collaboration with artist Richard Tetrault), and Keys to Kingdoms (Get to the Point, 1999) which won the City of Vancouver Book Award.
Bud Osborn’s poetry credo is “fidelity to lived experience,” and this extends to the disclaimer on the copyright page, which reads: “Resemblances to people alive or dead are purely intentional” (as opposed to “coincidental,” which is typically the case).
Many thanks to Anvil Press, especially Shazia Hafiz Ramji, for this intimate glimpse into the life and work of Bud Osborn.