Saturday, January 18, 2014

Dirty Snow - Tom Wayman

Today's book of poetry:  Dirty Snow.  Tom Wayman.  Harbour Publishing.  Madeira Park, British Columbia.  2012

As I am the one and only editor/writer, mad person at the helm of this blog I feel it is important to be clear about some of my biases.

I believe Tom Wayman is a national treasure.

I've never had the privilege of meeting him but the measly five books of his I am lucky enough to own:  For and Against the Moon (1974), Money and Rain (1975), a planet mostly sea (1979), The Noble Prize Acceptance Speech (1981) and Counting the Hours (1983) have cemented Wayman in my mind as a particularly rare bird in Canadian poetry.  One that is desperately needed.  While the rest of us dance pretty around the edge of things Wayman takes a laser look at our society and the needs of the working class, his constant surveillance a guiding light.


"Ordinary life has enough sorrows and regrets, I believe, without a
community or nation needing to seek out armed combat..."

The Summer Has Flared

and dimmed: bracken now yellow
and brown, hazel leaves
mainly dusty gold, speckles of that colour
also visible in the green plumes of birch,
poplar, cottonwood. A late September silence
has permeated the valley
this afternoon. Down the lane that skirts the base of the ridge

two For Sale signs linger from May: one home on its acreage
curtainless, with no vehicles, stack of firewood
or trailered boat in its yard.
The other place still evidently lived in. Over two decades
I have watched these signs appear and evaporate
like snow. Already today our fields, gardens, forests
have travelled through showers, broken clear into

sunlight, and now pass beneath
overlays of whitish-grey clouds. I hope I never know
my house sold and empty, never have to drive or be driven a last time
along the river remembering the August night I first arrived here
at the wheel of a rented cube van. I don't want ever to follow a truck
that hauls my belongings
out between these valley walls.


Wayman has been awarded the Canadian Author's Association medal for poetry and the A.J.M. Smith Prize for distinguished achievement in Canadian poetry.  He has numerous awards but if I were giving them out he'd have a lot more.

Dirty Snow is Tom Wayman's eighteenth book of poetry and it is as vibrant as number one and as relevant as anything else out there.

Yet, to this reader, Wayman is too frequently dismissed because of the urgency and sometimes pleading tone of the political discourse he insists on conducting, that he insists on for our behalf.


"The consequences of war do no end when the fighting stops, or, in the
most recent case, when the last Canadian soldier leaves foreign soil..."

Dirty Snow

A spray of reddish dust: desiccated earth,
Shreds of maple, hardened blood.

Black particulate: charcoal,
Ash sifted across meadow, stream bank, road.

Tiny paper flakes: blue, green—
Stems and serifs of numbers perceptible on the largest shards.

Mounds of detritus will linger if this snow melts.
What rain? What wind?

To what sea with the April runnels
Bear this pain?


Here is a poet who has been a genuine voice of the people since he slammed out of the gate in 1973 with Waiting for Wayman.

These narrative poems, hard-edged realist poems, straightforward and driving as always, concern themselves with the ramifications of Canada's involvement in the Afghan War.  As always, Wayman is asking the important questions.  His books should be read in Parliament before those big cats get to debate.

Wayman's passionate voice continues to be a clarion call.

In Dirty Snow some of the poems are prefaced with a brief prose introduction - but the clarity of these poems is self evident.

The Man Who Could See Time

The man who could see time
claimed it has a blue tinge
like a bruise, or meat beginning
to go bad.

                Its texture
that of a bale of straw
or a woven basket

except the intertwined stalks
fill all space—not drifting,
he said, but chockablock: the very stuff
of everything, although
permeable by each object,
including ourselves,
ordinarily perceived in three dimensions
despite existing also in a fourth.

String theory, he noted, posits
several other dimensions. He could not discern

         He could see time
but he was looking for the soul.


I'm fairly certain Al Purdy and Milton Acorn would be standing proud after reading these poems.  For me there is no more Canadian poet than Tom Wayman, now wouldn't he make a great poet laureate.

Dirty Snow won the 2013 Acorn-Plantos Award.

Tom Wayman reading at Lion Rock

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