The Road to Appledore: Or, How I Went Back to the Land Without Ever Having Lived There in the First Place

Vancouver Sun, May 08 2024, B.C. author chronicles 30-year journey from city dweller to rural resident by Dana Gee

BC Studies, April 25 2024, by Shirley McDonald

The Miramichi Reader, May 6 2024, by Lisa Timpf

Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back: Poems for a Dark Time

The British Columbia Review, May 7 2020, Calgary and the world awry by Emma Rhodes

Vancouver Sun, Apr. 11 2020, B.C. poet Tom Wayman offers anguish and hope in new collection by Tom Sandborn

The British Columbia Review, Apr. 3 2020, Protest, empathy, mourning by Nathaniel G. Moore

The Shadows We Mistake For Love

Quill and Quire, Dec. 2015, by Brenda Schmidt

Winnipeg Free Press, 11/14/2015, Stories set in Kootenays deliver universal experience by Jess Woolford

Dirty Snow

The Chronicle Herald, Jan. 10 2015, Collections offer important voices on war by George Elliott Clarke

Vancouver Weekly, Oct. 26 2012, A Poetic Call to Action by Chris Shalom

Winter’s Skin and Dirty Snow

Canadian Literature #220 (Spring 2014), Wayman in Winter by Owen Percy

Boundary Country, A Vain Thing, Woodstock Rising

Canadian Literature #207 (Winter 2010), On the Way with Wayman by Neil Querengesser

Boundary Country

Globe and Mail, July 7 2007, Western transgression by Jim Bartley

. . .

The Road to Appledore: Or, How I Went Back to the Land Without Ever Having Lived There in the First Place (2024)

The Road To Appledore – cover

Vancouver Sun — Books
May 08 2024
B.C. author chronicles 30-year journey from city dweller to rural resident – Tom Wayman takes readers into life in the West Kootenay in The Road to Appledore.
by Dana Gee

Author Tom Wayman’s new memoir is both a how-to and a how-not-to story.

In 1989, Wayman packed up his Vancouver life and headed to the West Kootenay region in search of a fresh start and a fresh perspective on a relationship. Now, 30-plus years later, Wayman says: “I don’t think I’m much more squared away now as I was then. But I’ve had a good time though.”

Part memoir and part guidebook project, The Road to Appledore or How I Went Back to the Land Without Ever Having Lived There in the First Place was inspired by not just his big move to Winlaw, but the increase in recent years of others packing up and pulling out of cities in search of a simpler — or at least a perceived simpler — life.

“There is a whole movement now for city people moving to the country, especially from B.C.’s Lower Mainland where they can sell their house and come out here and buy land, buy a house and still have a bag of gold,” said Wayman, the 2022 recipient of the George Woodcock Award for Lifetime Achievement in the literary arts. “But their expectations in coming here are it is going to be sort of city life with more scenery and, of course, it is not. It’s a different culture here. People tend to recognize that and adapt to it, or they leave again.”

Wayman is one who adapted and has been able to build a life on his 10 acres east of the Slocan River. Despite what seems like endless issues, from trying to get water to removing snow and everything else in between, Wayman is still in love with the place.

“I think the driving force, in terms of writing the book, was that I wanted to show an affection for a place,” said Wayman over the phone from his home. “An awful lot of what goes on in the media and the arts kind of undermines people’s affection for where they live and what goes on where they live.

“Whereas, to me, it’s still quite marvellous. Not just the physical beauty of the landscape, but also the kinds of civilization — if you can call it that — that we build here on this continent. For all its drawbacks and challenges, it’s still a tremendous accomplishment, so I wanted to try and celebrate that.”

Wayman outlines the challenges of building a new life in how-to detail. While he’s espousing the bountiful benefits of the area, he is pointing out the bumps that cover the rural life road.

“It’s great. It’s a wonderful place to live. But there are challenges here that are different from the challenges in the city,” said Wayman. “Maybe your car gets broken into in the city, but here you could wake up with an elk standing in the middle of your garden. What do you do?

“I don’t want to discourage people from coming here, but it’s not an effortless paradise. That is sometimes the attitude people have coming here.”

For Wayman, the prose/memoir style of writing was new to him. With a long career mostly writing poetry, the award-winning author and former teacher had never really put himself front-and-centre.

“With poetry, I’m confident. I know what I’m doing,” said Wayman, who has penned more than 20 poetry collections. “With prose, I am never confident I know what I’m doing. It makes it more enjoyable because it’s more of a challenge. Not to insult poetry.”

A deeply detailed book that leaves no well undug or pile of firewood unstacked, The Road to Appledore is, at its heart, a love letter to rural life and making big choices.

“I hope (readers) take away an affection for the land we live in. For the province and what it can provide to people. And I hope they take away just a little better understanding of the differences between contemporary rural life and contemporary urban life. They are not the same thing. There’s lots of overlap. And sometimes I can give the illusion that it is just the same but with more scenery in the country, but it’s not. It leads to a different mindset, ultimately.”

Wayman will be back in the big city May 23 at the Vancouver Library’s main branch for Tom Wayman and Fraser Union: The Music Our Stories Make. The event is a combination of music and readings from Wayman, including poetry from his new collection How Can You Live Here, which also looks at life in the rural West Kootenay.

. . .

The Road to Appledore: Or, How I Went Back to the Land Without Ever Having Lived There in the First Place (2024)

The Road To Appledore – cover

BC Studies – The British Columbian Quarterly
April 25, 2024
Review By Shirley McDonald

The Road to Appledore is a reflection of Tom Wayman’s life in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. It is a collection of stories so personal that they resemble the conversations one might have with a lifelong friend, the kind of friend that no matter how long you’ve been out of contact, you pick up from where you’ve left off. I have met Wayman, but I don’t know him personally and I have few friends whose stories are crafted with the poetic poignancy that his stories have. The exception are the stories told by our mutual friend John Lent, with whom Wayman taught writing at Okanagan College decades ago. Wayman now lives in Winlaw, which is the location of Appledore. The first chapter comprises his adventures and misadventures as he transported his household possessions from East Vancouver to Winlaw. He writes that in the mid-nineties, he left the urbanity of the Lower Mainland to try his luck as a back-to-the-lander on the edge of the Crownland. He had grown up with amenities like central heating and municipal water, so the challenges of moving from the comforts and conveniences of a city to a house heated by a woodstove and supplied with water from a well and, at times, from a creek through a pipe, was not an experience for which he had prepared. No doubt, the defamiliarizing effect of his new environment fired his sensory organs. Thus, with his masterly wordsmithing, he presents the visceral details of his new life on the land.

As Wayman begins the memoir with an account of the road trip from East Vancouver to an acreage in Winlaw, his recollections are part history, part geography, and part musings on the struggles that inspired him to reinvent himself in a new land. Wayman’s details border on minutiae. His words provide a road map. At times, they beat out a walking rhythm as Wayman travels the highway, passing towns, reaching summits, leaving old familiar regions behind, and entering rich new biomes. His details are gifts. His exquisite view of the terrain creates a level of verisimilitude that parallels the richness of the volume. The first chapter concludes with a puzzling noise that Wayman does not identify. Thus, curious, the reader is motivated to keep going. When we turn the page, life has begun at Appledore.

In the next chapter, Wayman tells us that he has attained the kind of happiness that he experienced only as a child: the “pure enjoyment just of being alive” (31). He becomes immersed in the bliss of labour as he shapes the acreage into an embodiment of his imagination, and, amid descriptions of that labour, he intersperses discussions of literature and poetry, the work for which he is known. Indeed, Wayman received British Columbia’s 2022 George Woodcock Award for Lifetime Achievement in the literary arts.[1] He is inspired to write about labour, he explains, because “daily work [is] the central and governing experience of most people’s lives” (47). His hope is “to help reinvigorate an audience for poetry” that examines “the effects of our employment on our lives” (48).

Wayman describes his daily routine. He writes in the mornings and spends the rest of the day working on “the minor repairs and adjustments any house requires before it satisfies a new occupier” (48). The list of chores is endless. Each is appropriate to the season or required to maintain essential services such as a well pump, a fence, a light switch, or a wood stove and, as he describes his completion of them or, at least, his attempts, Wayman makes readers aware of the differences between country and city living. He explains that in the city, if one needs a certain screwdriver, a job is halted temporarily until the tool can be obtained. In the country, where shopping requires an hours-long drive to town, the absence of a tool results in the postponement of a chore’s completion, sometimes indefinitely if cash is in short supply.

Like the chores of keeping the well pump functioning and ensuring the provision of a huge supply of firewood for the long winter months in the valley, there are other kinds of labour that are driven by the seasons. Wayman divides his memoir into categories of seasonal chores. Spring and summer for him mean planting flower and vegetable gardens; fall means the changing of colours from green foliage to orange, red, and gold – the time to prepare for winter; and winter brings snow, the ongoing chore of clearing snow for accessibility, and the continuation of Wayman’s favoured activity, cross-country skiing. He writes that “endorphins from the exercise” prompt a “feeling of exhilaration”; yet he rejoices that just being outdoors in winter causes him to “feel in awe of the grandeur of the white mountains looming above” (188). Wayman is at his best when he describes the environment in which he feels truly alive. Likewise, when he writes about the elements, the details provide the greatest delight in the reading. He writes about the element of water – the gravity fed system and the well that supply his household water, and the springtime swelling of rivers and springs. He writes about fire – the warmth and comfort that his woodstove provides, and the discomfort induced by seasonal forest fires in the region – and he writes about air. Wayman’s descriptions are insightful as he explains the way that chimney smoke rises according to air pressure or changing weather, and as he recalls the scents of autumn, the “sweetly spicy odour of yellow birch leaves” that he’s “raked into a pile”; and the scent of spring daffodils and “of new growth: a green musk” (288). With the acumen of experience, he describes the sounds in the air and identifies the birds by their song, their twitter or cheep or whistle (289). He writes that “audible through the still winter air, besides the mallards’ familiar quacking, are occasional muted honks of the swans” and a “drumbeat [that] accompanies a couple of swans’ attempt to take to the air” (187). He writes about the earth and the flora and fauna of the region with details of smell, colour, texture, and sound that are exquisite.

But Appledore is no Shangri-la; there are pests, too, that share the air. With humour and wit, Wayman lists the “Bug of the Month”: ants, spiders, cedar bugs, stink bugs, and the “mozzies” that make “work outside … unbearable” without bug spray (293). While he may find pests annoying, he finds great joy in listening to the wind and again lifts the prose to poetic eloquence. There are laugh out loud moments, too, as he describes a marauding bear or the wild turkeys that roam the valley. Whether as a study of the human condition, a study of the intense labour of living on the land, or a study of the ecological niche that is the West Kootenay, Wayman’s The Road to Appledore is a pleasurable and illuminating read.

Publication Information

Wayman, Tom. The Road to Appledore: Or, How I Went Back to the Land Without Ever Having Lived There in the First Place. Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing. 2024. 312 pp. $26.95 paper.

. . .

The Road to Appledore: Or, How I Went Back to the Land Without Ever Having Lived There in the First Place (2024)

The Road To Appledore – cover

The Miramichi Reader
May 6, 2024
by Lisa Timpf

In his memoir The Road to Appledore, or How I Went Back to the Land Without Ever Having Lived There in the First Place, Tom Wayman explores the highs and lows of rural living. Wayman, whose past jobs have included a variety of blue – and white – collar roles as well as post-secondary teaching, is also an author of poetry, essays, and fiction. The Road to Appledore is smoothly written, and Wayman is not afraid to explore his own foibles as he depicts his experiences residing on a just-under-nine-acre rural property in British Columbia’s Slocan Valley.

The book is arranged thematically rather than chronologically, so at times, there are jumps backward and forward along the timeline of Wayman’s life. The thematic approach suits the book, and seemed to be a good choice of structure.

Having lived rurally, I could identify with Wayman’s trepidation while watching the well-drillers at work (they will hit water eventually, won’t they?), the joys and trials of heating with wood, and the challenges of gardening so close to nature, when furred and feathered denizens might also wish to benefit from the fruits of one’s labors. Though my rural living experiences have been based in Ontario, Wayman’s descriptions of country life in British Columbia resonated with me, and I expect they will with other readers. Wayman’s descriptions of the local terrain were also of interest. Wayman provides grounded descriptions of the changing seasons, the cycle and rhythms of his life, and the pleasures of exploring the natural environment in a canoe, on a bike, on cross-country skis, or on foot.

While much of The Road to Appledore is outward-looking, the book contains introspective portions as well. Wayman is candid in sharing his relationship struggles, and what he learns about himself on his journey through life. Perhaps it’s my human resources background, but one of the more interesting sections for me was Wayman’s description of what he learned about negotiation techniques and approaches while he helped shape the first collective agreement for faculty and staff at the Kootenay School of the Arts. Some of the advice provided by the staff representative for the College-Institute Educators Association seemed like it might be helpful for navigating any potentially contentious situation.

Written by someone who clearly respects and appreciates the natural world, The Road to Appledore might well appeal to a broad range of people. Particularly, those who have lived rurally may find some resonance in Wayman’s observations, triumphs, and struggles, while those who are contemplating a move to the country will get a sense of what might lie ahead. When it comes to life in general, there is much to be learned from the experiences of others, particularly when they are shared with candor, as Wayman does in The Road to Appledore.

Details: Tom Wayman’s prolific literary career includes writing more than twenty poetry collections, three collections of critical and cultural essays, three books of short fiction and a novel, as well as editing six poetry anthologies. He received British Columbia’s 2022 George Woodcock Award for Lifetime Achievement in the literary arts. In 2015, he was named a Vancouver Literary Landmark, with a plaque on the city’s Commercial Drive commemorating his championing of people writing for themselves about their daily employment. His own work life involved a range of blue- and white-collar jobs across North America, including teaching in both alternative and mainstream post-secondary institutions. He won the Western Canada Jewish Book Awards prize for fiction in 2016 (for the short story collection, The Shadows We Mistake for Love) and for poetry in 2023 (for Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back: Poems for a Dark Time). Wayman lives in Winlaw, BC, and his website is

Publisher: Harbour Publishing (May 4, 2024)
Paperback 6″ x 9″ | 312 pages
ISBN: 9781990776632

. . .

Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back: Poems for a Dark Time (2020)

Watching a Man Break a Dog's Back - book cover

The British Columbia Review
Calgary and the world awry
May 7 2020
Reviewed by Emma Rhodes

Award-winning Canadian author Tom Wayman has returned with another poetry collection in Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back: Poems for a Dark Time. His audience, he writes, is “people who couldn’t draft or read a poem/ or a book review if you paid them” (“Rant: Who I Write For,” p. 89). As a recent university graduate in English Literature and Creative Writing, I may not quite be his intended audience, but I’m delighted to share my thoughts on this impressive collection.

In Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back, Wayman tackles first the world, then individuals, and then language and writing itself. This is no small undertaking. Many writers who have attempted to tackle “the world” in their writing have come across as pretentious or insensitive. This is not so with Wayman, who avoids pretension by immersing himself in the raw material and detail of his poetic work. He does not place himself above or outside the world he exposes.

The book is broken up into three sections: “O Calgary: The World Awry;” “Jazz on a Rainy Afternoon: Elegies;” and “A Door in a Wood: Words.” In each, he narrows his scope more and more, from the systemic problems associated with industry and capitalism, to individual life and death, to the metaphysical work of writing and use of language itself.

In “O Calgary: The World Awry,” Wayman uses the City of Calgary to represent universal urban problems. I grew up not far from Calgary, and I felt excited to find my home represented here. Wayman’s image of Calgary is not the sweet, simple, naive representation of the kind we want to read when our homes are represented in literature. Yet I did not feel slighted or hurt, because Wayman holds an attachment to a truth about the constant search for profit by industry and capital — that I have witnessed in Calgary and elsewhere. Calgary serves as a microcosm for ideological and political problems present all over the world. Indeed, it represents “the world awry.” Focussing on a single city allows Wayman to engage with concepts that otherwise might have been too broad to grapple with. For Wayman, Calgary is the right size to catch, examine, and reveal to readers what is hidden beneath the facade.

A poem depicting police brutality, “Restoration of Order,” opens the book and sets the tone. The first stanza describes a police officer beating a protestor’s head with a club. Wayman draws attention to the horror — and irony — of this brutal incident:

The uniformed arm
holding the weapon
descends again: an elbow raised
to protect its body
fractures, a chip of bone from a skull
is driven into the membrane intended to protect the brain
(p. 4).

What is intended to protect is broken down here on multiple levels. The officer does the breaking; the membrane breaks. Wayman draws out the scene and slows it down to examine everything that is wrong and cruel about the distressing event.

“O Calgary” employs an epigraph from the American poet Joseph Stroud (born 1943) that serves as the book’s title: “In Calgary/ I saw a man break a dog’s back.” Wayman’s poem is broken into many sections, some of which seem unbelievable, like money flooding “the banks along the Bow/ sweeping hundreds of replicas of the same ample house/ out onto wheat fields” (p. 14). These are interspersed with believable yet just-as-disturbing descriptions of people being fired and escorted out of buildings, having their living taken from them, and being told “we don’t want no trouble,” along with horses broken and finished in wagon races and angry feet in cowboy boots kicking the vulnerable.

Ending this section, the poems “Advisors” and “How I Achieved Tenure,” address how dialogue inhibits people from attempting to change this fractured world, but Wayman places himself as drowning in this very system. He recognizes that he and his readers are immersed in the very system he writes of. He does not excuse himself from the world he reveals to us.

In the second section of the book, “Jazz on a Rainy Afternoon: Elegies,” Wayman focusses on individuals. “Wind Elegy” (p. 60) and “Not the Wind” (p. 75) both describe the effect of someone’s passing on their community. “Wind Elegy” describes how everything is interrelated, inadvertently affecting one another; wind affects waves even if its purpose is simply to blow, and a village affects lives even if its purpose is only to create space for us to inhabit. A village is also a “father,// stepson, brother, husband,/ assessor of dietary trends” (p.61). Once a life in the village dies, though, the village remains “occupied by its Saturday’s// activities, its Wednesday’s” (p.62), and the wind too continues filling its roles whether or not the waves move.

Using wind in a different way, “Not the Wind” describes the debilitating result of a loved one’s death even while the village moves forward. In “Wind Elegy,” life and its natural forces continue; while in “Not the Wind,” they can freeze, and the wind has nothing to do with it. Grief holds this power:

It’s not the wind
pouring off the lake from the north
that hurries me forward
faster than I thought possible

[. . .]

Yet this driving power can also stall
abruptly — as inexplicable as any action it manifests —
so that I falter, trip
at the sudden lack of motion.

[. . .]

My days flap useless as a sail
when the breeze stills
or shifts
(p. 75).

Reducing his scale even smaller, in the third section (“A Door in a Wood: Words”), Wayman narrows in on language and writing itself, and he gets metaphysical and playful. He examines why he writes and who he writes for. He examines words: their power, purpose, function, why they can be frightening or amusing, and more, but he does not take himself so seriously that he becomes alien to readers. The last poem of the second section, and a sort of introduction to the third, “Last Testament” opens with:

Before I was born
I had nothing to say. I wasn’t asked
a single question
and was completely silent.

No wonder I talk so much
now that I can.
Centuries without the
of my presence

have to be made up for
by my words
(p. 80).

Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back: Poems for a Dark Time offers so much more to be unpacked. I am impressed by how much is contained within its 115 pages, and how masterfully Wayman tackles so many, and such drastically different, subjects while remaining sympathetic, cohesive, and often playful.

. . .

Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back: Poems for a Dark Time (2020)

Watching a Man Break a Dog's Back - book cover

Vancouver Sun — Books
B.C. poet Tom Wayman offers anguish and hope in new collection — Wayman clearly wants to demonstrate that even if poetry cannot change the world, it can provide comfort and courage — even in times as dark as our own.
Book review by Tom Sandborn

Despite W. H. Auden’s insistence that “poetry makes nothing happen,” those who make poems or love them tend to want to believe Percy Bysshe Shelley was right when he called poets “the unacknowledged legislators of mankind.”

We want the artfully arranged words, the compelling rhythms and the haunting images to add up to something more than the pleasures they deliver.

Poetry, we want to insist, is more than platitudes and Platonism in a sweet sauce, more than elegantly posed and solved intellectual and esthetic puzzles, more even more than the heart-piercing pleasures it sometimes evokes — it can change the world.

The prize-winning B.C. poet Tom Wayman, best known for championing poetry that reflects and respects the lives of ordinary working people, subtitles his latest collection Poems for a Dark Time, and he clearly wants to demonstrate that even if poetry cannot change the world, it can provide comfort and courage, even in times as dark as our own.

These are poems that aspire to more than elaborate word play or easy gusts of feeling. Wayman can sketch out the long arc of friendship and the anguish of loss, as he does in a section of elegies.

He can render the beauties of the rural landscape where he now makes his home in southeastern B.C. in one passage, and the intricate dance of ego and ambition that surrounds life as an academic in the next — and nail both with impressive power.

He can present horrific state violence in Restoration of Order and then shift his tone to tender erotic memory in Bedspread.

Two poems, Why I Write and Rant: Who I Write For, can be usefully read as Wayman’s credo — his attempt to justify the odd business of poetry in the 21st century.

In the first he describes his work as “Words, pages/launched into air/like a fan of yellowed leaves submitted/by alder or birch/to October’s winds.”

In the second, he lists his ideal readers as: “…the losers, the creepy, the underground/outlaws because nobody well adjusted, “normal”/in the judgment of a toxic/social environment is likely to strive toward/ a fairer, more egalitarian/economic and political arrangement.” So much for Auden’s defeatism!

Wayman is still at work creating poems that are as astringent and individual as human pain, and as universal as our highest hopes for a beloved community. Readers will be grateful for this record of his latest labours.

Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver.

. . .

Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back: Poems for a Dark Time (2020)

Watching a Man Break a Dog's Back - book cover

The British Columbia Review
Protest, empathy, mourning
April 3 2020
INTERVIEW: Tom Wayman with Nathaniel G. Moore

Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back explores the question of how to live in a natural landscape that offers beauty while being consumed by industry, and in an economy that offers material benefits while denying dignity, meaning, and a voice to many in order to satisfy the outsized appetites of the few. A cri de coeur from a poet who has long celebrated the voices of working people, Wayman’s latest collection also grapples with why “anyone, in this era so profoundly lacking in grace, might want to make poems — or any kind of art.” But the keen sense of justice that drives the collection is tempered by the poet’s reluctance to take himself too seriously: “Centuries without the benefit / of my presence / have to be made up for / by my words.” The poet brings the perspective of age to our current troubled existence, with the reminder that as a society and as individuals we’ve faced perilous times before, and that our shared mortality links us more than circumstances and politics divide us. — Nathaniel G. Moore

Nathaniel Moore: The cover of your newest poetry collection, Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back is striking, as is the title. How did this all come together?

Tom Wayman: The title of the book is an adaption of lines from a poem by the Santa Cruz, California poet Joseph Stroud, lines which I use as the epigraph to my poem “O Calgary” included in my collection. The publishing house was concerned that the title not be misinterpreted, so I suggested that for a cover image we find something that emphasizes that the poems in the book are against the surging lack of empathy in the world. I had in mind one of the contemporary Spanish artist Juan Genoves’ great paintings of demonstrations, but the rights holders of that art demanded more money than my book will ever make either for myself or the publisher. I found online instead photos that captured Genoves’ intent — militarized police clubbing demonstrators in France, England, Ukraine, Russia, the US, Spain, Greece and more. The photo that the in-house editor picked and added a striking background to is from a student protest in Chile.

I was struck by Joseph Stroud’s image for a couple of reasons. First, because in difficult times, those who are oppressed or in trouble can, and are often encouraged to, turn on others who are oppressed or in trouble. I wish it were needless to say that such activity benefits no one but the masters of this world, some of whom are only too eager to see us squabble among ourselves and hurt each other, rather than understand the true sources of our problems and take meaningful action to improve our lives.

Second, the stark and upsetting nature of the title phrase seemed to me to offer an opportunity reflect on the theme of the collection’s poems: the issues the majority of Canadians struggle with currently in attempting to build a decent life. I know people love their dogs, but to me a starker and more horrible image than that evoked by my title is that in the stationery store in the small town in southeastern B.C. near where I live — set amid mountains and valleys covered in forests — you can only buy paper made in the USA, China, or South Korea.

Nathaniel Moore: What role does humour play in your writing?

Tom Wayman: Humour is important to my writing, because humour is the way we get through the day: a great many person-to-person interactions during the course of the day include a funny comment or a joke. If literature is intended to tell the human story, as it’s constantly lauded (and funded) as doing, humour has to be as central to literature as it is to life.

In addition, humour provides perspective to a difficult — threatening, humiliating, socially awkward, etc. — situation more effectively than any other verbal or written means. Authority hates humour because humour by its very nature undermines authority’s stance — humour brings authority, pomposity, solemnity down to earth, which is where all humans, whatever their so-called “status,” dwell. Critics, therefore, most often view humour as “not serious,”  i.e., second rate. Yet humour’s accomplishment — the creation of perspective — is as vital to society as any other contribution literature is alleged (and funded) to make to society.

I don’t think humour’s role has changed over the decades. J.B. MacKinnon, in a presentation about his book on rewilding, The Once and Future World (2013), shows an amazing photo taken on the Seattle waterfront of an eagle snatching up a salmon from the ocean. In the foreground, a young guy sits on the tailgate of a pickup, bent over his cellphone. MacKinnon speculates that he’s texting: I’m @ the waterfront. May b I’ll c an eagle!

Nathaniel Moore: A few elegies appear in your new collection. Is the creation of these poems and the dedication to these individuals part of letting go / immortalizing things for you?

Tom Wayman: The poems that respond to people who have died are not intended to be solely an appreciation of these people, or a mourning of their deaths, but rather arise out of my interest in the arc of people’s lives. For the same reason, I frequently read obituaries. I’m constantly amazed at the lives people fashion for themselves, and hence for the people around them. Frequently I admire the contribution those who have died have made to family and community, or the arts, or all three. And as I mention in the prose introduction to the section of my book that gathers elegies, there is something of the “self-elegy” in what I’ve written: thinking about the lives of the dead gives me insight into the arc of my own life.

Nathaniel Moore: Release and Last Testament seem to be a sequence of sorts about endings and beginnings. Are you positioning these poems as contrasting signifiers of life and death?

Tom Wayman: This poem arose because I was struck by two quotes attacking literalism by two different U.S. poets whom I very much admire — the magisterial Robert Bly and the Washington state rancher-poet Joseph Powell. My poems, of course, are nothing but literal! Bly was raised in Minnesota farming country, and both poets are astute observers of the natural world. Hence much of my poem — intended as a defence of literalism in the arts — concentrates on natural imagery. But because of my long fascination in why the world of daily work is a taboo subject in the arts, my poem moves to how we currently organize food production, distribution, and profit-taking.

The poem doesn’t name corporate capitalism as the villain here — virtually every organized economy from time immemorial has not treated the natural world very well. Often the ecological impact of a small population is confused with ecological wisdom, but there’s lots of anthropological evidence to the contrary. Ronald Wright’s Massey lectures, A Short History of Progress (2004), is one place this is detailed. That said, I do have lots of poems in the current collection that attack corporate capitalism.

Nathaniel Moore: Can you describe a good writing day? What is your routine?

Tom Wayman: I live on an acreage about 60 km. west of Nelson in the Selkirk Mountains of southeastern B.C. A good writing day for me begins with breakfast, followed by a half hour or so of exercise (at my age, a must), and sitting down at the computer some time before 10 a.m. After a brief scan of online news items, and then a printing out of pressing emails to be dealt with later, I begin to write. First drafts of poems are longhand, but otherwise I compose directly on the computer. I work away steadily to 2:30 or 3 p.m. — I take a break to make lunch, but eat it at the computer.

The balance of the day is spent outside, tending to the seasonal chores of the estate. I work longest hours in the spring getting my far-too-extensive gardens in (flowers and vegetables), but there’s always more to do outside. When I come in from the grounds, I generally return to the computer for either more literary work or to answer emails, letters, etc. I’m a member of various local literary event committees, principally Nelson’s annual Elephant Mountain Literary Festival, all of which involve organizational chores for me to complete. And for some reason I’m often the designated budget officer for these committees, so developing and updating budgets can also preoccupy me once my literary writing, and my time outside in the weather, is done for the day.

My fear is that if I ate supper immediately on returning from the garden, I’d be too tired afterwards to return to my desk and tackle all these non-literary chores. So instead I often work late, and end up eating supper around 10 p.m., just before bed.


Tom Wayman was born in Ontario in 1945, but has spent most of his life in British Columbia. He has worked at a number of jobs, both blue and white-collar, across Canada and the U.S., and has helped bring into being a new movement of poetry in these countries — the incorporation of the actual conditions and effects of daily work. His poetry has been awarded the Canadian Authors’ Association medal for poetry, the A.J.M. Smith Prize, first prize in the USA Bicentennial Poetry Awards competition, and the Acorn-Plantos Award; in 2003 he was shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Literary Award. He has published more than a dozen collections of poems, six poetry anthologies, three collections of essays and three books of prose fiction. He has taught widely at the post-secondary level in Canada and the U.S., most recently (2002-2010) at the University of Calgary. Since 1989 he has been the Squire of “Appledore,” his estate in the Selkirk Mountains of southeastern BC.

. . .

The Shadows We Mistake For Love (2015)


Quill and Quire
★The Shadows We Mistake for Love
by Tom Wayman

Near the end of “Green Hell,” the second of 14 stories in Tom Wayman’s wonderful new collection (all set in the West Kootenay region of B.C.’s Slocan Valley), Billy, the lone occupant of a table in an otherwise packed restaurant, is speaking to a couple of tourists he has invited to join him: “Impressive, eh? But you can tell from what I’ve been blabbing that appearances around here can be deceiving. It may look like wonderland, but –” His side of the conversation is all the reader is privy to; the questions, comments and reactions of the others are implied by his responses, heightening the tension and instability as his character is further revealed.

Fiction writer, poet, and essayist Wayman engages with various stances, slopes, and uneven terrain in these stories: his characters are constantly at risk of falling off roofs, into graves – or falling over dead. Rife with conflict, the superbly paced stories are peopled with outliers, eccentrics, hippies, loggers, miners, environmentalists, teachers, landlords, lawyers, and no end of marijuana growers. The latter group comprise “an industry that, according to many impartial sources, is the main economic generator for the region, surpassing in revenue lumber, mining, and smelting combined, and bigger than health care and all other government employment.” So says a supplier of grow-op equipment to a roomful of growers, before trying to persuade them to branch out into coffee.

Wayman’s richly textured and tightly structured stories are steeped in history. Take the first part of “The Three Jimmys,” a three-part story that traces the rise and fall of a motel built, owned, and operated by the eponymous trio. The first Jimmy, talking about the Japanese-Canadian internment camps, says, “Stories started to circulate about the government having failed to plan ahead, so whole families were shivering out the winter in tents.” The Doukhobors, he states, were the first to offer help: “Being shipped over here from Russia, the Douks knew what it was like to lose everything and be forced to leave home by a government.”

Elaine, a Vietnam War resister from Santa Cruz who narrates the story’s second part, came to Canada by choice, hoping for a safer and more stable life for her children. Once settled in the valley, her husband, indulging in drugs and “free love,” heads off to live in a commune, leaving her to provide for the children in the valley, where jobs are scarce. She eventually moves in with one of the Jimmys, a veteran of the Korean War. Elaine ultimately comes between the Jimmys, on the level of both content and form.

There is nothing safe about these stories. Linked by the ever-present waft of pot, recurring shady characters, and the setting itself, these stories resemble a close-knit community. Shifting in response to internal and external forces, the Slocan Valley and its inhabitants – wholly realized under Wayman’s deft touch – feel simultaneously alive and vulnerable.

Reviewer: Brenda Schmidt
Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre
Price: $24.95
Page Count: 312 pp
Format: Paper
ISBN: 978-177162-095-6
Released: Oct.
Republished from Quill and Quire, Issue Date: December 2015

. . .

The Shadows We Mistake For Love (2015)


Winnipeg Free Press – Books
Stories set in Kootenays deliver universal experience
Reviewed by: Jess Woolford
Posted: 11/14/2015 3:00 AM

Among other things, award-winning British Columbia writer Tom Wayman is a poet (his poem Did I Miss Anything? is a must-read), essayist, academic, playwright, editor and author of short fiction, and it’s this diversity of experience that he brings to his second collection of short stories, The Shadows We Mistake for Love.

Set in the West Kootenays, where Wayman has lived since 1989, the stories work together to provide a vivid picture of life in rural B.C. While Wayman speaks of the beauty of the land and its power, so strong that it seems “a hidden, enchanted place… a magical hideaway,” he delves deep into the complicated realities of the diverse lives lived there.

A keen observer, Wayman employs empathy and imagination to try on a range of voices and perspectives. He begins with “the man,” a woodworker featured in the opening story Dwelling, whose home and shop are mysteriously invaded by the seasons and who marvels that “in the space of less than a year, he could accept the unfathomable.”

Wayman ends his collection with Fenris, a story that relates the appearance of a wolf who tells the man “I am the devourer of the sun and moon. After so many years, the space between you and me is thin.” As in Dwelling, the tale contemplates what it means to be worthwhile, as well as tangling with loneliness, sanity, disorientation and the inevitability of death.

In between, Wayman introduces us to a community’s worth of characters: an elderly landlord who takes matters into his own hands when he discovers a tenant growing marijuana; a lawyer who approaches the world in the same calculated manner he employs in the courtroom; a dangerous survivalist who poses as a Rastafarian to better know his enemy in the coming “race war”; a grandfather whose work story has a complicated moral; and a boyfriend whose devotion is tested when his girlfriend’s father dies and she collapses in the graveyard, where “Surrounding him were acres of the frozen dead, and not one could help him.”

Though immensely lovely, Wayman’s world is a complicated, often surprising place, a theme that runs through the title story, which begins, “Just because a story is old, doesn’t mean it can’t be sad.” Assuredly this is an old story: girl meets boy, girl follows boy and moulds her life to fit his, girl becomes pregnant, boy abandons girl and baby. However, Wayman’s remarkable perception of what it is to be a young woman trying to find her place and purpose in the world, and his astonishing description of labour, reinvigorates the old story and speaks of the author’s devotion to transmitting others’ realities. Unfortunately its sitcom-style ending disappoints, but this is a rare misstep.

Despite its B.C. setting, The Shadows We Mistake for Love invites in readers from other geographies with its emphasis on our common experience of jobs done and jobs lost, loneliness and love and sex and break-ups, strife between generations, a shared history that includes the rise of the logging and marijuana industries and the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War, and our utter reliance on clean water. It doesn’t hurt that Wayman also mentions Winnipeg and St. Boniface more than once.

What’s more, the talk in Wayman’s fictional post office is the same as it is everywhere: “It’s like there’s an epidemic of breast cancer around here. There’s Judy Johnson, lives on Appledale Lower Road, and Dorothy Leaside by the community hall and Betsy Russell who has that hair salon on Hoodikoff Road.”

The Shadows We Mistake for Love is a strong, engaging collection, and Wayman a meticulous, gifted crafter of words who describes the gamut of human experience, from the sacred to the profane, with passion and grace.

Jess Woolford reads and writes in Winnipeg, and sometimes in British Columbia.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 14, 2015 A1
The Shadows We Mistake for Love: Stories
By Tom Wayman
Douglas & McIntyre, 312 pages, $25

. . .

Dirty Snow (2012)TomWayman_Poems_DirtySnow_120.333

The Chronicle Herald
Jan. 10, 2015
Collections offer important voices on war
by George Elliott Clarke, excerpt


Tom Wayman’s 18th book of poetry, Dirty Snow (Harbour, $17), appeared in March 2012 and won the 2013 Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry. I’m late in reading it, but his unapologetically political poetry merits attention.

In his Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819), poet John Keats opines, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”

But what if “beauty” means “speaking truth to power”?

This task is what Wayman undertakes in Dirty Snow. He shows that the Afghan War is not — was not — a benign mission in an irrelevant nation, but rather an active slaughter, in which Canadians have helped slay other people, many “innocent” — on behalf of other Canadians.

Wayman reminds us the war is not —was not — peripheral to our lives: “the war has seized / your interest and some of the capital, too, / from your taxes not spent / on medical equipment, road repaving, / housing for the poor, libraries.”

Thus, Wayman imagines, not bombs being dropped on the Afghan people, but Canadian schools: “A dropped school falls through air, / turning slowly as debris / pours from windows: a contrail of papers and books.”

The image informs us that dollars that could have spent on enriching the lives of Canadians have instead been used to kill Afghans.

Not even British Columbians are safe from the expenditure and human cost of the Afghan adventure: “In the serenity / above the treeline / a spreading stain bleaches half the sky. / To the south, amid dim cloud-mounds, / are flashes of light: detonations / of an improvised / innocence.”

I’m reminded of Dennis Lee’s important sequence of poems, Civil Elegies (1972), which raised questions about Canadian independence in relation to the “American Empire.”

Wayman expresses similar concern. At the end of the patriotic ceremony for the repatriation of our dead, his speaker sees “the assigned detachments / bear the dead, the flag / of their country, the country itself / into the yawning dark.”

The implications here are horrendous: For what real purpose have Canadians killed Afghans or themselves died in Afghanistan? Has Canada itself been degraded?

The problem with representing political truth is that it’s painful. Why have we wasted millions of dollars — and dozens of Canadian lives — to help prop up a government whose only legitimacy is in vending terrorist-financing opium and illegal heroin?

Wayman’s politics aren’t always blunt. Wasps and the Fires is a nature poem: “The year brain and blood failed … / small honeycombs of mud wasps / and the grey paper balloons of their kin / appeared in unusual numbers under eave soffits … / The yard swarmed / with dozens of the small yellow threats.”

The politics of fear, of invasion, of scourge is there — but between the lines. “Smell of smoke in the bedroom in the dark.”

Recently, the great philosopher John Ralston Saul wondered, in an op-ed piece, why Canadian intellectuals — especially professors — haven’t been more outspoken against the perceived wrongs of the Harper Republicans (“Conservatives”).

He’s right. But poets like Wayman are offering those essential critiques — for those with ears to hear and eyes to see. Dirty Snow brings the Truth.

. . .

Winter’s Skin (2013) and Dirty Snow (2012)


Canadian Literature

Wayman in Winter
Tom Wayman (Author)
Winter’s Skin. Oolichan Books
Tom Wayman (Author)
Dirty Snow. Harbour Publishing

Reviewed by Owen Percy

Of all the recognitions and awards that Tom Wayman’s poetry has garnered since he began publishing in 1973, none have been more appropriate or meaningful than the 2013 Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry he recently received for Dirty Snow. Wayman has always striven to be a poet of and for the 99%. Those who have seen him read, or who have encountered any work from his 19 books of poetry, know already that his everyman voice is accessible and direct—qualities which often see him dismissed by reviewers as uncomplicated and, under the logic of most postmodern literary criticism dictating that obscurity = maturity, unimportant. Critics who go after Wayman for his prosaic syntax, or for his simplification of labour politics—there are almost always clear lines drawn in a Wayman poem—often also ignore or disregard his clearly stated figuration of poetry as an ever-expanding globe of possibility and connection of and for one another, a more democratic space as it is in the world of music. Under Wayman’s generic conception, criticizing him for his plainspoken style or his blue-collar poetics is akin to criticizing Jay-Z for not writing good country ballads. And yes, Wayman is Jay-Z in this scenario. You’re welcome.

So when Dirty Snow was named the winner of the Acorn-Plantos prize, it was apt recognition of Wayman’s fine book, but also of his long-standing ethos that poetry can and should be, as he put it in a 2009 interview with Diane Guichon, “a tool useful for beneficial social ends.” Dirty Snow, it can be surmised then, wants us to consider what it actually meant that Canada became embroiled in the post-9/11 Afghan war. The opening section of the book, “The Effect of the Afghan War on the Landscapes and People of Southeastern British Columbia” explores, well, it’s right there in the title. Poems like “Interest” and “There Is No War, And You Would Not Have to Consider It If There Was” directly challenge Wayman’s local, regional, and national neighbours to assess their complicity in Canada’s foreign exploits. The standouts in this arresting section are “Air Support,” in which the military term itself is literalized so that schools, health care, and compassion, not bombs, are showered on the Afghan people, and “Mt. Gimli Pashtun,” where a hiker’s Kootenay mountain landscape spectrally becomes that of “Pashtuns blown apart, or maimed / by bullets released in the name of this country.” By the time the poem declares “[a]n alien death has been brought / to these mountains,” we are ourselves shell-shocked—suddenly uncertain of our own surroundings, culture, otherness, and complicity in acts of institutional aggression.

The book also contains several tender elegies for friends, and an aging speaker’s meditations on the minutia of our everyday lives. But even in his retirement from teaching, Wayman remains a work poet. Poems like “If You’re Not Free at Work, Where Are You Free?,” and the especially poignant “Whistle” give us a Wayman whose world since the 1960s has started to repeat its corporate and political sins, and whose calls for social justice and freedom remain as loud as they’ve been for four decades. The latter poem applies the conceit of “a slight wheezy sound” that begins “[a]t the threshold of hearing” and permeates scenes of mass corporate firings, bullshit press conferences, meetings, and protests, growing louder all the while until it erupts and becomes the soundtrack—“the tinnitus of the world”—of the so-called Arab Spring, and all the revolutions yet to come elsewhere in the world.

Like in some of his earliest books, the poems here are introduced by short contextual prose pieces that evoke the casual familiarity of Wayman’s live readings. The collection also includes rare flashes of the well-established Wayman sense of humor (see “Leonard Cohen Didn’t Get Me Laid”), but its concerns are more with making us think than making us laugh. Dirty Snow is deserving of its accolades, and it deserves a wide readership of citizens. For all our sakes.

Wayman’s most recent book, Winter’s Skin, evokes another recognizably CanLit conceit through the observations of the nature-navigating speaker. A project “in honor of [his] conceptually oriented colleagues” at the University of Calgary (Wayman retired in 2010), Winter’s Skin is comprised of 25 poems that riff on lines, images, or concepts from Pablo Neruda’s posthumous 1974 collection Jardin de invierno. Dotted with stark, stunning landscape photographs of southeastern BC by Jeremy Addington and Rod Currie, the book’s physical beauty seems a direct answer to the anxious questions many of us continue to ask about the vagaries of digital publishing. The poems themselves strike an introspective and personal intimacy in their delicacy of perception; they are concrete and nuanced in a way that much of Wayman’s other poetic writing is not. Consider the haiku sensibility of the first two sections of “Breath”:

Tufts of snow
that rise from the branch
a chickadee alights on

Winter fog surrounding
the house: on the frosted slope of
the ridge behind, great spruce and pine
blur to white shadows

Ol’ Wayman is still in these poems, in both voice and persona, but he is more contemplative, less anxious than he has been, even in the book’s slower, more measured burns against injustice and death (especially in the excellent “The White Dogs”); Winter’s Skin is Wayman in the beginnings of his own winter—asking “only / to take the minutes // of the meetings between the season / and [him]self,” and exulting in the solitude and reckoning of the ever-falling snow. This is not to say that Winter’s Skin is tame, or uninterested in politics, literary or otherwise. Wayman’s preface to the collection characterizes the book’s tone as quietly elegiac, but in general it is vintage Wayman: engaged, observant, prickly, lusty, and open to what the world, and the newly arrived winter, have to teach us about ourselves. Both Dirty Snow and Winter’s Skin renew the call for closer consideration of Wayman’s verse; true, these books set their own terms, but they do so in hopes of showing us that we are intimately and inextricably tied to one another in our mutual experience of and conversation about the living world.

This review originally appeared in Tracking CanLit. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 220 (Spring 2014): 185-186.

. . .

Dirty Snow (2012)TomWayman_Poems_DirtySnow_120.333

Vancouver Weekly
Oct. 26, 2012
A Poetic Call to Action by Chris Shalom
Dirty Snow by Tom Wayman – A Review.

Dirty Snow is a reminder of where poetry should be: at the forefront of political thought, drawing the connections that help us to deeply consider our relationship to the actions of our country and the world around us. Tracing the lines between life at home and war abroad, the collection explores the murders committed and deaths suffered by Canadian troops during our military involvement in Afghanistan. Primarily though, it’s concerned with the connections we’d rather not draw – the ways Canadian war affects us personally, and, perhaps most unsettling, the ways that it doesn’t.

A confession first: I grew up in the Slocan Valley, where the majority of the collection is set. You’ll pardon the pun (it’s too obvious to resist, and how often does one get to use a dead metaphor with genuine accuracy?), but the imagery of the Valley through the seasons hits home for me in a way that it can’t possibly for all.

So when Tom Wayman writes of cows grazing at Lebahdo Flats, for example, I know the exact cows he means. An interesting dynamic – I can’t say the same for the the hedge-rows of Tintern Abbey.

The particular closeness to the work that this affords me though, only strengthens the burden of its message. The poems are not shrill or condemning, but they are demanding. Snow is filled with pieces that make connections we haven’t made ourselves, not because they’re not evident, but because they are exhausting. To accept Wayman’s work as accurate is likely to accept oneself as guilty of inaction; perhaps it is easier to accept oneself as guilty of non-consideration.

There Is No War, And You Would Not Have To Consider It If There Was, one of my favourites in the collection, covers it all: the cost of war, money used to kill in another country rather than to create a better life in ours, the homogenized and ignorant Western depictions of Afghans, the deaths of innocent and violent alike, on both sides; above all, the absurdity of our attempts at justification, when explicitly stated and considered as though logical. The poem reminds us with a straight face that the “[a]rmed individuals on the opposing side, you see…have no right to intervene in/Afghanistan’s domestic affairs,/are determined to impose by force/a set of alien values…” The effectiveness of this kind of plain-faced satire-by-restatement is funny only because it is appalling. One wonders how many lines of televised argument and how many public personalities in today’s political sphere would be reduced to laughable self-satire by similar treatment.

Provocative as it is, the strength of Dirty Snow is that it is not prescriptive. As with There Is No War…, the collection at large may decry inaction, but its call is for any action, regardless of direction – as with all poetry, the intent is to reintegrate us with the surrounding world. If the poems push, it is with the expectation of being pushed back. If the poems are loud, it is because the problem is silence.

The engine that drives Dirty Snow is fueled with grief, not anger. If there is hope for a lessening of the world’s violence, Wayman seems to see it in personal grief, a story that transcends any boundaries that humans have managed to build for themselves. The second half of the collection is focused on loss and the many ways in which it is utterly irrevocable. Richard Meissenheimer is a tender part of a community’s grief, an admission of the hole that death leaves in a community; For L.C. is a wryly unsettling look at Wayman’s own sense of mortality, just the sort of thing we’d rather not write down ourselves. The second half of Snow is filled with the lucid heartbreak, tempered by the redemptive certainty in the ineffable, that can be found in much of Wayman’s later work.

Dirty Snow is a rousing argument for the return of poetry in mainstream cultural consciousness. Modern poetry seems often guilty of relegating itself to exploration of the beautiful, the abstract, the attractively melancholy – the topics that unfortunately, but somewhat justifiably, have characterized it in the mainstream as impressive but irrelevant. Instead of sauntering whimsically behind us, Dirty Snow is precisely where poetry should be – charging head-on past us and demanding that we keep up. Fiery, melancholic, and accessible, Wayman’s collection is a much-needed two-part challenge: to read more poetry, and to act on it.

. . .

Boundary Country (2007), A Vain Thing (2007), Woodstock Rising (2009).


Canadian Literature

On the Way with Wayman
• Tom Wayman (Author)
A Vain Thing. Turnstone Press
• Tom Wayman (Author)
Boundary Country. Thistledown Press
• Tom Wayman (Author)
Woodstock Rising. Dundurn

Reviewed by Neil Querengesser

Long recognized as an accomplished Canadian poet and shortlisted for a Governor General’s award in poetry, Tom Wayman turns his hand to prose in these three works of fiction, ranging from short pieces to a full-length novel. Although the results are sometimes uneven, Wayman has established himself as a significant figure in his recently adopted genre.

Boundary Country, his first published book of fiction, is a collection of short stories, many of which are set in British Columbia’s southern and interior regions, the geography of which is clearly familiar to Wayman and rendered with impressive verisimilitude. They include a story of an owner of a salon chain who picks up a hitchhiker with a shady past east of Osoyoos , an imaginative account of a visit by Sir Paul McCartney to a gathering of assorted Nelson citizens, and a bittersweet tale of a divorced man helping friends move a horse to winter pastures as he meditates on his failed attempt to begin a new relationship. Other stories move further afield in time and place, including an account of a family of Russian and European Jews trying to escape the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the 1930s, and a speculative piece featuring an imaginary relative of Alfred Nobel who demonstrates to a lieutenant in the American Civil War the power of his cousin’s new invention. All the stories in this collection are notable for the authenticity of their narrators and point of view, the tone of each narrative perfectly matching its narrator’s personality.

A Vain Thing, Wayman’s second book of fiction, consists of four novellas, all of them ostensible variations on the title’s central theme of (national) vanity. Wayman’s penchant for speculative fiction, already evident in Boundary Country, is even more pronounced in this collection. The first novella, Djkarta Now, set in perhaps only a slightly imaginary future, is told from the point of view of a racist political candidate in Vancouver, leader of the Democracy Now party, a thinly disguised front for the racist Djkarta Now organization that wants to oust all recent Chinese immigrants from the province. Wayman skilfully manipulates exterior dialogue and interior monologue to eventually reveal the narrator’s true colours and his hypocrisy. The Rock Eaters tells the tale of mineral-eating, Winnebago-travelling aliens in the shape of wheat stalks who have made Earth a favourite tourist destination. The hero of this piece must risk his life to save some of these aliens when they are trapped inside a burning restaurant. Thanks to Wayman’s mastery of the point of view and setting, it is actually not too difficult to willingly suspend one’s disbelief while reading this wry satire on xenophobia. In Land under the Snow, a cross-country skier in the Okanagan falls through a mountain snowdrift into the life and customs of an old middle-earth Nordic village, meeting the love of his life and learning much about himself in the process, only to be turned in another direction just as things start to go well for him. The finest and most realistic novella is Love in the Afterlife, an acerbic look at life and love from the perspective of an emotionally insecure grant-winning Vancouverite writer who takes up with a new girlfriend and other squirrely characters in the Toronto literary scene. Whether or not this is a roman à clef, it is nevertheless lively and delightful satire, distinguished, despite the overt symbolism, by one of Wayman’s better endings.

Woodstock Rising, Wayman’s first full-length novel, is an over-the-top labour of love narrated by a young man in his twenties with the quasi-autobiographical first name of Wayman, struggling to meet his thesis supervisor’s demands for a completed product in the fourth and final year of his somewhat postponed Master’s program at UC Irvine in the politically and culturally explosive academic year of 1969-1970. But his thesis certainly isn’t the only thing he has to contend with. The lone Canadian in his group of friends and acquaintances, Wayman is attracted to several of his fellow female students, particularly Nora, with whom he eventually establishes the novel’s central romantic relationship. He is an active member of the Students for a Democratic Society, as well as a member of a small idealistic circle, including a couple of disillusioned Vietnam vets, that decides, after prolonged conversation and several shared joints, to launch a decommissioned nuclear missile, replacing its deadly payload with a jerry-built satellite broadcasting songs from the recent and wildly successful festival at Woodstock. After pulling off this rather implausible feat, much to the chagrin of the current president, Richard Milhous Nixon, they soon desire even bigger and better ways of making an anonymous name for themselves, planning a sequel to Woodstock so big and so bright that they will have to wear shades. Despite all the suspense and the realistic build-up, however, the novel’s climax and its denouement, characteristic weak points in Wayman’s fiction, are a bit of a letdown. Nevertheless, this novel is certainly worth reading. As usual, the voice of the young narrator is impeccably realized. If the narrative sometimes sprawls a bit over the book’s almost five hundred pages, it can be attributed to the narrator’s enthusiastic desire to create a detailed chronicle of his personal annus mirablis at the centre of some of the most culturally significant events in America. The pages are replete with realistic historical details of American struggles over Vietnam, class, and race, mirrored in the sectarian conflicts within the SDS. The various tribulations and triumphs of Southern California campus life in the late 1960s are vividly recreated, and abundant quotations from popular songs of the time give a compelling picture of a remarkable era. Part satire, part serious cultural chronicle, and part wish-fulfillment fantasy, Woodstock Rising is an enjoyable and insightful novel. It will resonate particularly with those readers who lived through the turbulent times of the late 1960s—especially those who missed out on the original Woodstock.

This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #207 (Winter 2010). (pg. 181-183)

. . .

Boundary Country (2007)


Globe and Mail
Western transgression
July 7, 2007

By Tom Wayman
Thistledown Press,
272 pages, $18.95
Print Edition – Section Front

Prize-winning B.C. poet Tom Wayman has a clear affection for the wild country of Canada’s West. This collection of stories opens strongly with a man on a mountain highway, and descriptive prose that puts in mind the rhythms and precision of Cormac McCarthy.

But where McCarthy’s barren U.S. Southwest landscapes evoke nature’s inhuman indifference, Wayman’s warm portrait of B.C.’s forested Kootenay region seems as much inside his character as out. Wayman gives us nature in the eyes of a man who knows it like his own skin.

The unnamed motorist in Boundary Country stops on a remote stretch of road to pick up an elderly hitchhiker. The old Doukhobor is far from chatty, but when our narrator asks what he might know about an abandoned group of shacks by the highway, he suddenly launches into a garbled and indignant monologue.

The tale, unfolding with the roll and twist of the road, launches the book’s recurring theme of social boundaries and their transgression.

The Ring is far from Wagnerian. A compact chamber piece of shifting light and shadow, it opens and closes on (and in) a crystalline mountain river with two men and the woman they love.

Wayman’s writerly smarts are almost invisible here. Even when Jungian archetypes explicitly enter the narrative, linking the twin surges of river and desire, the symbolism is aptly bound up with the logic of plot and character. The story resolves in the best sort of way: in the reader’s mind, a few seconds after the closing sentence.

In Winter Pasture, a man accompanies two friends as they transport an old mare to winter grazing grounds. Here, Wayman’s linking of theme and setting is less successful. Stephen is mourning the end of an intense relationship. When we’re told in the final paragraphs that the love he shared with Ellen is now “cut loose as if into a field, and abandoned,” the image of the old horse receding into empty meadowland loses its subtle power at the hands of Wayman’s explication.

Ducks in a Row presents Bill, an art-college administrator whose professional goal and pet flog is to keep arty types out of la-la land unless they’re actually making art.

Wayman takes this character point a bit further than necessary: Do we really need Bill hectoring us for a page and a half on why agenda handouts must be distributed at meetings?

He’s more succinct on the way public meetings can quickly turn from edifying to chaotic: “the air leaks out of the sanity balloon. Troublesome folks awaken. … It’s weirdo time.”

After 20 pages of Bill’s bureaucratic peeves mixed with some nostalgic 1960s flashbacks, the story comes alive with the set piece promised in the first sentence. Sir Paul McCartney comes to town as part of a Canadian tour to solicit opinions on a new solo album. The weirdos, blathering before their pop idol, save the day.

In The Freelance Demolitionist, the U.S. Civil War is the vivid backdrop for an arresting parable of the science of weaponry and how it reliably leads us by the nose toward ever-greater atrocities.

Next up, we follow the mixed fortunes of a Jewish family in the 1930s as they flee persecution in their Russian village, endure more as they settle with relatives in Vienna, then are forced to move on – the lucky ones to Toronto, others to the horrors of nazism.

Spanning almost four decades, this tale often convinces, but the history feels too tidily condensed, the drama soft-focus.

The Murder is a more engaging Jewish tale. Set in Depression-era Toronto, the plot is enlivened by an unsolved killing from the old country and a witness who holds his secret for 40 years.

Stories with a lighter touch offer an amnesia-inducing restaurant, a petty criminal holed up in a Zen monastery and a woman whose illusory guy-magnet is her beloved arsenal of scented skin products.

Jim Bartley is The Globe and Mail’s first-fiction reviewer. His own first novel, Drina Bridge, was published last year.

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