About the Author

Tom Wayman

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.

Books by this Author
Boundary Country

My family was haunted by the murder, even in the New World. I can't remember when I first was told the tale, since I'm unable to recall a time I wasn't aware my great-grandparents and a great-aunt died at the hands of an assailant in Amlin. This was the shtetl in Byelorussia where my father's people came from, a little distance northeast up the Dvina from Vitebsk. Perhaps I heard about the crime originally from my Aunt Zifra, my father's twin sister, or from my uncles on my father's side, or maybe from Reb Lucharsky. He was a melamed who came from Velizh, a town in the neighbourhood of Amlin, and so he was classified as a landsman and welcomed as such in our house. "A terrible, terrible thing," was the invariable comment that followed yet another retelling of how my zayde's father and mother and younger sister perished one dark night. - from "The Murder"

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Did I Miss Anything?

Did I Miss Anything?

Selected Poems 1973-1993
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The chrome lid of the coffee pot
twists off, and the glass knob rinsed.
Lift out the assembly, dump
the grounds out. Wash the pot and
fill with water, put everything back with
fresh grounds and snap the top down.
Plug in again and wait.

Unemployment is also
a great snow deep around the house
choking the street, and the City.
Nothing moves. Newspaper photographs
show the traffic backed up for miles.
Going out to shovel the walk
I think how in a few days the sun will clear this.
No one will know I worked here.

This is like whatever I do.
How strange that so magnificent a thing as a body
with its twinges, its aches
should have all that chemistry, that bulk
the intricate electrical brain
subjected to something as tiny
as buying a postage stamp.
Or selling it.

Or waiting.

Wayman Ascending into the Middle Class
In the middle of a trans-Canada excursion
while he visits for a week with the parents of a friend
Wayman lies in a hammock through the hot August days.
Far behind him now are the horrible winter mornings
he got up in the dark and dragged his lunchbox off to work.
Here, as he sips a drink in the gently rocking couch
scarcely a thought crosses his mind about his old companions
still probably stumbling about complaining as they
hammer nails, steer tugboats
or chase logs through the bush a thousand miles away.

A light breeze springs up. Through half-closed eyes
Wayman contemplates flowers, and a leafy screen.
He begins to sway into sleep. The beer bottle
slips out of his languid grasp
and falls almost silently onto
the thick green lawn. Wayman sighs.
He feels himself float
in his hammock, and begin to drift upwards:
ascending, as he snores
into the middle class.

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Dirty Snow

Dirty Snow

tagged : canadian
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A dropped school falls through air,

turning slowly as debris

pours from windows: a contrail of papers and books

streams upwards thousands of metres

alongside computers, chairs, desks that tumble amid

woodworking equipment, lockers, maps,

basketballs, stage curtains


all aimed

toward tiny huts far below--a brushy hillside's

cluster of subsistence farms

reportedly harboring armed men: fenced yards

with a few chickens, one cow, an ancient horse eyeing

six rows of parched vegetables.


Above the school

while it descends,

another follows, and beyond that, nearly invisible,

a third floats as the fighter-bomber arcs

away, and a second jet drones into position.

The pilot of the first, now on the mission's homeward leg,

reaches down in his cockpit

toward a thermos of hot coffee.


On the ground, hospitals released

in the initial attack wave

erupt sequentially into plumes of fire and dust

as the buildings land: operating tables,

obstetric wards, wheelchairs shatter into shrapnel,

the jagged particles racing outward amid the roiling smoke

to slice through mud walls, animal flesh, stone fences,

human lives that cling to the shaking

shuddering earth

while they clutch forty-year-old rifles

or axes, or the hand of a two-year-old

below the flash of wing

very distant

in the blue-and-white sky.

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Helpless Angels

Helpless Angels

a book of music
tagged : canadian
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I power a device on
A thin mist streams out
and expands, densifying as it infuses
my kitchen or vehicle cabin


Such music can resemble
a sweet odor that generates in me a yearning
for fulfillment, the way a blue delphinium or gladiolus
intrigues a bee


Or I experience the thickened presence as
the pulse and throb of a force field
curing weariness, dismissing
doubt: a propulsive urge


How confidently this leavening agent
deploys its energy
in every manifestation
—the diminished chords


which evoke an era
when only in the chamber or hall
with the players themselves
could such tunes be heard


—or voices and rhythms
transistors conveyed to me: melodies
whose lyrics have proven for decades
companions, goads, consolers


—or the rousing secular hymns
whose righteous insistence accelerates me
ever-nearer those lucid dreams
of justice, freedom, social harmony


still elusive as the sorcery
by which these tones in any guise, and effected
by any implement, quickens
the haunted world

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High Speed Through Shoaling Water

High Speed Through Shoaling Water

tagged : canadian
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In a Small House on the Outskirts of Heaven

In a Small House on the Outskirts of Heaven

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In your sugar bowl, Frank said,
sugar gets hard and sticks to the sides.
It's no different in the various silos
at the Spreckels mill.
Three of us are lowered on ropes
into a silo each shift,
dressed in a sort of moon suit
with pickaxe and shovel.
For the next eight
we pry the sugar from the walls.

Each time when I touched bottom
I'd say to myself: "It's a small step
for a man, but a giant leap
for the working class." The foreman
never went down. He's supposed to stay on top
to watch our ropes
but he regularly takes off somewhere.
Anyway, nobody bothers to be hauled up
when we have to take a piss.
We just let fly where we stand.
I stopped using sugar much when I got that work.

They had us on rotating shifts
which I didn't like.
But graveyards were best.
I or somebody would carve a bed
in the sugar, out of the foreman's line of vision.
We'd usually manage
to each grab a few hours sleep during the night.

Strangest part of the job, though,
was my boots. No matter how clean they looked
when I took them off
or where in the house I left them
they'd both be completely covered with ants
when I'd go to put them on for work again.

After failure, I enter into
a zone or bubble of silence.
I continue to travel, but the rage and echo of voices
including my own
sound fainter and fainter astern. I coast
within a smoothness wrapped in quiet --
not large, but protective
and beautiful: a pod lined with mother of pearl
soft to the touch, thick, insulating.
Nothing is asked of me, in this fragile
but resilient space
that carries me forward.

And when this zone docks
at the edge of another area
for me to disembark
the mating will be evident
only by the slightest click
and an almost imperceptible rocking motion,
quickly stilled.

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Inside Job

Inside Job

Essays on the New Work Writing
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My Father's Cup

My Father's Cup

tagged : canadian
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The Colours of the Forest

The Colours of the Forest

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Once she died
she stopped changing
and became so clear

she could reemerge
-- her bright brittle spunkiness
her off-key songs

her delight in balloons
her dogged

of tap dance
how her body closes in
when she makes love

her limbs and thighs
and face

on joy
These aspects of her
and more

week after week
appeared to
members of the Clown Society

who whispered
about the phenomenon
And former members of her audience

noticed an event
a motion
their memory pulled and twisted

until they could name
where they encountered


In this manner
she was reassembled
in other existences

by part

until she was reborn
with her own mind

altered by the lessons
death teaches

to the living


Often the crescent moon
sails stiffly vertical

Other times it floats
almost on its back

This night
I am driving 1-84 west down Gorges

into the open arms
of a horizontal horn of light

During my years
beneath the moon's phases

I, anxious and exhilarated,
have steadily felt the road

coming toward me like a spoon
toward a baby

the asphalt pouring under the vehicle's
hood, front bumper

The highway's distances
feed me

As I cover ground,
I am simutaneously racing closer

and away
The motion perfect

perfectly lonely

like this moon

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The Face of Jack Munro

The Face of Jack Munro

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A hammer is rising. A hammer
thrown up at the end of the day by a carpenter
with blood on the handle where his blisters have been.
A hammer. It lifts as well on the wave of steam
pouring up from the pots of a kitchen - a tiny kitchen
of an apartment, and that of a restaurant
serving a hundred customers at once.

A great cry of tedium
erupting out of papers and fluorescent glass
carries the hammer higher. It goes up end over end
on a tune broadcast to a million people.
And it climbs
on the force of a man's arm alone
flung straight up from the sickness that is his life.
It rises out of the weight of a body falling.

Nothing can stop it. The hammer has risen for centuries
high as the eaves, over the town. In this age
it has climbed to the moon
but it does not cease rising everywhere each hour.
And no one can say what it will drive
if at last it comes down.

The freshman class-fist printouts
showed birthdates so recent
Wayman was sure the computer was in error.
One young man, however, was curious
about Wayman's mention near the start of term
of his old college newspaper:
"You were an editor when? Wow,
that's before I was born."

The wisdom of the students
hadn't altered, though.
Wayman observed many clung to
The Vaccination Theory of Education
he remembered: once you have had a subject
you are immune
and never have to consider it again.
Other students continued to endorse
The Dipstick Theory of Education:
as with a car engine, where as long as the oil level
is above the add line
there is no need to put in more oil,
so if you receive a pass or higher
why put any more into learning?

At the front of the room, Wayman sweated
to reveal his alternative.
"Adopt The Kung Fu Theory of Education,"
he begged.
"Learning as self-defence. The more you understand
about what's occurring around you
the better prepared you are to deal with difficulties."

The students remained skeptical.
A young woman was a pioneer
of The Easy Listening Theory of Learning:
spending her hours in class
with her tape recorder earphones on,
silently enjoying a pleasanter world.
"Don't worry, I can hear you,"
she reassured Wayman
when after some days he was moved to inquire.

Finally, at term's end
Wayman inscribed after each now-familiar name on the list
the traditional single letter.
And whatever pedagogical approach
he or the students espoused,
Wayman knew this notation would be pored over
with more intensity than
anything else Wayman taught.

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The Order in Which We Do Things

The Order in Which We Do Things

The Poetry of Tom Wayman
also available: eBook
tagged : poetry, canadian
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The Shadows We Mistake for Love

The Shadows We Mistake for Love

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Winter's Skin

Winter's Skin

also available: Paperback
tagged : canadian
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Writing the Terrain

Writing the Terrain

Travelling Through Alberta with the Poets
contributions by Ian Adam; James M. Moir; Michael Henry; Erin Moure; Sid Marty; Ruth Roach Pierson; Bruce Hunter; Cyril Dabydeen; Miriam Waddington; Robert Stamp; Tim Lilburn; Stephen Scobie; Jon Whyte; Deborah Miller; John O. Barton; Colleen Thibadeau; Joan Crate; Ken Rivard; Greg Simison; Allan Serafino; Stacie Wolfer; Leonard Cohen; Miriam Mandel; Rosalee van Stelten; Yvonne Trainer; r. rickey; Barry McKinnon; Nancy Holmes; Gail Ghai; Vivian Hansen; Gerald Hill; Richard Hornsey; Sally Ito; Fiona Lam; Alice Major; Margaret Avison; Bonnie Bishop; Alexa DeWiel; Jim Green; James M. Thurgood; Anne Swannell; Aleksei Kazuk; Jason Dewinetz; Robert Boates; Joan Shillington; Anne Campbell; Sheri-D Wilson; Jan Boydol; Tom Wayman; Tim Bowling; Richard Woollatt; Carol Ann Sokoloff; Colin Morton; Anna Mioduchowska; Peter Stevens; Stephan Stephansson; Dennis Cooley; Rita Wong; Rajinderpal Pal; P. K. Page; Roberta Rees; Michael Cullen; John O. Thompson; Doug Beardsley; Christine Wiesenthal; D.C. Reid; Joseph Pivato; Tom Howe; Kim Maltman; Wilfred Watson; Lorne Daniel; Laurence Hutchman; Monty Reid; Ivan Sundal; Charles Noble; Walter Hildebrandt; Aritha van Herk; Erin Michie; David McFadden; Vanna Tessier; James Wreford Watson; Ryan Fitzpatrick; Phyllis Webb; Murdoch Burnett; Christopher Wiseman; Weyman Chan; Karen Solie; George Bowering; Tammy Armstrong; Robert Kroetsch; Eva Tihanyi; Gary Geddes; Leslie Greentree; Gordon Burles; E.D. Blodgett; Douglas Barbour; Cecelia Frey; William Latta; Pauline Johnson; Aislinn Hunter; Robert Hilles; Tom Henihan; Deborah Godin & Jan Zwicky
also available: Paperback
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Going for Coffee

Going for Coffee

Poetry on the Job
edited by Tom Wayman
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An Anthology
edited by Tom Wayman
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On the first day of the strike
they drove by honking and giving us
the finger, and we were depressed
until another stranger came by
with doughnuts and coffee and she said
good luck. So we remembered
to be glad that the rain had quit;
yet the cold ran up our legs from the pavement
and bit into us. Our signs flew up in our faces,
the wind rattled at us from the trees,
and we were caught in the news.

After the second day on the line,
we watched ourselves on tv and we heard
Knowlton giving us the finger with his
words and half-words, the way he
smiled and went on to Beirut and
a faraway war. So we read
and by all accounts we were asking for
the overthrow of the government again;
friends called from other provinces:
what did the unions want, and I wanted to say
we were hungry for decency and no more news.

The third day we were out,
we watched them cross -
and we told ourselves right was still right.
But at night, bringing home anger
to our families, and eating it on the table,
an old indigestible piece of the lamb,
we fall into a sleep and a worry: that the
full new fact-of-the-world is turned loose
on us - and we dream late into the night
for a change in the weather, much less
bitter wind.

-Remembrance Day, 1983


There's ten of 'em.
Real young.
All from the canning lines.
They're here 'cause their work's too slow.
They drive the older women crazy.

But I get 'em. working.
Out here's too close.
Ev'ryone knows so and so.
And no one's slow.
Out here we go one speed.

7:59 A.M.

Company man stands on a tote
and thinks he's ten feet tall.
His watch extends long past the dock,
the parking lot, the hotels and motels
we wake up from.

He sees our kitchen tables.
And from our kitchen tables he sees us
flickering, grabbing for underwear,
wincing into clothes all wet with overtime.

As he drinks the coffee we don't have time for
he thinks a lot about our sleep, how we dream
of milts and roe, loose bones,
belly bum, pew holes...

Company man now tippy-toed, taller
as the time grows closer, plants a thought
beneath our heads: company clock's a moment slow.

In his eyes we know we're tardy
but stop to look and light a smoke.
He opens his mouth to bring us down.
The whistle blows, we punch in late.

You can spot a fisherman anywhere.
There is a roll to his walk.
There is a mournful whine in his voice,
sharpened by years of complaining about bad catches.
There's a sadness, a slowness, as if
too deep knowledge of the darkness below life's surfaces
had taken the hurry out of him. A patience
born of waiting - waiting for weather and tide
waiting for the fish to appear.
No one learns more of waiting than the fisherman.

In the fisherman's eye is none of the animal spark
you find in the logger's eyes, no scent
of male animal, twitching tail. Fishing
isn't so dumbly masculine a species of work as logging -
women take well to its slow but intricate rhythm.

The logger is up in the pub bothering the barmaids
and starting fights; the fisherman is down on the dock
sitting on a fish box jawing politics and mending gear.
The logger has a new tinsel shirt he will tell you
how outrageously he paid for, but it will
be on the floor, once used and ruined when he leaves.
The fisherman has on wool and tweeds bagged to his shape
and prefers to drink on the boat among his own.

In the eye of the fisherman is a diffuse deepness
like the cloudy gulf he lets his gear into,
and his mind. The logger's work is fast and dangerous;
he must keep his eyes wide open.

The fisherman works blind, feeling
his familiar but neverknown world
with the sightless, superstitious part of the mind.

The logger is strong, like the land
but the fisherman is stronger

like the sea.


Pouring concrete is just like baking a cake.
The main difference is
that first you build the pans. Call them forms.
Think grand.
Mix the batter with a few simple ingredients:
one shovel of sand
one shovel of gravel
a pinch of cement.

Add water until it looks right.
Depends how you like it.
Can be mixed by hand or with a beater called
a Readi-Mix truck.
Pour into forms and smooth off.
Adjust the heat so it's not too cold,
not too hot. Protect from rain.
Let cook until tomorrow.
Remove the forms and walk on it.

There is one big difference from cakes.
This one will never disappear.
For the rest of your life your kids
will run on the same sidewalk, singing
My mom baked this!

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The Dominion of Love

The Dominion of Love

An Anthology of Canadian Love Poems
edited by Tom Wayman
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by Di Brandt

It just hurts like hell and
where does it ever get you
watching the heart open
against wishing against
the old wound's wisdom
again again the prairies
folding your desire
like postage stamps licked
and sent the air full of
messages contrary to logic
contrary to the space that
exists between us that's
what you said you're too
far away and me not remembering
the geography the days of
the week not remembering
distances only the light
falling slanted and radiant
around you in the kitchen
your arms strong and tender
in spite of the words said
and not said in an afternoon
where does it ever get you

Erin Moure

What the heart is is not enough.
That I can open it and
let you enter
an ocean so dense
you'll get the bends if you surface.
That you will be open to the love of every being:
I crave this,
it makes me possible, anarchic, calling
your attention,
your fingers on my ear or soft neck,
the light on each side of your face, altered
as you speak to me

Oh speak to me
I have a friend who says the heart's
a shovel, do you believe this?
My heart is a wild muscle, that's all,
open as the ocean
at the end of the railway,
a cross-country line pulled by four engines
Whatever it is I don't care, it is not enough
unless you see it
unless I can make you
embrace and breathe it, its light that knows you,
unless you cry out in it, and swim

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