Tough Times, Tough Voice: Tom Wayman’s Dirty Snow

These are such mean, square, bullying times. I am gripped by this realization every day. Crazy. Unnerving. I was born in 1948 and grew up in the 50s and 60s in Edmonton, and I never thought I might be living, eventually, in a culture and a time more conservative and square—as imprecise as those terms have become—than those times and that culture. But these times and this culture are more conservative. We have allowed that to happen, and I’m not sure how, but we did. If we are at last to dismantle indifference, apathy, complicity, we must begin by staring more deeply and critically into our political and cultural machinery to support, in time and through assiduous effort, a political and cultural machinery that is more variable and celebratory.

It is precisely this kind of stare—both critical and loving—that Tom Wayman provides in his latest book of poems, Dirty Snow. Like Neruda, Lorca, Guthrie, Brecht and so many others before him, Wayman uses words and images—the craft of twentieth century poetry—to cut through the steel irony and stylishness of these times and quietly expose the machinery that encloses and constrains us. There is no other poet in this country who is articulating the issues Wayman is staring into. Artistically, it would be too risky. Such a voice and gaze as his might even seem politically incorrect. But Wayman’s voice is crucial. His aesthetic has always been engaged in politics and people, but, for me, this is his most political book since The Face of Jack Munro, and there is a power and exhilaration in it that needs to be singled out and celebrated. The publication of Dirty Snow is an important event in the life of our culture.

Dirty Snow is divided into three sections: “The Effect Of The Afghan War On The Landscapes And People of Southeastern British Columbia”; “My Wounds”; and “Calling The Season Home.” The juxtaposition of these sections reveals a strength that has always characterized Wayman’s poetry: the drawing of the political into the daily lives of people, the careful situating of the political, the external, within the powerful consciousness/awareness we have of politics internally. Wayman’s strategy has always been to include himself at the heart of any critique. This strategy insures that the poems do not perform as rants; they are never simply prescriptive; they are always inclusive, open, and self-questioning. The voice that delivers this material is a smooth, accessible voice that Wayman has grown into over such a long, rich career. Like a seasoned jazz saxophone player, Wayman leans back into the music he is creating because he has paid his dues: he has reached that point of grace in improvisation, a poise that takes years to acquire. This aspect of ‘voice’ in Wayman’s poetry is seldom commented upon, and yet it is such an enormous presence in his work.

This is a stunning volume of poetry. An important volume of poetry. It is written by a poet who has already given us much, a poet who has reached a poise and suppleness of expression that offers something rich and crucial. I have followed Wayman’s career and have come to feel that his voice is more important and significant than it ever was. If a new generation of young poets, artists, and activists ever needed wonder, or a mentor to inspire them, they should look no further than the body of work Tom Wayman has created over the past forty years, and maybe especially in his latest volume of poetry, Dirty Snow. For an older generation, this volume, Dirty Snow, offers a reinvigoration and re-motivation.


John Lent has been publishing poetry, fiction and non-fiction nationally and internationally for the past thirty years. He has published nine books of poetry and fiction and his latest novel, The Path to Ardoe, came out with Thistledown in 2012.


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