Vancouver Sun


Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back, Poems for a Dark Time By Tom Wayman Harbour Publishing

- TOM SANDBORN Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at

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 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 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.

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Tom Wayman

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