Alan Twigg’s tribute to Rudolf Vrba

Rudolf Vrba, who escaped Auschwitz and co-authored a report saving 200,000 lives, remains unrecognized in Vancouver despite his significant historical impact. Alan Twigg (l.) seeks to change this.” FULL STORY


#118 Tom Wayman

February 02nd, 2016

LOCATION: 1111 Commercial Drive, Vancouver

The Vancouver Industrial Writers’ Union (1979-1993) staged many readings throughout the 1980s at La Quena Coffee House at this address. After Tom Wayman had emerged with his poetry collections Waiting for Wayman (1973), For and Against the Moon (1974), and Money and Rain (1975), plus the work poems anthologies A Government Job at Last (1976) and Going for Coffee (1981), as well as Inside Job: Essays on the New Work Writing (1983), he became the most widely known exponent of literature about daily work: blue- and white-collar, paid and unpaid. In Vancouver he was variously employed at journalism, construction and demolition, high school marker, factory assemblyman and college teacher. Other members of VIWU included Kate Braid, David Conn, Glen Downie, Kirsten Emmott, Al Grierson, Phil Hall, Zoë Landale, Erin Mouré, Sandy Shreve, Pam Tranfield, M.C. Warrior, and Calvin Wharton. VIWU produced the anthologies, Shop Talk and More Than Our Jobs, as well as a cassette recorded with the Vancouver folk song group Fraser Union, Split Shift. Wharton and Wayman edited the first anthology of poems from East Vancouver, East of Main (1989). Wayman’s poem “The Face of Jack Munro,” about the sellout of the 1983 B.C. public sector general strike, captures the turmoil of the B.C. labour movement’s defining event of the 1980s.


“Only Philip Levine, and he not so consistently, writes as well as Wayman about work, particularly the rhythms and trials and miracles of the work-place.” — Gary Geddes

Tom Wayman was born in Hawkesbury, Ontario in 1945, but after 1952 grew up in Prince Rupert and Vancouver and has spent most of his life in British Columbia. He studied at UBC and the University of California at Irvine, where he received an MFA in creative writing. Subsequently, he worked at a number of jobs, both blue and white-collar, across Canada and the U.S., and helped bring into being a new movement of “work poetry” in these countries—the deliberate incorporation of the conditions and effects of daily employment into literary writing. His critical essays, collected in such volumes as A Country Not Considered: Canada, Culture, Work (Anansi, 1993), consider the social, political and artistic implications of work-based literature. Wayman co-founded the Vancouver Industrial Writers’ Union (1979-1993), a work-writing circle. He has been awarded the Canadian Authors Association medal for poetry, the A.J.M. Smith Prize for distinguished achievement in Canadian poetry and first prize in the USA Bicentennial Poetry Awards competition. He taught for many years in the B.C. community college system, and was co-founder of two alternative B.C. post-secondary creative writing schools: the Vancouver Centre of the Kootenay School of Writing (1984-87) and the writing department of Nelson’s Kootenay School of the Arts (1991-2002). He holds Associate Professor Emeritus of English status from the University of Calgary, where he taught 2002-2010. In 2007 he was the Fulbright Visiting Chair in Creative Writing at Arizona State University, and the same year served as the Ralph Gustafson Chair of Poetry at Malaspina University-College. Wayman’s 2002 poetry collection, My Father’s Cup (Harbour), was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry. His eighteenth collection of poems, Dirty Snow (Harbour 2012), which unflinchingly considers the impact of the Afghan War—its absence and presence in Canadians’ everyday lives as citizens of a nation at war—won the 2013 Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry. See press release below. In 2014 two selected poems of Wayman’s appeared: The Order in Which We Do Things: The Poetry of Tom Wayman (Wilfrid Laurier University Press), selected and with an introduction by Owen Percy, and Built to Take It: Selected Poems 1996-2013 (Spokane, WA: Lynx House Press, 2014). In 2007, a collection of Wayman’s short fiction, Boundary Country (Thistledown, and Eastern Washington University Press), and a collection of four novellas, A Vain Thing (Turnstone), appeared. Boundary Country was shortlisted for the Writers’ Union of Canada Danuta Gleed Literary Award. Half the stories in Boundary Country are set in the B.C. southern Interior, and in 2015 Wayman published a second collection of short fiction entirely set in the Slocan Valley of southeastern B.C., The Shadows We Mistake For Love (Douglas & McIntyre). See starred Quill and Quire review below. Wayman’s first novel Woodstock Rising (Dundurn, 2009) chronicles the apogee and collapse of the radical student movement in 1969-70 against a sub-plot in which some members of the counter-culture in Laguna Beach, California–including a Canadian graduate student–break into a mothballed missile silo to commandeer a rocket with which to launch a satellite in honor of the recent Woodstock music festival.
Wayman chiefly resides at “Appledore,” his property in the Selkirk Mountains of B.C.’s West Kootenay district. For more information:


Tom Wayman

Tom Wayman


Waiting For Wayman (1973)

For And Against The Moon (1974)

Money And Rain (1975)

Free Time (1977)

A Planet Mostly Sea (1979)

Living On The Ground (1980)

Introducing Tom Wayman: Selected Poems 1973-80 (1980)

The Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech (1981)

Counting The Hours (1983)

The Face of Jack Munro (1986)

In a Small House on the Outskirts of Heaven (1989)

Did I Miss Anything? Selected Poems 1973-1993 (1993)

The Astonishing Weight of the Dead (1994)

I’ll Be Right Back: New & Selected Poems 1980-1996 (1997)

The Colours of the Forest (1999)

My Father’s Cup (2002)

High Speed Through Shoaling Water (2007)

Dirty Snow (2012)

Winter’s Skin (2013)

The Order in Which We Do Things: The Poetry of Tom Wayman (ed. Percy Owen; 2014)

Built To Take It: Selected Poems 1996-2013 (2014)



Boundary Country (2007)

A Vain Thing (2007)

Woodstock Rising (2009)

The Shadows We Mistake For Love (2015)



Inside Job: Essays on the New Work Writing (1983)

A Country Not Considered: Canada, Culture, Work (1993)

Songs Without Price: The Music of Poetry in a Discordant World (2008)



Beaton Abbot’s Got The Contract (1974)

A Government Job At Last (1976)

Going For Coffee (1981; 1987)

East of Main (co-edited with Calvin Wharton; 1989)

Paperwork (1991)

The Dominion of Love (2001)


Tom Wayman, 1986

Tom Wayman, 1986

Press Release (Harbour Publishing 2003): My Father’s Cup

Tom Wayman sees his Governor-General’s nomination as a tribute to work-based writing. For almost thirty years, Calgary poet Tom Wayman has celebrated the language of everyday life and work. Now, he is celebrating his status as a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. For Wayman, the recognition is cumulative, and it honours not only his poetry but also the theme of his work itself. “For three decades, a major focus of my poems and of my other literary endeavors—anthologies I have edited and books of essays I have written—has been daily work, the experience that shapes our lives both on and off the job,” he comments. “I can’t help but feel that my presence on the shortlist honours all the work-based writers who along with me over the years have struggled to show that daily work is as vital a part of the human story as the traditional themes of English-language poetry: nature, death, love.” Released last fall, My Father’s Cup deals with all of these themes, including the death of Wayman’s parents. Other poems in the book are love poems, and still others explore what Wayman has learned about mortality living closer to the natural world in the Selkirk Mountains of the West Kootenays for the past 14 years.

East of Main: The Poetries of East Vancouver

“IN BRITISH COLUMBIA:” SAYS TOM WAYMAN, “poetry is regarded as a mild form of social evil, like those people who still spit on the sidewalk.”It is probably impossible to stamp out the dirty practice entirely, but society makes it clear it has no sympathy for such an antiquated and irritating vice.” Wayman’s introductory remarks on poetry in general are contained in a feature essay for Event, the literary review published by Douglas College and edited by Dale Zieroth. Largely concerned with the work and influence of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, Wayman’s essay was first presented to the Humanities Institute of the college. “Poetry here is like a brain-dead pygmy, kept clinically alive in the academy by an artificial life-support system which, while it allows the patient to hover between life and death, also contributes to the withering away of the heart and muscles.” To keep the patient alive, Wayman and Calvin Wharton have edited East of Main: The Poetries of East Vancouver (Pulp $10.95), an anthology of more than 30 writers with varying styles, due in May. Wayman is also publishing a new collection of his own poetry, In a Small House on the Outskirts of Heaven (Harbour $8.95).

[Spring / BCBW 1989]

High Speed Through Shoaling Water (Harbour $17.95) review by Hannah Main-Van Der Kamp (2007)

“When the switch trips and I convert to nothing…”

What is it with poets when they turn sixty? Tom Wayman of Winlaw investigates what lasts and what doesn’t, body pain, fate, death, burial, eternity, existence and aging all in the book’s first section titled “60.”

“I will spend a very long time/ in the dark/ without a face/ or word. / Only the light /knows my name.”

These poems, many already published in an impressive list of journals, are plain spoken accounts of rural living and especially about the earth. Wayman revisits the same scene: mountain, aspens, creek, house, repeatedly but the repetition is not dulling, rather it is a deepening experience of awe and affection. His loving attention to the landscape of SE BC, where he lives, through the cycles of seasons, weathers and personal moods, is the strength of the book. Never obscure, he is so plain-spoken however that he risks verging on the prosaic. Is this poetry or chopped-up prose?

Wayman has developed a reputation as a ‘work’ poet who writes about labour but he hardly touches on his job as a teacher at the University of Calgary except in irony or distaste. His real work is the words about snow and wind and silence and recollections of his life as a labourer and, (did I mention it?) aging.

The last section in Shoaling Water is about poem-making. “The Garden,” in which older and young poets garden together but not all in harmony, is required reading for all poets manqué. The section ends with a lullaby, “Sleep poems/ yet unformed…/ You and your burden/ shall not vanish/ nor lose your powers/ You remain forever the beginning/ of the story, / the word drowsing in the stone.”


Woodstock Rising (Dundurn $21.99)  [BCBW 2010]

Set in 1969, Tom Wayman’s first novel Woodstock Rising (Dundurn $21.99) is a black comedy in which counter-culture students in Laguna Beach, California—including a Canadian graduate student—break into a mothballed missile silo to commandeer a nuclear warhead, hoping to put their own satellite into orbit in homage to the recent Woodstock music festival. 9781550028607

Tom Wayman pays tribute to American folksinger Bruce “Utah” Phillips (1935-2008)
Poem / Interview / Excerpt from Dirty Snow (Harbour 2012)


Utah Phillips was a world-renowned performer whose presentations combined union hymns, original songs on social themes, and stories—often humorous. When Phillips learned the FBI was tapping his phone, his response was: “That’s okay. Those buzzards have to learn about unionism some way.”

The focus of Utah’s message was the Industrial Workers of the World, founded in 1905 and dedicated to organizing industrially (everyone in an industry belongs to the same union) rather than by craft (different occupations within an industry belong to different unions, thus dividing the workforce against itself).

The IWW played a significant role in B.C. in the early years of the 20th Century. For example, by 1911 the IWW controlled civic employees, teamsters and construction laborers in Nelson, B.C., winning the eight-hour day. The union led free-speech fights (for the right to have street-corner speakers and meetings) in Victoria (1911) and Vancouver (1912).

IWW leadership in the 1912 strike by crews building the Canadian Northern Railway (later the Canadian National Railway) through the Fraser Canyon led legendary IWW songwriter Joe Hill to write the rousing ballad “Where the Fraser River Flows,” still sometimes heard at B.C. union gatherings.

The IWW was severely harmed by attacks by proponents of AFL-CIO-style business unionism due to the IWW’s organizing of immigrants and its fight against racism within the union movement. The IWW was also the target of the US government for the union’s opposition to US participation in World War I (many BC unionists also opposed that war, in part because the Canadian militia had been used to try to break the Vancouver Island coal strike 1912-14).

In the aftermath of the 1960s, new blood flowed into the IWW, as young people were attracted by its cheerful anti-authoritarian stance, and its use of humour, art, music and literature in the fight against corporate rule.

Tom Wayman got to know Phillips when Wayman was active in the Vancouver General Membership Branch of the IWW between 1970 and 1989. Utah Phillips included his poem “Bosses” in the liner notes to the 1996 CD The Long Memory, also featuring Rosalie Sorrels.

“The only way Utah Phillips would leave the organization he loved and served, the Industrial Workers of the World,” says Wayman, “was by dying.”

Rather than crafting an elegy for someone he greatly admired, Wayman has imagined the following unconventional “exit interview” for his newest collection of poetry, Dirty Snow (Harbour $16.95).




–musician, organizer, traveler

Are you sorry to leave?

I feel I barely got started.

What do you consider your legacy?

Every act of kindness
and solidarity I did in the world.

Any regrets?

I’m sorry that people would rather listen to a song
than to sing themselves, let alone
make up their own tunes. I’m not talking here about adolescents,
who imagine they can use the music industry
to obtain glory and wealth. I mean how people used to sing together
as a family, and at parties, and at public meetings. In church
some still do, but we’re mainly watchers now.
The union anthems, folk tunes, even pop songs
once were carried into the air on many voices
not just sung by one or, at most, a handful, while everybody else
listens, pays money to listen. Strict division of labor like this
was the bosses’ idea, not ours: left to ourselves, we arrange a job
so those with the most skills show the way, while everybody else
joins in as best they know how.

But doesn’t today’s new media let people—

The rulers of this life are happy to have you shut yourself off
pushing at buttons on a computer keyboard
–thus giving the powers-that-be a free ride
in the real world. You can exchange virtual information by the hour
or hit “send” to add your name to another online petition
or denounce anything in your blog. That sound you faintly hear in the background
is the chortling of the ruling class: they’ve got you
exactly where they want you.

Wouldn’t you agree, though, that—

Social change means face-to-face interactions with
your workmates, your neighbors, everybody who
shares the biosphere with you. With your head in a computer
you’ll never figure out how you can put your values into effect
collectively with other live human beings
at your jobsite, or down the block, or in the union.

Would you say nostalgia played a part in your appeal?

I wish nostalgia entered into it. The boss still organizes the workplace
like it’s 1805, never mind 1905, or the 21st Century.
He insists that the money the owners put into the enterprise
justify his unelected right to tell you what to do all shift.
The boss might try to soften this arrangement by permitting
flextime, or by talking about starting a company daycare.
But when push comes to shove, it’s you
who get shoved. If the same rationale were applied
outside the office door or factory gate
only the rich would be allowed to vote. After all, they’ve invested their money
in this country or community, while you’ve only invested your
life. Everything I sang
and said was meant to celebrate each person who resists the idea
that, on the job or off, dollars trump decency, dollars
trump democracy. Would that the latter type of thinking
was so far in the past that at least a few people
could look back on it with nostalgia
although the view of most of us would be: “Good riddance!”

How would you describe your contribution, then?

I carried it on: helped keep alive that age-old goal
to fashion a more human arrangement of society
than the present mess.
I saw revolutionary industrial unionism
as the best route to a world where we respect each other and
care for each other, including the homeless and other outcasts. After all,
it’s through your and my daily work
that groceries are delivered to the stores,
kids are raised, roofs are shingled. The television and the newspapers
keep screeching at you not to pay attention to
how your employment keeps society functioning, and how your job affects
your life, and that of the people of your community, and the natural environment.
You’re supposed to be concerned only about what happens to
a handful of celebrities, sports stars, politicians.
Yet it’s our sweat and brainpower, not theirs,
that rebuilds the world each day.
The Wobbliesthe Industrial Workers of the World
knew back in 1905 that your life doesn’t change for the better
because the team you root for wins, or because you buy something
you don’t really need. Your life is improved
when your working day changeswhen there’s a real turnabout in
the power relations at your job, when there’s a real change
in the impact the goods and services you create each shift have
on other people and on our planet.

How effective do you think you actually were?

I thought we’d be further along as a species by now.
Fred Thompson, a longtime I.W.W. organizer, used to say
the working class always develops effective forms of resistance
about fifty to a hundred years behind the employing class.
I like to imagine we could be ahead of the curve for once.
In one way, we are: the I.W.W. said in 1905 that world labor needs
a world-wide union. That was thinking “globalization”
long before the capitalists conceived of the term.
But the bosses are far in front of us when it comes to
putting the concept into practice. I don’t doubt we’ll get there eventually.
I just wish we weren’t so damn slow.

Any parting advice?

If you can get out into the countryside
away from the smog and the noise and the money pollution,
you’ll observe in the nighttime sky the three shining stars of the I.W.W.:
Education, Organization, Emancipation.
Back in the city, if you look real hard on a clear day,
you can see those same three stars.

Where do you think you’re going now?

I believe I will permanently achieve
what for so many years on tour
I demanded of my hosts who billeted me:
a bed
in a room
with a door
that closes.

[BCBW 2012]


A collection of poems which considers the effects of Canada’s military involvement in the Afghan War on the daily lives of ordinary Canadians has been awarded the 2013 Acorn-Plantos Award.

The prize, which was just announced, went to West Kootenay author Tom Wayman’s Dirty Snow, published by Harbour Publishing. The annual award goes to a book of poems in the accessible tradition of such major Canadian poets as Al Purdy, Dorothy Livesay and Milton Acorn.

“Wayman has always been a political poet,” the Pacific Rim Review of Books said about Dirty Snow, “from his earliest days striving to reintegrate the presence of working people in poetry. Now he has set the national record straight, creating a poetic testament that will serve to refute the glossy official version of events.”

“Like Neruda, Lorca, Guthrie, Brecht and so many others before him,” Arc magazine said of Dirty Snow, “Wayman uses words and images to cut through the steel irony and stylishness of these times and quietly expose the machinery that encloses and constrains us. This is a stunning volume of poetry.”

“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,” said Vancouver Weekly’s review of the volume.

“Tracing the lines between life at home and war abroad, the collection explores the murders committed and deaths suffered by Canadian troops during the 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.”

Wayman said he was pleased that the Acorn-Plantos Award committee felt his book follows in the footsteps of Purdy, Livesay and Acorn, whose writing he said he admires.

“At a time when our politicians at every level are devoid of any sense of shame, and when the traditional upholders of a moral sense such as the union movement or the churches stand silent, a public poetry is more important than ever.

“To write public poetry well is thus a vital responsibility,” Wayman said. “I’m happy that the Acorn-Plantos Award committee feels Dirty Snow fulfils that responsibility.”

The award carries a $500 prize, and a medallion based on that given to Acorn in 1970 when he was designated by his peers the “People’s Poet.” Harbour Publishing has also published several volumes of Purdy’s poetry, letters, and prose, including Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, and the forthcoming We Go Far Back in Time: The Letters of Earle Birney and Al Purdy (February 2014).



The Shadows We Mistake For Love: Stories by Tom Wayman (Douglas & McIntyre $24.95) review by Cherie Theissen (2015)

The country’s most-publicized literary competition, the Scotia Bank Giller Prize, remains laughable. This year all twelve of the longlisted titles are from publishing houses in Ontario.

There were 168 books submitted. All but one of the longlisted publishers operate in Toronto, where the dinner is held; the exception was the Biblioasis imprint based in Windsor.

It was much the same last year. You would think all Western Canadian publishers would boycott.

With his new collection of stories entirely based in the West Kootenays, Tom Wayman might as well be published from the moon. There are no writers or writing instructors in any of his fourteen stories. His characters are B.C. bud cultivators, loggers, draft dodgers, homesteaders, environmentalists, thugs, single mothers, commune activists and even specters.

Moon creatures all, if you live in Toronto.


Interspersed with his teaching gigs, Tom Wayman has lived primarily in the Kootenays since 1989, having published the first of his eighteen collections of poetry in 1973. The Shadows We Mistake For Love is his fourth work of fiction, so he’s no neophyte. It’s also clear Wayman knows his characters from their socks to their hippy scarves.

Unlike his earlier short story collection, Boundary Country, published in 2007, which crosses time and place to present thematically linked fiction, The Shadows We Mistake for Love is rooted in a sense of place. Some of his characters, such as Duncan Locke, the small town lawyer, surface in several stories, while an unnamed man introduced in the first story, appears again in the last.

Only the first story (Dwelling), and the last (Fenris) detour away from realism. Snow suddenly starts falling inside a house in winter and colours sprout from the walls and ceilings in the spring with the fecund smell of soil and new growth. In the bookend story, Fenris, which completes the anthology, a mysterious, mangy creature communicates with the aforementioned unnamed man.

[In Norse mythology Fenris is the name given to a monstrous wolf, a creature appearing in the 13th century in both literature and art, that grows ever larger.]

In Green Hell, two older tourists are ‘trapped’ in a local diner by a resident who slowly and unwittingly reveals himself within his story.

This clever tale manages to slowly and naturally divulge its information while remaining true to the somewhat shady character of the local named Billy. As he rambles on and on, not only do we discover much about him but we also learn about the couple, whose words we never hear. We also catch glimpses of the server, Janine, and simultaneously glean much about the community and some of its other characters.

The title story, by far the longest, was the weakest one for me. Vancouver student, Shannon, is visiting her close friend, Jane, in the West Kootenays. She winds up falling in love with a philandering environmental activist, David, and gets pregnant. Even though it’s a longer story, these people remained somewhat static for me and the plot was predictable.

Far more engrossing was the characterization in Mountain Grown, followed by the humorous Skill Development, and then Graveyard, in which a young woman is distraught over the death of her father, thereby inciting her lover to have doubts about his relationship with her. Wayman’s descriptions of the place, the day, and the mood are so dead on and so compelling you may shudder and shiver at the same time.

Although Tom Wayman is still widely-respected as a ‘worker poet’—someone who did much to recognize the dignity of ‘everyday’ jobs as a force within the Vancouver Industrial Writers’ Union (1979-1993)—he has clearly maintained his momentum as a literary artist.

His poetry collection, My Father’s Cup, was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2003 and his short story collection, Boundary Country, was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Award. I enjoyed 13 of the 14 stories in The Shadows We Mistake for Love, a pretty good batting average in anyone’s league.

Cumulatively, The Shadows is a well-written and intriguing mix of POVs, characters, moods and styles, redolent with the manners and values of the Kootenays.


Cherie Thiessen reviews fiction from Pender Island.

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