About Tom Wayman
Tom Wayman's newest poetry collections are Built to Take It (Lynx House P, 2014) in the US, and Watching a Man Break a Dog’s Back: Poems For a Dark Time (Harbour, 2020) in Canada. His most recent book of essays are If You’re Not Free at Work and Where Are You Free: Literature and Social Change (Guernica, 2018), which was a finalist for the Poetry Foundation’s Pegasus Award for poetry criticism. In 2015 he was named a Vancouver, B.C. Literary Landmark with a plaque on the city’s Commercial Drive. This commemorates his efforts to foreground writing about people's daily employment and its effects on them both on and off the job.
News, videos, more detailed bio: www.tomwayman.com
A Profile of the Author
Notes on "Winter Poems"
For reasons I try to understand, I find winter a powerfully inspirational season. I live north of Spokane just across the line in southeastern B.C.’s Selkirk Mountains, where our winters can be quite snowy even if the temperature seldom reaches many degrees below freezing. In 2013, I published a collection of poems, Winter’s Skin, which consists entirely of winter poems. These were all responses to lines or images in the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s Winter Garden, one of the Nobel laureate’s posthumous collections translated by William O’Daly.
More recently, in 2020 a Vancouver, B.C. micropress published a chapbook of mine called The House Dreaming in the Snow. Four of the nine poems included are set in the wintry mountain landscape I inhabit.
And I’ve continued to find the season a steady source for imagery in my poems. I used to explain it by saying my imagination is drawn to the starkness of being alive in winter: existing in a black-and-white world in which the elemental aspects of human survival are foregrounded: heat/cold, light/dark, having access to food and other sustenance/failure to prepare for lean times. Then, too, the rampant fundamentalisms of 21st Century politics across the political spectrum—You’re not just wrong, you’re evil—seems to have frozen the promise of a better life for everybody that was part of the experience of the 1960s, when I first became politically active and began to seriously write.
“Poems in Winter” attempts to explore why the season has come to have such a fierce influence on my writing. Instead of starting from possible reasons for my poems’ focus on winter, however, I proceed the other way around. What do winter poems reveal about my present life?
Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.
The food currently most meaningful to me are half a Clif Bar and some trail mix eaten beside the Clearwater Creek cross-country ski trail in the backcountry high above the Salmo River valley south of Nelson, B.C. Clearwater Creek is a tributary of the Salmo River, which in turn joins the Pend d’Oreille River which eventually flows into the Columbia River.
Food always tastes best outdoors during some recreational activity. I’ve always enjoyed cross-country skiing; living in the snowy mountains as I do, as a skier you look forward to snow’s arrival in December and are sorry to see it go in March. The alternative is to dread winter, with its worries about staying warm enough indoors and out, as well as potential dangers driving on winter roads, walking on icy sidewalks, etc. To someone without a winter sport, spring looks like it will never appear.
But as the pandemic has dragged on, cross-country skiing has also become vital for my mental health. Because of reduced in-person contact, I find myself prone to the catastrophic and/or depressive thinking that seems to accompany social isolation when combined with the endless stream of news revealing the irrationality now endemic in the political, social, academic and literary worlds. But navigating the Clearwater trail provides enough endorphins and inhaled pure cold air to restore my optimism and energy. The route is physically challenging: five miles of relentless uphill travel, before a return down the same track. (At the top, one can ring a small bell placed there to celebrate having achieved the summit.) The lift to my spirits skiing the trail grants lasts at least a couple of days. And an important part of the much-needed experience is a break near the top to savor that delicious and restorative snack.