Tom Wayman composed much of his latest book of poetry Winter’s Skin while cross-country skiing along the Slocan Valley Rail Trail in the dead of winter.
“I would be thinking about my poems while cross-country skiing. Often there was nobody around. In late afternoon, completely alone and surrounded by nature, it was the perfect environment,” he said.
Wayman was primarily ruminating on the work of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, of whom he is a long-time admirer. He used it to inspire his own art.
“Neruda was a writer I always found evocative,” he said. “This book was a concept book in that I re-read a copy of one of his posthumous books, a little one of 20 poems, called Winter Garden. I set myself the task of reading each poem from that series. Then I let whatever was going to happen, happen.”
He said there was no set process. He just allowed the words to direct him. “In reading, something usually twigged in me, maybe something oblique. And that would send me on my way,” he said.
The natural world features prominently in Wayman’s writing, and the poems are accompanied by wintry images of his spectacular Kootenay surroundings. That being said, it’s not all about snow.
“I spent a lot of my time in Vancouver, so there are some rainy poems too,” he said, with a laugh.
Wayman said the content of the book addresses “winters both literal and metaphorical”.
“There’s an unhappy love affair, it starts with excitement and ends badly, like most of them do. That arc takes place in winter,” he said.
Neruda was a ripe source for inspiration, Wayman said. At times he would draw from a phrase or an image, other times an entire poem. In a few cases he’s chosen to include an epigraph, but he elected to keep them in Spanish.
“A friend of mine told me you never want to have an epigraph that’s better than your writing. By keeping it in Spanish, I avoid that,” he said.
Wayman has already written 18 books of poetry, three books of fiction and two books of essays. He got his start in journalism, but decided to segue into poetry because he was frustrated by the restrictions of the form.
“Poetry covers more of the world that you could do with daily journalism. I found that very intriguing. It’s zen in that whenever you wrote for the paper a billion people would read it, even though its a narrow range of human activity. With poetry, the sky’s the limit in terms of human experience, but nobody reads it,” he said.
Wayman believes that poetry is still a relevant art form, though it’s currently lacking in cultural cachet. He credits it for helping the women’s movement, the protests against the Vietnam War and for depicting social realities that otherwise may go overlooked. One of his primary passions is exploring workplace realities through his poems.
“Work is central to people’s lives and the literature should reflect that.”
Wayman has worked primarily as a teacher, and one of his most famous poems is called “Did I Miss Anything?”
“It’s a hate poem,” he said. “There’s lots of love in teaching, but there’s also a lot of hate. That’s a phrase that students use that used to drive me crazy. Think of the assumptions built into that sentence. The poem is a bunch of real snarky responses. It’s gotten incredible widespread coverage.”
Winter’s Skin is available wherever books are sold.