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Book Reviews

The Colours of the Forest

by Tom Wayman

For years, British Columbia poet Tom Wayman has had a reputation for writing accessible, witty poetry about the everyday themes of work, home, and family. Wayman’s latest effort, The Colours of the Forest, bills itself as celebrating “the gains and losses of middle-aging.”

Keeping with Wayman’s style, these poems are loose and conversational, using plain language. A large number of these poems read as prose; in fact, it could be argued that they are prose, with line breaks and occasional stanzas.

While the book is not without its strengths, there are some poems that have an “early draft” quality to them, ones with strong beginnings and weak endings. “Other Powers,” which begins with “A chainsaw’s intrusive / me-me-me-me / cannot conceal under such bragging / a throb of fear: maybe my species does not really control,” is strong enough to remind the reader of Robert Frost’s best and darkest poems. But then the poem shifts gears to focus on the nature that the chainsaw interrupts, becoming a pastorale about canoeing and birds perched in trees. It ends with “disappears into the alder leaves/ that nod in the rising breeze.” I feel I’ve heard that before.

The most satisfying poems are those adhering to Wayman’s reputation for touching wit, such as “Life with Dick” and “Billy and Women.” Both made me laugh.

In the stunning “For William Stafford (1914–1993),” a gothic tale of late-night roadway carnage, an errant deer meets the author’s car flesh-to-metal. The wording is cold, clinical, and clear. Poems like this one stand out, far above the others, raising the question of whether or not the book could have been further distilled, leaner, but stronger for the effort.