RAILWAY NOVEL: Words and Tracks
When I think of Chinese rail hands and Canadian poetry, three works come to mind. E.J. Pratt's TOWARDS THE LAST SPIKE, F.R. Scott's "All the Spikes but the Last," and Jim Wong-Chu's "equal opportunity."
Pratt's poem was published in 1952 and won the Governor General's Award for poetry. His epic poem of 1620 lines, written in free verse, told with vivid imagery how the Canadian Pacific Railway was constructed as a nation-building project., led by Prime Minister John A Macdonald, the visionary politician, and William Van Horne, the engineer.
Three years later, Scott's much shorter poem blunty asked, "Where are the coolies in your poem, Ned?" to question Pratt's omission of Chinese workers. Scott, a constitutional law expert, won the Governor General's Award for poetry in 1981, and for non-fiction in 1977. He helped found the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), predecessor of the National Democratic Party (NDP).
JIm Wong-Chu is a longtime actrivist in Vancouver's Chinatown. His poem appeared in his CHINATOWN GHOSTS (Arsenal Pulp Press, 1986). There are the last five lines to his poem:
after much debate
common sense prevailed
the chinese are now allowed
to sit anywhere
on any train
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