Author Tags: Fiction, Poetry

This afternoon, two old guys played Scrabble
on my deck in Roberts Creek.
One of them was me.

Born of Hungarian parents on August 21, 1945 in Vancouver, George Payerle attended UBC for seven years and co-edited Student Protest (Methuen, 1968) with two others. In the year he received his M.A. in Creative Writing, Payerle published a short experimental novel, The Afterpeople (Anansi, 1970), subtitled, “a patheticon.” It’s a montage of events arising from a bank robbery at the Granville and Pender branch of the Bank of Montreal.

Payerle worked for Urban Reader (1973-1974) and has translated some Hungarian writers. He published a chapbook called Wolfbane Fane in 1977. “If I can be said to write ‘about’ anything,” Payerle wrote at the time, “I write about perception; or, I write perception. Good writing is like wine or blood, depending on the mood you’re in.” His long-in-gestation novel Unknown Soldier (Macmillan, 1987) concerns a Canadian war veteran. His first book of poetry, The Last Trip to Oregon: Poems in Wake of Red's Death (Ronsdale, 2002), partially recalls his closest friend, historian and Charles "Red" Lillard, who travelled with Payerle to central Oregon and Alberta not long before Lillard's death. Having moved with his wife to Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast, Payerle gathered a new collections of ruminations and appreciations for Alterations (Signature Editions, 2004), launched in 2005. As a sentimentalist, Payerle ponders the passing of spirits such as the poet John Furberg and considers the smallness of his place in the universe as an 'urban refugee'. He is a founding member of the Writers Union of Canada.


Alterations (Winnipeg: Signature Editions, 2004).
The Last Trip to Oregon: Poems in Wake of Red's Death (Ronsdale, 2002).
The Weather and That (Victoria: Reference West, 1993).
Two from Babylon (Reference West, 1990).
Unknown Soldier (Macmillan Canada, 1987).
Wolfbane Fane (Vancouver: Kanchenjunga, 1977).
The Afterpeople (Concord, Ontario: House of Anansi Press, 1970).

[BCBW 2005] "Fiction" "Poetry"

Unknown Soldier

"At the age of 35," says George Payerle, "I became an old soldier. I stayed that way for seven years."

That's how Vancouver-born Payerle describes the writing of his new novel, Unknown Soldier (Macmillan $19.95). In this 'torch-passing book' Payerle hopes to pass along an uncompromisingly frank look at soldiering -and its psychological after-effects through the eyes of a 59 year old ex-Canadian rifle sergeant named Sam Collister.

Completed long before the appearance of films such as Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, Unknown Soldier now appears to be part of a mainstream trend to present war realistically. But the peculiar genesis of Unknown Soldier has been ongoing since Payerle's birth. "I was born 12 days after Nagasaki," he says, "One of my earliest memories is a dream of a big black wall that was going to fall on me. I couldn't turn around and look. My sense of it, very specifically, is that the wall was World War Two."

His newly emigrated Hungarian parents were, in his words, DP's. He remembers his father being deeply concerned that some new Canadian neighbours might wrongly suspect the Payerles had not been supportive of the Allies. Payerle didn't learn English until he started school. He began reading personal accounts of World War Two at age ten. By the eighth grade he had begun a World War Two novel. At age 15 he completed a novel about the Battle of Britain.

"An ex-hurricane pilot read it and said he couldn't understand how a 15 year old kid could understand what it was like to be a fighter pilot," says PayerIe, "World War Two was becoming something like a hobby. Then at age 18 I started going into bars and running into war veterans."

For the next fifteen years Payerle talked to over 100 war vets in Vancouver watering holes, unconsciously gathering the information and momentum for Unknown Soldier. Payerle credits two men in particular, the late Gordie White and the late Ted Hoskinson, for guidance. Both vets read his manuscript before they died. Both said what the ex-hurricane pilot had said when Payerle was 15.

"Many old soldiers don't want to talk about the black wall," says PayerIe, "They prefer to talk about battles or whether or not Montgomery was a great general. But Gordie White was the guy who talked to me about what my generation of peaceniks meant to him and his complex feelings about all that. And Ted Hoskinson gave me accounts of absolute horror, quite literally the unforgettable stench of warfare."

Although Payerle's dedication in the book concludes with 'and to all those who served,' he realizes that not all his old acquaintances down at the Billy Bishop Legion (Payerle is a member) will appreciate Unknown Soldier's gritty content. Payerle contends that coping with 'the black wall' becomes more difficult as an ex-soldier ages, as a man is forced to wonder what his life has added up to.

[BCBW Spring 1987]