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Reviews by Vernon Daily News, The Hudson Review and The Outlook on Books

Vernon Poet Asks Questions with New Work
Vernon poet Tom Wayman knows that writing a book of poetry isn't going to pave his way to fame or secure a spot on the best sellers list.

But the Okanagan college professor does hope that the poems in his new book, Did I Miss Anything? successfully tap a source of inspiration that while unlikely, is still a subject most of us can connect with.

Work, and holding down a job, says this Kootenay resident, may be the one thing that everyone does, but is also the one thing that writers and artists traditionally haven't taken the time to examine indepth. The day-to-day drudgery the world and our economy revolves around has always been referred to, says Wayman, but has rarely been discussed.

"When you flick around the television dial, it's the same thing, nobody does any real work," says the man who has been described as a radical and a man of common sense all in the one sentence.

With that in mind, Wayman has spent much of his 25-year-poetic career examining the issues surrounding work and employment. "Once you start looking at the issue of work itís very complicated," he admits.

Did I Miss Anything?, released this month by Harbour Publishing on the Sunshine Coast, is an anthology of Wayman's poems that gathers the best of his published work from eleven previous volumes and includes some of his new poetry.

Wayman admits that some people may not be enthused about the prospect of reading poetry - especially poetry about work. "It sounds pretty dreary until you start to read it and then some of it is funny," he says. "Or at least that's what people tell me."

Wayman originally began his writing career intending to be a journalist. He went to UBC, studied creative writing and took advantage of a program that allowed him to work at the Vancouver Sun during the summers and write for the student paper during the school year.

Unlike most of his classmates, once he graduated, Wayman decided not to continue working as the Sun but instead went to California to advance his studies. A year later, in 1967, he returned to Canada to look for work. "There were no teaching jobs I could get so I worked at various jobs," he recalled.

Those blue collar and white collar jobs in construction, demolition and factories helped him to explore the unique ideas he had developed about work and employment during his student days.

Some of those ideas revolve around a theme of democracy. Wayman says Canada has set up a basic paradox with its work force, in effect creating a schizophrenic democracy. "The moment you are at work you are treated like a child, told to shut up, obey orders Ė youíre supposed to not question authority," he explains. "At some points we are asked to believe in democracy and another point, in arbitrary authority.

Wayman also tries to address the fact that many people spend most of their lives working at something they hate, a condition he refers to as downtime. "If the central governing experience of your days is downtime, what does that say about your time on this planet?"

Social concerns such as workplace inequality are also something Wayman expresses in his poetry. "An executive's salary for working with paper, beats the wage in a metal shop operating shears, which beats what a gardener earns arranging stone," reads the first three lines of his poem, Paper, scissors, stone.

Often, says Wayman, he is asked why he expresses social concerns through poetry, a medium he admits may soon only exist as an "instrument of torture" in English classrooms. "As art form, it's weak, itís trembling, it would be extinct tomorrow, if they didn't have it in the schools," he says.

Poetry says Wayman may be seen as a weak form of expression, but has great power. It is, he says, one of the few things left in the world that lacks monetary value. "What people like about poetry doesnít have much to do with money," he says. "Poetry is weak, but weak things have power."
-Vernon Daily News


The Hudson Review
Tom Wayman presents a selection from eleven poetry volumes published over the past twenty years, as well as three new poems. Wayman writes with originality and directness about work and everyday life. A Canadian poet, he is at home in the wilds of Vancouver, a truck assembly plant in Windsor-Detroit, or a composition class on campus, "marking time." He possesses a fine ear for colloquial speech and a sharp eye for small absurdities. In "Asphalt Hours, Asphalt Air," he tells us in his introduction, he intended to respond to T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" with his own view of society. He does do the people in different voices as men punch the clock, women worry about their marriages, and auto workers attend a union protest. The poem ends with a utopian vision of a day when labor and play are one, money no longer drives people's dreams, and workers unite: "we must for our own lives/ stand together against the owners of our time." The pun doesn't save the preachy tone that crops up here and elsewhere, echoes of the radical sixties. However, idealism adds a note of sincerity to his serious themes, and Wayman's humor usually stops him from stuffing the pulpit with oratory. He's a wonderful storyteller. "The Big Theft" takes a popular myth of the man who, bit by bit, steals enough parts to assemble a truck in his garage or enough bricks to build a house. "Marshall-Wells Illumination" catches the moment at a hardware store when a customer starts to dance as a disapproving clerk looks on. The narrator is drawn in and chooses to dance. Such epiphanies lift the ordinary into the realm of imagination to preserve them for us. With tact, joy and regret, "Sugar on the Rim" recounts a passionate love affair; "Wayman in Love" finds the speaker in bed with the girl, joined by Marx and Freud discussing the social and emotional implications; and "Routines" offers a witty variation on the old body-soul debate. "Students" summarizes current undergraduate views of education: the Vaccination, Dipstick, Kung Fu, and Easy Listening theories, while among the new poems, "Did I Miss Anything" presents possible responses to students who wonder what they might have missed in class, from "Nothing" to "Everything." "Picketing Supermarkets" is a classic satire on the magic kingdom where consumers shop with no idea of the inequitable system that delivers the goods: "Because all this food is grown in the store/ do not take the leaflet." Elegies, on Pablo Neruda, Salvador Allende and others, express the theme of death that weaves through the poems. "Cumberland Graveyard, February 1973," recalls a dead coalminer:

Lots of the graves are neglected now-not as abandoned as the Chinese cemetery half a mile up the road
but inscriptions have worn away, headstones tilted and cracked, and here a slab of old pebbly concrete above some graves shakes as you walk on it.


You can trust a poet who writes a sentence like that; follow it to the end and it comes out right. Wayman is a good guide for the twenty years recorded here, through public to personal dissent. From this century he will be well worth following into the next.


The Outlook on Books: DID I MISS ANYTHING?
Roughly fifteen years ago Susan Sontag, ever on the cutting edge of literary fashion, denounced Beat Generation writers in an essay all but accusing them of being soft on communism and the principle reason for Americanís moral decay. Except in so far as they celebrated the lives and values of those considered marginal by mainstream America, the Beats were hardly left wing. But since Sontag herself had, by mainstream standards, impeccable left-wing credentials, her attack made dismissing left poetry as mere propaganda respectable again.

Tom Wayman has obviously been influenced by the Beats and writes in a style despised by New York Review of Books intellectuals wherever they may reside. He is an openly left wing poet. His rhythms are the rhythms of ordinary speech; his point of view is rooted in his experience as a labourer, friend, teacher, lover. Unfortunately for those who would like to dismiss him, he is also one of Canada's best selling poets. While most poets are lucky to sell even 400 copies of their work, Wayman has sold 800 to 1,000 of each of his previous nine poetry books. His anthologies have more than doubled his personal sales. Not many people read poetry in Canada, but clearly a great many of those who do like Wayman.

Most writers I know who, as Wayman puts it, try to "bring to poetry . . . the centrality of daily work to our life" are usually dismissed out of hand because of their content. Wayman's sales figures have made him harder to ignore. Indeed, in the introduction, "Glad I Was Born," his opening remarks to this collection, he comments that, ďTogether we [Wayman and his poems] have had more than our share of recognition, media attention, . . . awards." I do not object to his enjoyment of the recognition his writing has achieved. I merely wish that a man whose anger on behalf of others has been responsible for so much remarkable poetry could spare some of it on his own behalf.

For I do not believe Wayman has received the recognition he deserves. I think that Poetry Canada's movers and shakers, more comfortable with the judgments of a Sontag than of the unwashed, find Wayman and his popularity an embarrassment. I do not think that this collection of his best work from the past twenty years is likely to be reviewed in the Globe and Mail merely because it has a regional publisher. I do not believe it is any accident that he has never even been nominated for a Governor Generalís Award.

Wayman is among a handful of poets whose writing in Canada today is genuinely important, despite his refusal to be obscure or to indulge in the sort of "poetic" language that makes reading car manuals seem like a breath of fresh air. At his most artificial heís like someone telling a joke down at the pub after work. The whole poem builds towards a punch line that is funny as hell and only afterwards makes you stop to think. Wayman is often very funny and like all great wits, he keeps things simple. But such simplicity is deceptive and requires a high order of skill. The transparency of his writing is an effect extremely difficult to achieve.

Those who bemoan the current sorry state of Canadian poetry while doing their best to pretend that Wayman is an anomaly, strike me as resembling the students in the title poem of this collection who ask, after skipping a class, "Did I Miss Anything?"
-Mark C. Warrior, The Outlook On Books