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Excerpt from Tom Wayman's Introduction


I became interested in writing about daily work because of a moment in my own past. When I attended the University of British Columbia in the mid-1960s, those of us who were studying creative writing were expected to give a graduating recital of our literary efforts. As I looked through my material to prepare for this, I realized that the subjects of my poems were entirely different than the concerns of my ordinary waking hours. This was a revelation. I had assumed until then that the poems which I had spent many hours creating and nurturing would, when viewed together, represent an accurate depiction of my life. After all, this was why I wanted to be a writer: to share with other people what I noticed about the condition of being alive.

Since I had failed in my poems to live up to my aim, I vowed that at least a majority of any future writing would concern itself with what I found most important about my daily existence. Thus, when I finished school and began to work, I wrote some poems about the people and conditions I met at the various blue-collar and white-collar jobs I held.

In the early 1970s it became important for me to compare my poems about work with those by other people. In my formal studies of writing I had learned the benefits of a careful reading of other authors who had grappled with and solved certain artistic problems I might be having - problems such as getting another voice to "speak" in a poem, or strategies for ending a poem, and so on. I had a vague sense that the portrayal of work in poetry was a subject all to itself and I began to search for contemporary poems by others about working.

Eventually I gathered a file of these, and in 1974 NeWest Press of Edmonton published the first small anthology of work poems I assembled, Beaton Abbot's Got the Contract. The tide comes from a poem by a Newfoundland high school student about his hope of driving truck for a living after graduation.

Once Beaton Abbot's Got The Contract appeared, friends and acquaintances began to locate more poems about contemporary work and point them out to me. These poems are found throughout the usual literary life of our times - in volumes by individual authors, literary periodicals and anthologies. Because people were aware of my interest in the topic, they would show me unpublished material by themselves or people they knew, as well. I quickly had enough work poems for a second, larger anthology, which MacLeod Books in Vancouver published in 1976. It was called A Government Job At Last, the title phrase taken from a poem by a Mountie about his occupation.

By this time I was living in Windsor, Ontario, where I met Artem Lozynsky. Lozynsky had graduated with a PhD in English from Wayne State University in Detroit, and out of an interest in the French mystic Simone Weil's writings about her employment Lozynsky read much of A Government Job At Last in manuscript. Lozynsky was the first person who saw the work poems as worthy of critical study. I had already concluded that the Beaton Abbot collection was not entirely satisfying because it contains poems about contemporary work both as seen from the outside (someone watching somebody else work) and as seen from the inside (someone writing about a job they have done themselves or otherwise know intimately). I had decided to limit A Govermnent Job and any subsequent anthologies to work poems written from the insider's perspective, as these to me are the most accurate, honest and successful. But Lozynsky had thought further about what the contemporary work poems considered as a whole might demonstrate. I found his ability to look beyond the surface of these poems to be extremely stimulating. In many ways the essays contained in the present volume, Inside Job, owe their origin to his conviction that there is more to the new industrial literature than a cursory glance might indicate.

Inside Job gathers together the essays I have written and published since 1976 concerning the poetry, fiction and drama written by participants in the contemporary North American work world about their experiences on the job. These essays offer an overview of my conclusions about the significance of this writing. They do not intend a line-by-line or motif-by-motif analysis of individual authors or literary works. Instead, they discuss what I feel the appearance of this writing suggests about our literature's past, present and potential.

In brief, "The Limits of Realism" considers the dominant mode of the new industrial writing - realism. It looks at some reasons why realism can be considered high art in the visual arts but low art when found in literature. "The Limits of Realism" examines the differences between the old External Realism (including socialist realism) and the new Internal Realism (as evidenced in contemporary work poetry).

"Regional Culture, National Culture, Industrial Culture" assesses in whose interests the fine arts culture of a region or the nation presently functions. Then the piece explores the cultural world a majority of Canadians inhabit, using "cultural" now in its broader definition. The essay argues that much of our lives are spent in an industrial culture generated by the current methods of organizing the production of society's goods and services. And that very little of our literature comes out of or is addressed to the culture in which a majority of us live. The new industrial literature is seen as the first consciously artistic productions of the contemporary industrial culture.

"The Enemies of Intelligence" considers two groupsthe authoritarian left, and literary scholars and teachers- who have been resistant to a wider acceptance of the new writing as central to an understanding of our society. The response of these people demonstrates a reluctance on their part to examine the specific criticisms of contemporary society contained in the industrial literature. Such a lack of critical thinking about daily work represents an opposition by these groups to intelligence and creativity in everyday life.

Finally, Inside Job closes with a selected bibliography of recent work writing.

Some of the loudest objections to the ideas implied by the emergence of the new work literature have come from other authors. It is as though these people sense that the appearance of the new writing indicates a major change in attitude to literature as we have known it Traditionally, the three main subjects of imaginative writing in English have been love, death and nature. To these, the contemporary industrial literature introduces a fourth major subject: work. More than this, the new writing about the job demonstrates how a person's attitudes to love, death and nature are in large part shaped by the kind of daily work he or she does. our employment obviously determines our personal standard of living - how well and where we live off the job. Our employment is responsible, too, for how much mental and physical energy we have when we return home, and indeed how much time off we receive. So the amount of money, energy and time available to us to pursue romance or appreciate nature is a direct result of the conditions of our work. And how we regard and respond to a wide range of matters, including death and nature and the opposite sex, is strongly influenced by whether we interact with these daily at the job and what this interaction or lack of interaction leads us to conclude about them. Any literature, then, which omits this governing experience of daily life is a, literature with an enormous hole in the middle of it. just as a taboo once surrounded the presentation of sex in literature, so a detailed examination of daily work and its effects on people has up to the present been omitted from most of our imaginative writing.

The response of some writers to these observations is to claim that these concepts must lead to authors being told what they have to write. I don't believe this is true. The emerging women's movement, for example, showed that in much of what is published women appear in negative, passive and restricted roles. Subsequently, feminist critics have been able to point to and discuss sexism in literature, whether such sexism is blatantly or implicitly portrayed in a literary work. But such criticism has not stopped authors from writing whatever they want. If a writer chooses to be sexist, he or she is free to do so. Yet the women's movement reserves the right to continue to identify sexism in literature wherever it appears and to demonstrate the harmful effects on human beings such sexism has.

I feel exactly the same standards apply to a discussion of the absence of daily work in our literature to date. While writing is a solitary and personal act, writing for publication is a social act. A published poem, play or story appears in a particular society at a specific time. And whether or not the author likes to think about it, the published work has certain effects in that society.