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Praise for The Colours of the Forest

"This voice - firmly entrenched at mid-career - is both lyrical and prosaic. Wayman writes about nature and day-to-day life with equal fervour, and his language glides fluently from high to low. The first stanza of 'The Hallows' is pure haiku: 'A road in the moonlight/and the roses are trembling.' That Wayman is a skilled and intrepid craftsman is indisputable: The Colors of the Forest is technically and stylistically accomplished, replete with assonant images, lofty thinking and a dedication to motion and form."
-The National Post

"Wayman's fondness for revealing anecdotes and his imaginative looks at the routines that consume our lives - making coffee, watching the clock - enable him to bring oxygen into the stuffy showroom of modern poetry."

Looking For Art That Works

If you are watching David Spade in the television show Just Shoot Me for the first time, it's hard to figure out what his character, Dennis Finch, does for a living. The whole show is set in his workplace, yet his function isn't immediately evident.

Spade is the front-office secretary. Not that you would learn that by his actions. It's possible to watch the show without seeing Spade answer, or even use, the phone. He is too busy cracking wise. This isn't all that unusual, says Vancouver poet Tom Wayman.

He's written 14 volumes of poetry (The Colours of the Forest being the most recent), two collections of essays mainly about work (Inside Job and A Country Not Considered) and edited four anthologies of work-related poems, but Wayman can't help but notice that he doesn't have much company. Literature and the entertainment industry seldom depict images of work.

According to Wayman, our culture harbours a deep schizophrenia about work, as we fail to reconcile private lives as citizens with 9-to-5 lives as employees - a dilemma that may prove difficult to solve, but can be made more palatable if we embrace more exploration of work-related values in our media and arts and commit our own work experiences to paper.

"There's a fundamental clash of values going on in most workers' lives because the qualities you want in a good employee - for example, deferring without question to authority - are not always the qualities you want in a citizen," explains the 54-year-old poet, who teaches creative writing at Douglas and Kwantlen colleges.

"In rural British Columbia, people happily belong to a certain community and at the same time work for a company that's busy destroying the countryside around them - sometimes people even log their own watersheds. These people love the lumber industry and often work for small companies, but they are still doing work that is threatening quality of life for themselves and their neighbours."

While it's easier to see this tension when people work in the primary resource industries, says Wayman, similar scenarios play themselves out in urban centers.

Complicating matters further, work environments in the past 15 years have been wracked by innumerable changes, yet remain basically unaltered. "Tools change, get better, but the fundamental issues are still the same: who makes the decisions, who divides the wealth, who is your superior (who chooses that person) and who gets hired or fired," says Wayman.

A move towards self-employment and entrepreneurship may or may not improve the situation.

"There's no exploitation like self-exploitation," he says adding that "even if you free yourself from the hierarchy of work, your friends, family, even children, are still living in the structure."

Wayman, who believes that work theme should be as central to art and entertainment as love, death and nature, thinks that work-related writing is a good place to start in our reconciliation of this fundamental clash of values and in that project of finding balance between demands of the job and community.

"It's important that we see work as a whole, and have a place where workers can see their own work, their own realities reflected," says Wayman. "You have to realize that the stars of business and entertainment you see in the media are not you."

Wayman remembers vividly a workshop in which a poem written by a hydro lineman was read. The poem, simple verse about fixing wires on a stormy night, deeply moved a hydro foreman attending the workshop. This man, who had 150 linemen answering to him, came up to Wayman and told him how exciting it was to hear a poem that reflected the way it really was at his particular job site.

"The great thing about poetry is that it's outside the power world," says Wayman. "Poetry is where we talk the truth about the work we do."
-Gilbert A. Bouchard, Vancouver Sun