Over the past 40 years, Tom Wayman has established a reputation as the Canadian work poet. In a series of collections, he has written about labour, strikes, the seemingly intransigent relationship between workers and management, and the effects that working for a living have on the soul. He has used his poems to explore larger concerns as well – such as the relationship between the environment and wage earning – and written essays exploring the (as he sees it) mystery of how poetry has, for the most part, ignored the daily lives of the majority of the Earth’s people.
In this most recent addition to the Laurier Poetry Series – brief selected poems intended for classroom use, but also meant to extend the reputations of Canadian poets beyond the usual circles – scholar Owen Percy has chosen 31 poems from Wayman’s 16 books as a representative sample of the poet’s “essential” output. Percy’s introduction places Wayman’s work in the context of plain-spoken poetry with a mission. Although he has a tendency to bring in irrelevant support staff to help him out (T.S. Eliot being one: Percy subtitles his essay in a punning recapitulation of the original title of The Waste Land), he nevertheless provides a very concise and useful context for reading Wayman’s poems. Wayman’s own afterword is also helpful. “I have tried to create art that is useful to people engaged in striving for beneficial social change,” he writes, in what seems a fundamental point of departure for reading and assessing this book.
The poems themselves are mostly uncomplicated. They eschew metaphor and strive to speak directly to the reader about common experiences. Though his focus is work, Wayman sometimes writes about nature, love, and even mortality. If he is occasionally mean-spirited (no poem should desire anyone’s death, as “A Cursing Poem” does), mostly he is genial and friendly, communitarian in just the way a regular guy ought to be.