Friday, December 19, 2014

The Order In Which We Do Things - The Poetry of Tom Wayman, selected with an introduction by Owen Percy (Wilfred Laurier University Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Order In Which We Do Things.  The Poetry of Tom Wayman, selected with an introduction by Owen Percy.  The Laurier Poetry Series/Wilfred Laurier University Press.  Waterloo, Ontario.  2014.

The following quote comes from Tom Wayman's Afterword: Work and Silence:

"I have tried to create art that is useful to people engaged in striving for beneficial social change."

I've been reading the very engaging and socially demanding poetry of Tom Wayman for almost forty years.  When I find one of his books it is an occasion.  There are few poets I admire more, so it is with that in mind that I was thrilled to see The Order In Which We Do Things.

The Laurier Poetry Series is an essential for Canadian letters, and in this case Owen Percy has done Wayman proud.

Days: Construction

Days when the work does not end.
When the bath at home is like
cleaning another tool of the owner's.
A tool which functions better with the dust gone from its pores.
So that tomorrow the beads of sweat
can break out again along trouser-legs and sleeves.

And then bed,
Night. The framing continues
inside the head: hammers pound on
through the resting brain. With each blow
the nails sink in, inch by blasted inch.
Now one bends, breaking the rhythm.
Creaks as it's tugged free. A new spike
is pounded in.

The ears ring with it. In the dark
this is the room where construction is.
Blow by blow, the studding goes up.
The joists are levered into place.
The hammers rise.


I've worked construction, not for long periods of time, but I've blistered up my hands, climbed those ladders, hammered those nails, had the sunburns, the long hours, dreamt work.

If you are like me Wayman is that smart uncle type character you consult when you want to know better.  He writes with his heart and soul set to honest.

No one in Canada knows the working man/woman better.

A Cursing Poem: This Poem Wants Gordon Shrum To Die

This poem wants to hurt another person.
This poem wants another person to die.
It wants him to suddenly stumble
feel a sharp pain just under the belly
a harsh pain, one that rips him so hard inside that he shits himself.
The poem wants him to become dizzy
feel a rush of sweat on the face
to begin to shiver, and have to be helped into bed.
The poem wants his teeth to chatter, wants him to throw up
gasping for air, wants mucus to pour from his nose and mouth.
It wants him to die in the night.

This poem wants Gordon Shrum to die.
First because despite all his company's rules and tariffs
despite every regulation they tell the press they apply
his company turned off the heat and light in the house.
They did this without warning, when the temperature was forty
             degrees by day
and the nights begin at four o'clock.
So that after working all day, the body could come home
to a room of black ice.

So after straining all day at the jobsite, with the fingers
numb at the hammer and slipping under the weight of the heavy
after the back was twisted trying to hoist the load of a wheelbarrow
the rest of the body could return to darkness and cold.

This poem also wants Gordon Shrum to die
because his company charges twenty-five cents every day
for the bus to carry you to work. And because you must
pay the same every evening to wait in the cold
to be jerked and stopped and jerked and stopped
all the way back to the house. Fifty cents a day
taken out of the dollars squeezed from the body's labour
so at the end of the day, the body can be hauled to where it stays
can enter the black bedrooms, be lit by a candle
and eat bread and cold milk.

Lastly the poem wants Gordon Shrum to die
because at a meeting he reached over to my friend Mark Warrior
and smacked him in the mouth.
He was charged and acquitted
because Mark was shouting out at the time how the French
were finally getting off their knees
and striking back at the bullies that push them, at men like
--whom Mark didn't name.

But whom I name, with his bureaucrats and service division
his credit office and transportation system. Him, and
every other animal who is gnawing away at our lives.
May before they die
they know what it is like to be cold, may the cold eat into them
may they live so they cough all night and can't sleep
and have to get up the next morning for work just the same.
May the joints of their bodies swell with their labour
and their backs ache. And before they die
may they know deeply, to the inside of their stomachs
the meaning of a single word:
unemployment. May they understand it
as the nourishment a man gets by scraping the calendar over a
             pan for a meal.
May they have a future with nothing in it
but unemployment; may the end of welfare.

May they have to travel by bus
to get their welfare. May they wake at night and realize
that for the rest of their lives they will never eat together
all the things they love: steak and wine and hot corn.
They will never have these together again until they die.
May they die on welfare.
And may the Lord God Jesus have mercy on their souls.


Tom Wayman does controlled anger and justified vitriol better than anyone.

Thomas Ethan Wayman was born in Hawkesbury, Ontario, which is reasonably close to Ottawa.  He has lived most of his life in British Columbia.  These poems, an excellent sampling from his numerous collections, remind us of how Canadian Wayman is.  The sort of Canadian I want to be.

For many of us these poems remind us of how to be Canadian, at least a particular version, socially conscious, socially concerned, trying to be better citizens of the world.



Tufts of snow
that rise from the branch
a chickadee alights on


Winter fog surrounding
the house: on the frosted slope of
the ridge behind, great spruce and pine
blur to white shadows


Straw-coloured humps of grass
interspersed with blotches of snow
are perfectly reflected
on the still surface
of the current


As I ski the river trail
--poles and legs scissoring
like a pendulum--
over me bursts a flight of
tundra swans:
V of white necks, white streamlined bodies

lifting into blue

the mouth of this world


And of course it isn't just a social exercise, Tom Wayman knows all about beauty, the breath a poem can give to the reader.

Tom Wayman

Tom Wayman has published nineteen poetry collections, edited six anthologies of poets writing about their employment, and published three collections of essays on labour arts. He has taught at the post-secondary level in the United States and Canada and co-founded the Vancouver Industrial Writers Union and the Vancouver Centre of the Kootenay School of Writing. Wayman has been the recipient of several significant literary awards over his career, most recently the 2013 Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry for his book Dirty Snow.

Owen Percy is a teacher, writer, editor, and critic of North American and postcolonial literature. He earned his Ph.D. in Canadian literature and literary culture from the University of Calgary in 2010. He is a professor of literary studies at Sheridan College in Brampton, Ontario

“Wayman...believes that poetry exists beyond ‘the money economy’ and because of this freedom it creates the highest potential to drive social change. His concerns are humanist and folksy, infused with the moral responsibility of integrity. This series, because of its...scope and space...allows the reader to see how Wayman’s immersions in these moral concerns have developed and morphed from those of the lowly factory worker to those of acute environmental observance. Always the poems are permeated by intense attention to...a sense of justice.”
      Micheline Maylor, Alberta Views

Tom Wayman
video by Amy Bohigian


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