In a Small House on the Outskirts of Heaven

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9781550170023: In a Small House on the Outskirts of Heaven

Tom Wayman has earned an international reputation as a work poet, anthologist and essayist. This new collection of 64 poems deals with blue-collar working conditions, labour strikes and unemployment, the hierarchy of business and its philosophy of "money above all considerations" in the workplace. Some new travel poems and a few well-chosen comments on the uses and misuses of language are included, as well as a section consisting of 'found poems' from the Vancouver telephone book.

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About the Author:

Tom Wayman was born in Ontario in 1945, but has spent most of his life in British Columbia. He has worked at a number of jobs, both blue and white-collar, across Canada and the U.S., and has helped bring into being a new movement of poetry in these countries--the incorporation of the actual conditions and effects of daily work. His poetry has been awarded the Canadian Authors' Association medal for poetry, the A.J.M. Smith Prize, first prize in the USA Bicentennial Poetry Awards competition, and the Acorn-Plantos Award; in 2003 he was shortlisted for the Governor-General's Literary Award. He has published more than a dozen collections of poems, six poetry anthologies, three collections of essays and three books of prose fiction. He has taught widely at the post-secondary level in Canada and the U.S., most recently (2002-2010) at the University of Calgary. Since 1989 he has been the Squire of "Appledore," his estate in the Selkirk Mountains of southeastern BC.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

A Small House on the Outskirts of Heaven
This collection begins with a section, "Testimonies," that gathers poems based on descriptions by others and myself of facets of our present working lives. One poem here, "A Cursing Poem," was originally part of a manuscript of my poems eventually issued by Macmillan of Canada in 1974. Because Macmillan felt the poem might be libelous, the poem was dropped from the manuscript before publication. The person who is the target of the poem's anger, Gordon Shrum, died in 1985, however. And since the dead cannot be libeled, this is the first chance the poem has had to appear in a collection of mine (although the poem was published in magazines in both the US and England, and I have often performed it at public readings).

The cursing poem is one of a number of intriguing types listed in Jerome Rothenberg's Technicians of the Sacred, an anthology of aboriginal poetries from around the world. But the effectiveness of cursing poetry in our culture - or at least of my attempt at this kind of poem-may be gauged by the fact that although the poem was written in 1971 Shrum did not die until fourteen years later. Indeed, his life in the meantime included such incidents as drinking a beaker of defoliant at a press conference. He did this to refute environmentalists' concern that his company's use of such chemicals on their power line right-of-ways is harmful to the biosphere.

Because the poem was written so long ago, I should comment on the numbers that appear in the poem. At the time the poem was written, the minimum wage was $2 an hour in BC and it cost 25 cents to ride public transit each way. Today the minimum wage is $4.50, two-and-a-quarter times what it was then, but it costs $1.25 to ride the bus - five times the 1971 fare. The reference to temperature being 40 degrees refers to Fahrenheit, which was the scale in use in BC in 1971.

The second section, "Local Traffic," combines poems arising from travel with poems about being at home. The latter include pieces concerned with our-and my-present condition.

"Enigmas," the third section, contains poems that as near as I can tell are about failure (as the first poem in the section suggests). These are the poems I understand least in the collection. The next section, "A Yellow Cottage," is an elegy.

The fifth section, "Defective Parts of Speech," groups poems concerned with the misuse of language in our society. The intense use of language that Welch advocates for poetry unfortunately is also achieved at times by advertisers, the news media, politicians and other authority figures - and not usually for our benefit.

"Lost and Found," the next section, gathers some found poems . . . just for fun. "Greed Suite," the following section, explores a number of ways human lives and the natural environment are affected by the ideology that puts money above all other considerations.

Finally, "Marshall-Wells Illumination" attempts to answer through poetry the question sometimes put to me: why do you choose to write about daily work in poems? Marshall-Wells was a chain of hardware stores in business across Western Canada.|ONE LUMP OR TWO
In your sugar bowl, Frank said,
sugar gets hard and sticks to the sides.
It's no different in the various silos
at the Spreckels mill.
Three of us are lowered on ropes
into a silo each shift,
dressed in a sort of moon suit
with pickaxe and shovel.
For the next eight
we pry the sugar from the walls.

Each time when I touched bottom
I'd say to myself: "It's a small step
for a man, but a giant leap
for the working class." The foreman
never went down. He's supposed to stay on top
to watch our ropes
but he regularly takes off somewhere.
Anyway, nobody bothers to be hauled up
when we have to take a piss.
We just let fly where we stand.
I stopped using sugar much when I got that work.

They had us on rotating shifts
which I didn't like.
But graveyards were best.
I or somebody would carve a bed
in the sugar, out of the foreman's line of vision.
We'd usually manage
to each grab a few hours sleep during the night.

Strangest part of the job, though,
was my boots. No matter how clean they looked
when I took them off
or where in the house I left them
they'd both be completely covered with ants
when I'd go to put them on for work again.
AFTER FAILURE
After failure, I enter into
a zone or bubble of silence.
I continue to travel, but the rage and echo of voices
including my own
sound fainter and fainter astern. I coast
within a smoothness wrapped in quiet --
not large, but protective
and beautiful: a pod lined with mother of pearl
soft to the touch, thick, insulating.
Nothing is asked of me, in this fragile
but resilient space
that carries me forward.

And when this zone docks
at the edge of another area
for me to disembark
the mating will be evident
only by the slightest click
and an almost imperceptible rocking motion,
quickly stilled.

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