“…Economy is the bone, politics is the flesh,
watch who they beat and who they eat,
watch who they relieve themselves on, watch who
The rest is decoration.” from In the Men’s Room(s) by Marge Piercy
I wish I had found this book 10 years ago, bought it and re-read it regularly as I tried and still do to make the connections between creativity and political activism. Wayman is a Canadian poet, teacher and activist who lives and works in the interior ofBritish Columbia. And work is what he writes most passionately about. And the ability to express connection is one of his brilliant qualities.
Throughout his exploration of political poetry from Neruda to Piercy and poetry’s importance to political struggle – he finds many examples of poetry from Ho Chi Minh to Roque Dalton of El Salvador. His awareness of politics and the poetry of politics came with the war inVietnamwhen he studied in theUSAand first heard Pablo Neruda in translation. There he learned two basic truths that have remained with him and are even more important in now in 2005. He realized through poetry and activism that theUSAwar onVietnamand its neighbours was not an aberration, but a direct result of theUSA’s intention of global domination. Some people today think theUSAwar onIraqis an aberration – but nothing has changed.
Wayman also comes to the realization that work is the main structure of oppression in all societies. It is also a taboo subject – political poets don’t write about waitresses and loggers. He comes to the understanding that this taboo ensures that our society perceives our contribution to society as insignificant, for as he writes, it is our culture that establishes our system of values. He sees this is important for social change because unless we see ourselves and our work as important, our willingness to act to change our lives and society is sapped and weakened. He quotes Bob Black who says, “Once you drain the vitality form people at work, they’ll likely submit to hierarchy in politics, culture and everything else.”
He writes, “We live in a society that hides from itself the basis of its existence, North American culture…..presents almost nowhere the realities of daily work…Our jobs form the central and governing core of our lives….No other activity in daily life has more personal consequences for us than the work we do(or our looking for).”
Feminism is another major influence on Wayman’s life. It is from the women’s movement he learned that the personal is political and that a culture that ignores half its population is saying it is inferior and not worth attention. He then extrapolates that to include people of different races and other sub-cultures that we ignore. I am impressed that when Wayman uses the third person singular pronouns he puts the feminine first, something that few women writers even do: her/him; hers/his. Small, but significant.
Self-expression and writing are important to our cultural identity, as well as our self-confidence. Wayman says: Unless we articulate our lives we will forever be seen by others, and ultimately by ourselves, as insignificant, not worthy of consideration. I would extend that to also mean that unless we understand our place in geography and history our own culture,Canada, will also be insignificant. It is certainly insignificant to theUSA writer Keasy who coined the title in reference toCanada: we are a country not considered, by our neighbour whose culture we lap up like house pets and then end up thinking the way they do..
This is important now; the USAhas been revealed to all who have opened their eyes to be an empire hell bent on domination of the world – in reality, it intends the world to be the external provinces of the USA Empire. It is also a failing empire, both morally and economically. Canadaneed to be separate and distinct, for our own sake, as well as the world – we must be a model; a creative alternative. I remember when Free Trade was being debated before this book was written and a Nicaraguan said in reply to the Thatcher chestnut, there is no alternative: Canada for us is the alternative – you have an equitable social system in a country where people from different backgrounds live peacefully together That is what we want.
Wayman believes that a culture that is recognized as significant will recognize poetry as ‘a district rich in treasures of every kind.’ To be alive and vital, poetry will express every aspect of our lives – emotional, political, comic, domestic, ecological, interpersonal and more. And for Wayman that must include that taboo area –work – because he says we are not free at work. These are the propositions that ‘are central to understanding and depicting our national, artistic, personal existence’. He also cautions us to sort out whatCanadais and what a country is for. ‘Does it primarily exist to provide a place where men and women who own enterprises can maximize profits?’ He extends the meaning of democracy from the right and ability to control our governments to our right to democracy in the workplace.
This is an very good book; full of questions, challenges, insights and awareness on topics most of us seldom consider and seldom consider as connected. I am excited to have found this work. Amazingly enough, given the state of our culture and the commodification of book publication, this book is actually still for sale in Canadian bookstores – so rush out and get a copy of this and some of his poetry as well; my favourite is one of the best anti-war poems ever written, about the work of a soldier: War on a Round Planet.