THE ESSAYS COLLECTED in Tom Wayman's A Country Not Considered: Canada, Culture, Work (Anansi, 179 pages, $15.95 paper) most of which have been previously published - are prefaced with an introduction that is a bit of a red herring. In it, Wayman challenges a remark made by Ken Kesey that Canada could never be the locale for, in Wayman's paraphrase, "new and significant ideas, of new hope for the human species." In the first two essays, Wayman tries to live up to his boast of setting Canadian ideas in an international context, but he doesn't get much past the 49th parallel, invoking that perennial cultural jealousy we feel toward Americans. It bugs him, for instance, that the New York Times best-seller list is displayed on the remotest bookstore shelves of Vancouver Island.
Fortunately, most of A Country Not Considered is more quirky and interesting than the parochial and at times tautological defence of Canadian culture we get at the outset. A kind of cultural Marxist, Wayman writes with a populist's simplicity about the value of home-grown culture, which he sees as engendering self-confidence and self-affirmation. The area in which he finds these qualities most lacking is the workplace, a subject Wayman finds woefully unconsidered by art. Personally, I find it hard to see the paucity he laments - what about Orwell, Steinbeck, Butala, Bukowski, and Ondaatje? -but two essays here give as complete a picture of the "new work poetry" as you're likely to find.
Wayman also writes passionately about the writers who have helped him shape his own art of the gritty here and now. Interestingly, in the final essay titled "Sitting by the Grave of Literary Ambition," he distances himself spiritually from his own workaday world as a writer: "I believe no one can exist as complete men and women by behaving as solitary, driven practitioners of any occupation of skill."