Author Tags: Geography, Poetry
Stephen Collis teaches poetry, poetics, modernism and American literature at Simon Fraser University. His collection On the Material (2010) is described as a meditation on language, geography, socio-economics and the body. It received the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2011.
As a descendant of Scottish coal miners who came to Vancouver Island in the late 1800s, poet Stephen Collis first wrote Mine (New Star, 2001), a reconstruction of the early history of the B.C. coal industry. It was followed by Anarchive (New Star, 2005), an investigation into the connection between anarchy and poetry, partially inspired by the Spanish Civil War.
Collis wandered backwards in time even further for The Commons (Talonbooks 2008), an anarchy-inspired exploration of how commonly-held lands were essentially privatized in the English countryside. Amid the peasant revolts that failed to prevent the enclosure of land in the name of private ownership, Collis includes cameo appearances from the mad poet John Clare and back-to-the-land philosopher Henry David Thoreau.
Collins has also edited Companions & Horizons (2005), an anthology including the work of 41 poets associated with the university, in conjunction with SFU's 40th birthday. "It's interesting to see the poetry unique to SFU," he said. "--a poetry that's distinctly intellectual, investigative, erotic, emotional and yet playful."
Collis' critical study, Phyllis Webb and the Common Good (Talonbooks, 2007), examines Webb's work in relation to 20th century poetics and social movements.
To the Barricades (Talon 2013) looks at the shifting strategies of revolt and protest in contemporary social justice campaigns such as the Occupy movement and Idle No More. It is described as a collection of social lyrics and serial explorations "to drive apathy from the field" and recover forgotten radical ideas.
Described as fiction in the tradition of Borges, Nabokov, and Bolaño, The Red Album (Book Thug 2013) in another work by Stephen Collis that examines historical authenticity and authority. "As the ghosts of social revolutions of the past are lifted from the soil in Catalonia, and a new revolution unfolds in South America," the story is complicated by a growing maze of author/characters.
At the end of 2014, Stephen Collis served as a spokesperson for land defenders who disrupted survey work to protect parts of Burnaby Mountain, on unceded Coast Salish territories, against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline. After Kinder Morgan served the obstructionists with a $5.6 million dollar lawsuit, a legal defence fund was created to support the legal costs for Collis, Adam Gold, Mia Nissen and Lynne Quarmby, among others, who defended their rights to protest in hearings held November 5-7 at the Supreme Court of B.C.
Collis & Co. eventually “won” this environmental battle after it was discovered Kinder Morgan had given the RCMP incorrect GPS coordinates so that the invisible “line” that protesters were not supposed to cross was nowhere near where it was meant to be. The judge threw out all the charges and refused to give Kinder Morgan an extension for their drilling. The U.S.-based Kinder Morgan cut its losses and hurriedly helicoptered out all its exploratory drilling equipment. There is already one pipeline that brings tar-sands bitumen to the port of Vancouver. “Twinning” with a second tunnel could triple the amount of bitumen shipped through Vancouver by Kinder Morgan.
"We are at a point in history when people,l" said Collis, "have to stand up for what they believe, and stand up to defend their local environments, and the global environment too. I'm glad that is what we did in this case, but I also know we will have to do this again before long."
Once in Blockadia (Talonbooks 2016) is constructed of four sequences, two evolving from found texts that relate to the blockade of the flood of commodities into the Port of Vancouver, and the other blockade stopping the potential flow of oil out of Vancouver, both of which Collis was involved in. The other two sequences are two long poems that engage with the poet William Woodsworth and attempts to explain the barricades and the complexities of their purpose.
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Dispatches From The Occupation: A History of Change
The Birth of Blue (Chapbook 1997)
Anima/lung (Chapbook 1998)
Mine (New Star 2001)
Anarchive (New Star 2005)
Companions & Horizons (2005). Editor.
Blackberries (Chapbook 2005)
Through the Words of Others: Susan Howe and Anarcho-Scholasticism (ELS Editions 2006)
Phyllis Webb and the Common Good (Talonbooks 2007) 978-0-88922-559-6 $24.95
The Commons (Talonbooks 2008) 978-0-88922-580-0 $16.95
On the Material (Talonbooks 2010) 0889226326 $17.95
To the Barricades (Talonbooks 2013) 978-0-88922-747-7 $16.95
The Red Album (Book Thug 2013) 9781927040652 $24
Once in Blockadia (Talonbooks 2016) ISBN 978-1-77201-015-2, $18.95
On the Material – Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize 2011
On the Material
Structured in three parts, On the Material is a meditation on language, geography, socio-economics and the body, moving from the glut of fossil-fuelled consumer excess to the materiality of a single book.
Composed almost entirely of quatrains (each page being comprised of four four-line stanzas) and written while travelling through North America in 2008, “4x4” navigates issues of space and movement in the global age. As economies crumble, ecosystems fail and peak oil approaches, Collis records the production of a disarticulation of social discourse that our consumer society has generated: “After all we made money out of matter here / Now condos shield us from the computer hum / Of on-line trading and wars flash on flat screens / As 4x4s cool and ping mud covered in double garages.”
In its bridging second section, “I Fought the Lyric and the Lyric Won,” the desire to express wins out over the desire to possess. Beauty, contemplation and human communication seem to have abandoned the world, and their absence from the everyday has re-engaged the poet’s struggle with language—has left a need to reinvent human discourse and its attendant relations.
The third section, “Gail’s Books,” is a sequence of poems in memory of Stephen Collis’s sister, Gail Tulloch. A month after Gail’s death from cancer in 2002, a fire destroyed her house, removing every material reminder of her from the earth. All that remained was one book recovered from a pool of water in the ruins after the fire. Dried in the air, this book, and those Collis had previously borrowed from his sister, become a way for the poet to read back into the elemental heart of absence and loss—the “material” of the books displacing, and in some way recovering, how language holds the materiality of the physical world.
Available in April 2010.
To the Barricades (Talon $16.95)
from BCBW 2013
Radicalism still lives in B.C., if only on paper. As a descendant of Scottish coal miners who came to Vancouver Island in the late 1800s, Stephen Collis first wrote Mine (New Star, 2001), a reconstruction of the early history of the B.C. coal industry from which sprang trade unionism in B.C.
It was followed by his investigation into the connection between anarchy and poetry, Anarchive (New Star, 2005), partially inspired by the Spanish Civil War, a conflict so essential to the evolution of counter-culturalists such as George Orwell and George Woodcock.
Now Collis has released To the Barricades (Talon $16.95) to examine shifting strategies of revolt and protest in contemporary social justice campaigns such as the Occupy movement and Idle No More. It is described as a collection of explorations “to drive apathy from the field and recover forgotten radical ideas.”
Collis simultaneously examines historical authenticity and authority in The Red Album (Book Thug $24). This fictional story, in the tradition of Borges and Nabokov, is complicated by a growing maze of author/characters, “as the ghosts of social revolutions of the past are lifted from the soil in Catalonia, and a new revolution unfolds in South America.”
Album 9781927040652; Barricades 978-0-88922-747-7
Go tell it on the Burnaby Mountain
After Kinder Morgan served Burnaby Mountain obstructionists with a $5.6 million dollar lawsuit, a legal defence fund was created to support the legal costs for poet and SFU professor Stephen Collis, Adam Gold, Mia Nissen and Lynne Quarmby, among others, who defended their rights to protest in hearings held last November at the Supreme Court of B.C.
A lawyer for Kinder Morgan read some of Collis’ writing into the public record. It was a prose piece called The Last Barrel of Oil on Burnaby Mountain from Collis’ blog post.
“He introduced it in court,” says Collis, “as evidence of my guilt as someone intending to blockade their pipeline, and encouraging others to do so as well.
“He referred to it as a ‘poem by Stephen Collis.’ I can only assume that the literary structure of the sentences led him to re-brand it as a poem!”
It was subsequenlty discovered Kinder Morgan had given the RCMP incorrect GPS coordinates so that the invisible “line” that protesters were not supposed to cross was nowhere near where it was meant to be.
The judge threw out all the charges and refused to give Kinder Morgan an extension for their drilling.
The U.S.-based Kinder Morgan cut its losses and hurriedly helicoptered out all its exploratory drilling equipment.
“We are at a point in history,” says Collis, “when people have to stand up for what they believe, and stand up to defend their local environments, and the global environment, too.”
Stephen Collis’ next book will be called Reading Wordsworth in the Tar Sands, due next year.
Once in Blockadia (Talon $18.95)
from BCBW 2017
At a gas pump, Stephen Collis notices an LED message crawl: Help Shell change the world. He collects such nuances for his amalgam of protest-driven poetry and “militant sincerity,” Once in Blockadia (Talon $18.95), partly a response to being named in a $5.6 million lawsuit unsuccessfully launched by U.S. energy giant Kinder Morgan. Lawyers cited Collis’ writing as a mobilizing force for protestors who stymied the company’s exploratory boreholes on Burnaby Mountain.
It’s hard to live up to being called “the most dangerous poet in Canada” but Collis is doing his anti-capitalist darndest, documenting his travels from the Alberta Tar Sands to Wordsworth’s Lake District for Once in Blockadia—a term coined by Naomi Klein. His combination of transcripts and memoir has been named as one of three finalists for this year’s George Ryga Award for Social Awareness, to be presented in June. The other finalists are Wade Davis for Wade Davis: Photographs (D&M $39.95) and Eric Jamieson’s The Native Voice: The Story of How Maisie Hurley and Canada’s First Aboriginal Newspaper Changed a Nation (Caitlin $24.95).