Once in Blockadia


Reviewed by Colin Smith

Once in Blockadia is Stephen Collis’s sixth solo full-length book of poems (he also collaborated with Jordan Scott for 2013’s DECOMP). It comprises five titled suites, two of which are a 12-page meditative poem (“Home at Gasmere”) and an even longer serial poem (“Reading Wordsworth in the Tar Sands”). We could rightly guess from these sarcastic titles that this book lives in Realms Ecological and is going to be somewhat punk about it.

Once in Blockadia is uniform in concern, but not in technique or style. Between these covers we find, additionally, an excerpt from a court transcript (Kinder Morgan taking protectors to trial for blockading two boreholes on Burnaby Mountain in 2014); a long prose poem (“Blockadia,” which is wide ranging, complex and very powerful); a suite of short poems whose text has been ganked from Shell Oil’s website then erased and added to; a hilariously error-filled CBC Radio coverage transcript of a rolling protest by Occupy Vancouver in 2011 that interrupted shipping as usual at the docks; as well as some discrete titled poems.

These are militantly humane texts about climate disaster that seek “upper limit abolition / lower limit solidarity” (“on the lumen of the global movement”), as well as noting “What strange adapters we are!” (“Reading Wordsworth in the Tar Sands”).

I feel it fair to say that Collis is working with the postmodern lyric. His most common syntactical gambit is a jaunty, conversational line that is then crashed into by one boiled down, deeply overstressed. We bounce along then jam: jerk: stick: recommence. It’s a lively, effective tactic.

There are many centres or hearts to this book, but I’ll zero in on one. Namely the lengthy serial poem “Reading Wordsworth in the Tar Sands.” Written during and after a healing walk taken by citizens in 2014 around parts of Fort McMurray’s Brobdingnagian affliction, this drastic text incorporates material from William Wordsworth’s poems and letters, as well as Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal. Some of Blockadia’s most moving writing is here, and the tonal clash caused by the cohabitation of discourses written so far apart in time might be mimetic of our contemporary failure in coming to accord about climate matters.

This review is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.

Colin Smith considers matters from Treaty 1 Territory Winnipeg.