Energy Fabulations

Stephen Collis’ poetry ruminates on place, activism, and the complex and conflicted layering of planetary interconnection. At the heart of Once in Blockadia are concepts that expose the simultaneous particularity and universality of any given place. Collis is mindful of the entwined nature of historical events and our emotional attachments to the places that we share or defend. In many respects, Collis’ work directs us toward the fluid status and meaning of locality, formerly the unquestioned site of environmental resistance, now one of the central conceptual battles of the Anthropocene. As such, Once in Blockadia contends with environmentalism’s problematic roots in the nostalgia of the romantic tradition; it exposes nature writing’s often elided, difficult relationship to settler colonialism; and it interrogates the paradoxically useful and obsolete jeremiad.

Once in Blockadia is a unified project composed of five sections of poetry, with sketches and photos interspersed throughout, documenting the everyday radicalization of communities whose recent acts of socio-environmental defiance have received varying degrees of exposure in the popular press. The first section, “Subversal,” contains longer poems that consider problems of materiality, territory, and solidarity. The second section is a stand-alone poem, “Reading Wordsworth in the Tar Sands,” which emphasizes the theme of walking as healing that Collis has threaded throughout the book. Here, especially, Collis reflects on the bodily nature of being and responsibility. Section three is a challenging experimental piece composed of poems developed from the impossibly funny and misrepresented language of a mechanically transcribed radio interview with Collis. In “The Port Transcript,” Collis reproduces the transmission verbatim, using the phrasing of its accidentally odd and baffling translation for the titles of the poems which follow. Section four, “Home at Gasmere,” the story of a pilgrimage of sorts, feels the most personal. It reflects on working landscapes while contending with the spirit and consequences of William Wordsworth’s poems in Collis’ life. The final section of the book, “One Against Another,” looks forward and outward. It imagines communities formed of friction and intimacy by returning to that keyword of science and social science, struggle. Here, Collis imagines the very ordinariness of the connection between struggle and love, and the unavoidable vulnerability each engenders.

Once in Blockadia is a rich expression of the enduring cultural and biological connectivity currently being reclaimed through networks of care. It explores the concept of stored political energy shadowing the untapped energy of fossil fuels that, as they are developed, bring about the demise of human culture and promote global catastrophe. In this regard, among his varied lines, repeated sounds, and critical romanticism, Collis reminds his reader that the decolonial is ecological, and the ecological is decolonial. Once in Blockadia is a valuable book for allies, poets, and scholars because it clearly annunciates an aesthetics of petromodernity. Collis’ work represents a nascent ecopoetics of place for the twenty-first century. I was immediately touched by it; my first impulse was to recommend it to close friends and to colleagues invested in the troublesome and shifting language of emplacement.

This review “Energy Fabulations” originally appeared in Meanwhile, Home. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 232 (Spring 2017): 134-135.

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