In this collection of long and serial poems, Stephen Collis returns to the commons, and to his ongoing argument with romantic poet William Wordsworth, to rethink the relationship between human beings and the natural world in the Anthropocene. Collis circumambulates Tar Sands tailings ponds and English lakes—and stands in the path of pipelines, where on Burnaby Mountain in 2014 he was sued for $5.6 million dollars by energy giant Kinder Morgan, whose lawyers glossed Collis’s writing in court by noting that "underneath the poetry is a description of how the barricade was constructed." Called by Eden Robinson "the most dangerous poet in Canada," in Once in Blockadia Collis is in search of how we can continue to resist—as we only begin to understand the extent of our complicity and the depths of the predicament we are in.
The bulk of Once in Blockadia is made up of two long sequences evolving from found texts, and two long poems that engage with Wordsworth. The two found texts relate to two blockades Collis was involved in: one blocking the flood of commodities into the Port of Vancouver, and the other blocking the potential flood of oil out of Vancouver. In both cases the poetry and "notes" that follow offer glimpses into the documentary "fact" of events, the resistance behind the blockade, the reasons for them, and the complex of resistant affects driving the events. The two Wordsworthian long poems involve two walks—one in the Alberta Tar Sands, and the other in Wordsworth’s beloved Grasmere. In the first instance Wordsworthian description is applied to the impossible to aestheticize Tar Sands; in the second, Wordsworth’s own beloved home is revealed not as an alternative to the destruction of extraction, but as conditioned, surrounded, and structured by it.
“One of the most striking examples of political poetry I’ve seen in a while. … [Once in Blockadia] could easily be considered his strongest collection to date … While the three volumes (to date) that have made up his ongoing “Barricades project” – Anarchive (New Star, 2005), The Commons(Talonbooks, 2008/2014), and To the Barricades (Talonbooks, 2013) – have cohered and articulated language as an element of social action, Once in Blockadia is denser and more focused, composed as much as a cudgel and a call-to-action as a communique on or consequence of the Trans Mountain pipeline.” —rob mclennan
“This book lives in Realms Ecological and is … somewhat punk about it. Once in Blockadiais uniform in concern, but not in technique or style. … These are militantly humane texts about climate disaster … 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. … A sad, angry, critical, noble book is Blockadia.”
—Contemporary Verse 2
“Collis is mindful of the entwined nature of historical events and our emotional attachments to the places that we share or defend. … Once in Blockadia is a valuable book for allies, poets, and scholars … 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.”
—William V. Lombardi, for Canadian Literature
“Once in Blockadia is the anvil we’ve been waiting for. Political and ecological, civil and riotous, Stephen Collis has crafted work demonstrative of a poetic system that contends beautifully all the damning systems around us.”
"Collis’s book moves beyond the scale of both Williams’s man/city and Ginsburg’s generation/nation to bring the bioregion into deep focus as both place (actually inhabited) and space (increasingly uninhabitable). Collis’s strength as a poet is his ability to hold in simultaneous suspension the descriptions of particular lifeforms and of sprawling, capitalist ecocidal apparatus … The poetic “doing” Collis does in Blockadia is already more thoroughly embedded in bioregion than is most contemporary ecopoetry. It is more fluid in its shifts of time, scale, and system, and readier to spill off the page into practice."
— Boston Review