To the Barricades

By Stephen Collis

To the Barricades
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To the Barricades moves back and forth between historical and contemporary scenes of revolt, from nineteenth-century Parisian street barricades to twenty-first-century occupations and street marches, shifting along the active seam between poetry and revolution. Avant-garde technique ... Read more


To the Barricades moves back and forth between historical and contemporary scenes of revolt, from nineteenth-century Parisian street barricades to twenty-first-century occupations and street marches, shifting along the active seam between poetry and revolution. Avant-garde technique is donated to lyric ends, forming anti-archive of the revolutionary record where words are hurried bricks thrown up as linguistic “barricades."


Dear Common: Vancouver

—George Oppen

Dear common
in Vancouver we
slip amongst money
coast mists and
lumber memories
wondering if rain
falls equally upon
the heads of the
rich and poor
no noblesse for
this oblige as
companies mine death
to deliver largesse
but—city of
sightlines and sea
walls—where can I
lay my natural consciousness
here my animal spirits
unleashed into the
waters of the streams
corralled in culverts
beneath nonexistent
paving stones?

Rhetoric is a glass
font a chromed
entrance to banks
and soaring offices
my language is
simple and inert
I might turn to
the sentence as a
prison or an escape
dire predictions stop
nothing the arteries
fill tunnels and
bridges with
unbarricaded traffic
a flash mob is
one thing the way
the mountains shoulder
their load of snows
is another
no Atlas no
Olympus but
to see what the
deer see is
a revolution of
another kind


Dear apparatus of
accumulation you
platform for capital
we call home
there are demonstrations
and we demonstrate
police wear yellow
reflective vests and
some of us have
reflective vests too
directing traffic to
other ends
no monetary reasons
in mind like I
could love another—
seems almost
lift of their
limbs or voice raised
no this no that
and affirmation
is the sound we make
individually though
somehow the same
spatially and temporally
united—you know
whose streets our


Vancouver is not a
march or an
occupation but it
seems so in its
fixity where we’d
unleash all this
course together
but work on
smoothing the edges
where one breaks off
and another begins

I know I’m just
catching up but
they spilt this city
over indigenous land
mountain spirits down
to the midden
heaped beaches
something primitive
say commerce or
colonization the blunt
heads of culture
driving stakes until damn

I kick my juice
if rhyme was a
drug I’d sell it
by the gram

Vancouver you
light between
mountains and a
sea where derricks crane
and condos never cease to


Dear common a
city is no essence
but this conversation
this call is
something close
though it’s tricky
to see clearly when
even the cops ride
bikes and green
things become a
market of seeming
values so boxed
voices say what
are you protesting
against the lap
of luxury and
medicinally planned
peace or is it just
your profession to be
in the street
all these signs and
bullhorns in your
basement just waiting
for a cause some
predictable riot against
government’s disdain?

Dear effects of
tireless treason
the social only
shuffles if you
move your feet
we’ve learned this
in a place invaders
called Vancouver
even if we are only
a few and even if
it rains on the day
of the demo


Dear common it’s
not that we don’t
love our city it’s
that our city
is more than
an accumulation of
real estates or
pile up of colonial
collisions on an
unmarked historical
highway bleeding resources
into chemical seas

You see—
as lights dimmed
over the DTES
and tents went up
in a vacant lot
where developers
dreamed of condos
sleek in their
reflective skins—
who could tell
just how far we were
from a nineteenth century
Paris we build and
unwittingly rebuild
in our radical minds?

I’ll tell you
next time we stream
into the city
celebratory and decked
in red—it will be for
no hockey game
no civic of national
spectacle but the ghosts
of solidarities past
grabbing a hold of
the material city
stone by
shaking stone to
heave it into
the sea or onto
a raven’s sleek back


If this weren’t a poem
I would want to
talk of protests of
marches in these
streets the force of
voices and flags a
group singing loudly a
group carrying what
looks like a dragon a
group with masks and
a makeshift battering ram

I would want to
say Paris say
revolution say
Paris and Vancouver
touch known and
unknown but
it is not true
and we go on
ignorant of the we
we have been becoming
so long they say so long
to all that anger and
dissent so long
we are government and
you have nothing
to do with us
but we’ve everything
to do with you
so long Paris
hello Vancouver

Hold on hold
on I say I
ask have we
arrived yet have we
begun or even
returned from having
begun once before
hold on hold on
Brigette DePape
on the senate floor
with your sign
stop Harper stop
we are coming
or we have been
or we are
on our way back
from a Paris in
our barricaded hearts


I’ve seen you
on the day of a
protest stream along
streets to work
or between appointments
or yoga or shopping
in your various
ignoring us and the
noise we make
the colour of our
banners or the
precise words we’ve
printed there or which
we chant
the normal of banks
and starbucks and
boutiques oblivious
to the rain and the
gulls or pigeons hunched
above trolley wires

And I was frightened
by the grey stone
of your milled eyes
the crystal of
camera lenses
sound of a band
or game at the stadium
and I ran with
these strangled others
towards an endless
line of cops or
some large vacant
parking lot late
with nothing and
no one there
just a lone and
thin bear eating
garbage or an orca
gasping on the
pavement having
burst from the ground

[     ]


The Commons
Words like beauty, pleasure, and liberty do not sound hackneyed. Instead, their writing sounds synonymous with persistence. Collis is slightly off-step/beat, just out of range of any comfortable assumption, and a good shuffle away from clear understanding. This is not poetry that leads, but includes. It is a welcome philosophical divergence in popular culture.
 — Prairie Fire Review of Books

Phyllis Webb and the Common Good
As much about Webb as about the cultural and political milieu of her time, this book is necessary reading for anyone interested in Canadian poetry and the ethics of writing as criticism.
Smaro Kamboureli

On the Material
Winner of the 2011 BC Book Prize: Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize

“What is not a chronicle of scuffling feet over rebellious streets, what is not a meditation on spontaneous committee work, not a study of occupying civic spaces, not an expression of cascading revolutionary moments, what is the ‘not’ of all that, but that is still forged from all that? It is precisely this swirling charybdis of emotive power that To the Barricades ventures to traverse, harnessing the potential of collective transformation. Continuously in danger of being recouped and serialized by topic and theme, genre, and discourse, in the crosshairs of being literaturized, Collis keeps the forms of social address fluid, stealthy, street-smart, and on the run. Like Neruda’s Canto General, To the Barricades succeeds in marshalling forth ‘cities of words’ as yet un-citied. These lines are graffitiable.” – Rodrigo Toscano

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