You never know who you might bump into strolling around Boundary Bay, perhaps even an award-winning poet.
Tsawwassen resident Stephen Collis is a finalist for the prestigious 2021 Governor General Literary Award thanks to his latest work, A History of the Theories of Rain.
“It’s my wife’s hometown and we have lived here for almost 20 years,” said Collis. “I walk a lot in Tsawwassen and it’s one way that I have really come to love the place. Just as a physical space of geography with the birds coming through all the time because it’s a fly way. I find the walking creeps into the writing all the time.”
Collis is the author of a dozen books of poetry and prose. His earlier work includes The Commons, On the Material, Once in Blockadia and Almost Islands: Phyllis Webb and the Pursuit of the Unwritten. Two years ago, the poetry and poetics professor at Simon Fraser University was awarded the Latner Writers' Trust Poetry Prize, which honours a poet for their body of work.
It was his publisher, Vancouver-based Talon Books, that nominated A History of the Theories of Rain.
The book explores the strange effect our current sense of impending doom has on our relation to time, approaching the unfolding climate catastrophe conceptually through its dissolution of the categories of “man-made” and “natural” disasters. How do we go on with our daily lives while a disastrous future impinges upon every moment?
“You definitely could say it’s a book about climate change but it’s more about poetry. It’s not science and it’s not public policy. It’s about the feelings,” explained Collis “The grief you feel, especially after the summer we just went through and the summers we had when we were kids. Those are not coming back probably. We live in South Delta or even in Richmond and it’s like are we going to make those dykes taller?”
It was several years ago when Collis spoke out against Kinder Morgan’s pipeline test work being done on Burnaby Mountain. It resulted in the Texas company including him a multi-million dollar lawsuit claiming he was influencing protestors that was impeding their its work.
“I was doing a lot of environmental activism. In some ways by accident because all this pipeline stuff landed in my (classroom) backyard here in Burnaby. Students are coming to you and asking about it then you are starting to meet up and talk to people about what is going on. I kind of got wrapped up in that,” Collis recalled.
“They sued me, another professor up here, and a couple of other people just to get us out of the way. They we were getting interviewed in the papers and writing op-eds and other things. They claimed it was encouraging people to protest so you are responsible. (Laughing) it was eventually dropped but there were a months of nail-biting while looking around wondering where I can find $5 million dollars.”
Overseen by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Governor General’s Literary Awards were initiated to promote Canadian literature and encourage Canadians to read. There are seven categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Young People’s Literature – Text, Young People’s Literature –Illustrated Books and Translation. The winner in each category will receive $25,000. The winners will be announced Nov. 17.“You can’t quite predict these things or think too much about them. I’ve written a lot of books and published a lot of books and have been lucky to get nominated for or get awards for things in the past. You try do the best work you can and try to get better every time,” added Collis. “Part of the challenge is to learn and say okay, maybe I can try something else here.”