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Stephen Collis is a professor of poetry and literature at SFU, and one of Canada’s most celebrated poets. His accolades include the 2011 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, the 2015 Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy and the 2019 Latner Writers’ Trust of Canada Poetry Prize. His most recent work, A History of the Theories of Rain, was nominated for the Governor General Literary Award as one of Canada’s top five English language books of poetry in 2021.

A History of the Theories of Rain explores the strange effect our current sense of impending doom has on our relation to time, and on how we talk, think and feel about the future. The poetry itself is about climate change, time and feelings of grief and loss—themes that have become even more urgent and relevant over the past year. As a longtime activist, Collis was pleased to learn his book was gifted to fellow environmentalists Greta Thunberg and Al Gore at the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). “I feel good for the book,” says Collis. “A lot more people are going to read it and that’s wonderful. You want to be in conversation. That’s why you make art.”

We met with Collis to discuss his scholarly impact.

Your work has long featured themes of environmental, social and economic justice. As these issues have become increasingly urgent over the past year and half, how has this influenced your writing?

As these issues have long been a concern, I think it’s not so much a matter of growing “influence” so much as it is of deepening consideration. If there is a shift in my work more recently it is from a concern with how communities of resistance form and communicate, to broader philosophical concerns with the relation between human and planetary time scales and transformations. Maybe I’m trying to find the poem you could recite at the interface of human and natural history.

What would you most like audiences to take away from A History of the Theories of Rain?

This is a book of climate grief, and a reckoning with the absurd calculus we are now often drawn into (how many years before… how many degrees… ?). I suppose what I hope readers take away is that grief is inevitable, and not to be dismissed or escaped; that grief is not a barrier to taking action, but part of what we are and what we do and how we act—and how we have to carry on and carry our grief with us, into whatever future we can still collectively make.

In a time of environmental crisis—and health crisis—what gives you reason for hope?

The resilience of communities—and the resilience of life on this planet writ large. And the sincerity of the care and tenderness many are expressing and acting on—many of them young people, many of them our students.

It has been a tough couple of years for art and activism. For the artists, writers and activists out there, what advice do you have?

What you are already doing is what you need to be doing: build imaginative capacity, expand the possibilities of the imagination, add beauty to the world. Imagining another possible world—how it feels to yearn for or what it might feel like to live in a changed world—that’s the role creativity has always played in the human adventure of constant (and sometime quick!) adaptation. We are beings who model possibility, and that’s why we have cultures and cultural products.  

Can you please share one of your poems?

The Better Imagined

for Ali Smith

Something there is

if it is a sea

it is conveyance

over and above its body

settles the light of nature

a cool immanence

bluing the beyond

no matter how we float

embodied or free of vessels

no matter the season

or its temperate

or intemperate music

we cross over

seeds caught in

oblivious boots

molten thought that

another is what we

are or desire

a species of moth

whose colour has

yet to materialize

a refuge by any other name

the four sound seasons

singing migrant songs

perpetually arriving because

the sea is eternal permission



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