Faculty and Staff
SFU’s Stephen Collis wins the 2019 Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize
By Rebecca Saloustros
Stephen Collis, Simon Fraser University English professor and author of six poetry collections and five books of prose, has won the 2019 Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize.
Established in 2014, the prize annually honours a mid-career, Canadian poet who has “mastered the art of poetry.” An independent judging panel selects the poet and awards them a $25,000 prize.
“The nice thing about the national recognition,” says Collis, “is that, since readers in the East don’t always know the writers in the West, you get to meet a new audience.”
Collis appreciates that the prize acknowledges his career as a whole.
“My work evolves over several books that are extending and further exploring the same ideas. A career recognition is kind of a recognition of that process.”
Previously, Collis won the 2011 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize (B.C. Book Prize) for his poetry collection, On the Material. He also earned SFU’s Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy in 2015.
The latter came a year after U.S. energy giant Kinder Morgan sued Collis and four other activists for obstructing work on the Trans Mountain pipeline. In court, Kinder Morgan’s lawyer quoted Collis’ writing as evidence against him. In 2015, the company dropped their lawsuit.
Collis’ interest in the environment began in his youth. He grew up on Vancouver Island, canoeing and hiking with his father. In the 1980s, he became concerned about protecting old growth forests. At night, Collis would put up posters with his poems about the importance of preserving the natural world. As his commitment to environmentalism continues, Collis often focuses his poetry and prose on controversial environmental and political issues.
“As modern history has progressed, we’ve become more and more aware as a society of ecological crises. It’s all the more reason to think about it and be concerned about it, and therefore write about it.”
In Collis’ opinion, poetry inspires and supports political activists and protesters.
“An audience is going to walk away from a poem with a feeling. That feeling might be urgency or hope or despair or anger or outrage, or whatever it might be. That’s what the poem is delivering in that political context,” says Collis.
He also sees a poem as “soul food for activism;” a reward for the protester after a long day.
The future of this “mid-career poet” will involve “more of the same,” says Collis, who has two books in the works, including a poetry collection.
“The poetry book I’m working on is about time and about how we talk and think about the future and feel about the future and how time is sort of a weird concept right now.”
In addition to writing, Collis will be teaching a first-year SFU English class next term called “Literature Now.” The readings he has selected focus on migration and the plight of refugees and asylum seekers.
Collis encourages students interested in creative writing to pursue their ambitions. Collis advises them to read as much and as widely as possible. He also recommends they write regularly and ignore their negative inner voice.
“Try and silence that voice everyone has inside. Tone that inner monologue down and let yourself write.”
The 2019 Writers' Trust Awards were given out on November 5th at the CBC Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto, Ontario.