Poetry vs Oil (and bulldozers)

Vancouver poet Stephen Collis writes about the poetic resistance to another pipeline planned to transport oil sands slurry from inside western Alberta to market in Poetry vs. Oil

Right now, one major pipeline carries the goop to Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet, where it is loaded onto supertankers tourists can wave at from scenic Stanley Park. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, south, to Texas, has been (temporarily, perhaps) blocked. So now there are plans for a “Northern Gateway” pipeline to carry massive amounts of crude over 1,170 kilometers of forested and river-crisscrossed Northern BC—to the still largely undeveloped coast of the Great Bear Rainforest. Charming.

Into the fray steps a poetry anthology—The Enpipe Line (Creekstone Press 2012)—edited by a diverse collective that includes poet/activist and project founder Christine Leclerc…Originally conceived as a 1,170 kilometer long line of collaborative poetry (matching the proposed pipeline’s length), the project eventually grew to over 70,000km. The poetry in it is diverse, to say the least, and includes contributions from widely published and recognized poets to children and “professional” activists (such as Greenpeace co-founder Rex Weyler).


Here’s an example of the range. Eleven-year old Ta’Kaiya Blaney of Sliammon First Nation wrote the song “Shallow Waters” (the performance of which has become a popular mainstay of demonstrations in the province over the past year) when she was ten:

In shallow waters, I can’t see
Your clear waters lapping at my feet
The lifeless ocean, black not blue
I didn't help but deep down I knew


From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, some readers might find some of the work in this anthology “lacking.” However, the precise point this anthology raises—the very fact of the concatenation of art and revolution that it works—is the disappearance and impossibility of the “purely aesthetic” in today’s world. Rex Weyler, writing in the Forward, asks—“Can poetry stop ecocide?” I would have to answer no. But I would also say—it’s not not going to stop it either. 

A similar point was made in a striking essay in Poetry a couple of years ago by John Kinsella, an Australian poet, about resisting the destruction of the natural world:

A pacifist, which is what I am, can be the strongest resister, and pacifism the most defiant form of resistance. Same with language usage: I mix the old and the new to engage with a debate about protection, preservation, conservation, and respect of the “natural” world. I am aware of the problems these words carry in terms of implying complicity, because I am a poet rather than a speech writer. For me, because of this, poems can stop bulldozers. Not because they just say “stop bulldozer,” but because the intricacies of language challenge, distract, and entangle the bulldozer. I am using a semantics not of analogy, but of opposition. My words are intended to halt the damage—to see what shouldn’t be seen, to declare and challenge it.

Resistance, in this case, is not futile — it's a belief in life. Here's the enemy, in an astounding photo essay from, of all places, Business Insider, called The Oil Sands Mines Refused Us Access, So We Rented This Plane to See What They Were Up To


via Fountain, not Mountain

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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