About the Book
Almost Islands is a memoir of Collis’s friendship with and regular visits to legendary poet Phyllis Webb—now in her nineties and long enveloped in the silence which followed her last published book in 1990—as well as an extended meditation on literary ambition and failure, poetry and politics, choice and chance, place, colonization, and climate change—the struggle that is writing, and the end of writing.
“I go to see her because she is poetry’s old crone and I am seeking. I go to her—usually three, four times a year—because it is a small ministration I can perform for her, and for her poetry, as she slowly reaches into the finite—a long, slow embrace of nothing…. If living is a process of learning how to die, then is writing a process of learning how to stop writing? I go in search of lost words, in search of the hoped for defence against the loss of words, drawn to the shaping sounds of fate and mortality.”
This is a book of poetic, political, and philosophical digressions—a book that weaves numerous themes together in a non-linear fashion. In part, it makes a literary argument: that Webb’s turn, in the 1970s, from a failed poet about a European radical to the indigenous artworks literally etched into the rocks of her local environment has both literary and political meaning and importance. Beyond this, I seek to build upon and extend Webb’s expansion of her “poetic” sense of the political, by proposing a political agent, the “biotariat,” that is both human and more than human—this after following as many pathways as I can through Webb’s own reading and thought. Finally, this is a book obsessed with the problem of Webb’s not writing, it’s implications for a writer (me) who—compulsively—probably writes too much, and the wider social, political, and world historical implications of withdrawal, self-silencing, and not-doing.
About the Book
Collis is also the author of two book-length studies, Phyllis Webb and the Common Good (Talonbooks 2007) and Through Words of Others: Susan Howe and Anarcho-Scholasticism (ELS Editions 2006), as well as the editor, with Graham Lyons, of Reading Duncan Reading: Robert Duncan and the Poetics of Derivation (Iowa University Press, 2012). He teaches contemporary poetry and poetics at Simon Fraser University, where he was a 2011/12 Jack and Doris Shadbolt Fellow.