The blackberry – ubiquitous west coast fruit – is an incarnation of the principle of the commons. No one buys blackberries – they grow everywhere and are accessible to all – a common property. For nineteenth century writer Henry David Thoreau, the berry patch represented an alternative to the aggressive and scarcity driven state – an outside of plenty. Released from jail for not paying his poll-tax, Thoreau describes meeting a berry picking party and subsequently finding himself, in a matter of minutes, several miles out of town, in the midst of a vast berry patch, ‘where the state was nowhere to be seen.’ The blackberry is utopian through and through. It is a tangled and thorned space of hope.
‘Blackberries,’ by Stephen Collis, ventures into Thoreau’s berry patch, picking words from the abundant shrubs, noting that the blackberry is governed by the number five (clusters of five leaves, five sided canes), gathering plenty where it lays in the common fields of literary history.
Stephen Collis has been picking berries – especially blackberries – since he could walk. A poet and critic, he is the author of Mine (New Star 2001) and Anarchive (New Star 2005), as well as numerous chapbooks and essays on poetry and art. Current projects include books on poets Phyllis Webb (Phyllis Webb and the Common Good) and Susan Howe (Through Words of Others: Susan Howe/George Butterick, a Correspondence), as well as a trilogy of books on anarchist themes, begun by Anarchive. He is a member of the Kootenay School of Writing collective and teaches poetry and American literature at Simon Fraser University.