Tag Archives: poetry

Golfing St. George’s Hill with Sean Bonney

This poem is an addenda to the dialogue between myself and poet Sean Bonney in Toward. Some. Air. (Banff Press 2015). In 1649 the Diggers occupied enclosed common land on St. George’s Hill, declaring the world “a common treasury for all.” Today the site is occupied by a golf course and some of the most exclusive and expensive residential property in the world.

Remember what used to matter
Sean says sharing the tube the taxi
cab not fucking people over not
fucking off with each of our
needs to cauterize each of our
abilities look at this night
we have opened an angle of
unending ghost escapes
here is some furze
here is an assart
we will soon reverse
our desires unstinted and
shared with the moles
not dangling from farmers’
fence posts we dissolved with
our whisky spit look I say
here shall be my dwelling
because I have chosen it
I feare none because I stand
upon a saufe ground
if England could speake
would she not make such
and such complaints? If the walls
of such and such a citie
or towne had a tongue
would they not talk thus and thus?
For if any of these bee hindered
wee have a large fielde to walke in
perswading or disswading the
rehearsall of commodities
and heaping all the properties
which belong unto conclusion
into a bucket we dump out the window

So speaking we ascend George’s Hill
unbunkered but cameo light
along verges of Surreyed wastes
wearing what golfers might wear in
capering seventeenth century hells
Sean and I figure unreason to be
the reason we are here shout nary
or full-throttle you gobbled
last night’s liquor to free everyone
Dear Impossible and if you appear
all is useless empty lands
and the same projector ghost
on turgid ponds a regal apprentice
doffs his proper proprietorship
as tinctured incumbents count
votes we have not given to
subsume us with patriotic song
like if buying / own Florida
I open the gulf for you cursed
sports witch hazel and moor howl
you can tumble moneyward
at the steepled void juddering
politicos scare me where I love
and my meat is late for the sales
if we sup now genetic dissembling
spite song saying and unsaying
my spleen begat this Dear
Impossible development and
multi-million pound homes
ringing lanes acre by stolen acre
we may still rip up in our rage

We’ll have to dig in Sean
the sharper’s course marks
not commons but fair ways
exclude killing not killing
the care taken to trim these
greens like plush carpet surfaces
of indoors taken out I take
a club in hand and say
see here I’ll wedge us past
that prying tree clip a
bough or two sending mad
spin of leaf to earth but
land nevertheless hole high
in a rich shit’s right eye
and there proclaim the
work we are going about
is this and lift my club
high over head to bring down
smart on pleasant green table top
so we do begin to dig Sean and I
and Sean is singing stand up now
stand up now with spade and hoe
and plough or at least these
irons we’ve taken from posh
fucks out for millionaire rounds
because the club is all their law
the club is all their law Sean
and I sing as we dig without
a tee time into George’s Hill




The Kropotkin Poems

“The Kropotkin Poems” is a book or sequence of poems about the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin that the Canadian poet Phyllis Webb did not write; they exist only as a 1967 grant proposal and several fragmentary poems (some titled “Poems of Failure”) that lie in the long gap between Webb’s 1965 Naked Poems and 1980’s Wilson’s Bowl.

I go to see Phyllis—the first time in almost a year, which is too long a gap, when someone is 88 years old. Up early bus to first ferry the grey sea chopping against the causeway—November in August, the power still out at home—lowering and layered sky of various charcoals torn to shreds.

I’ve tried many times to write about poetry and anarchism—it’s too easy to fall into simply associations (the improvisational anarchy of contemporary “free” verse)—or to celebrate heroic figures—a problem Webb found herself up against with Kropotkin and his “saintly” image, the contradiction of “centralizing” anarchism’s history and ideas into an identifiable corpus.

I take the bus from Fulford Harbour to Ganges. Salt Spring Island is green in this storm despite the season’s long drought. Phyllis, too, is the same as ever, seeming not to have changed much over the 12 years I have been visiting. She is sitting in her chair, books and paintings all around her. By chance or clairvoyance, Kropotkin’s Memoirs of a Revolutionist is on the table at her side. “I don’t know how it got there…” she says.

Poetry and anarchism becomes another take on poetry and the political generally. Many poets (myself included) have been writing about this difficult nexus of late. Problems can arise when poets tell other poets exactly how this is to be done, how they are doing it wrong. Struggle is a particularity we each figure out alone or in small groups. Though I think what we all want is the material, the street, real change—not escape into poems, but poems as avenues into the fight and fray. Thing is—one size never fits all, and difference is the difficult days we each must live, often or in large alone.

Phyllis says, off-hand, anarchism brought “messages for my poetry” (channelling William Butler Yeats). It’s not always so simply the poem’s proximity to action/activism that matters; often, it’s the passage walked in both directions between, the nature of the network, the relays that form an array between authors, ideas, movements, and yes, “actual” “actions.” We can become so mad for acts to replace words, for words not to supplant acts. Porosity is what I want in the relationship between art and politics. I want to go back and forth, as needed.

In her failed fragments of Kropotkin Poems, Phyllis writes of the “Insurrectionary wilderness of the I / am, I will be”—a temporal and transformative process that ends in being “something other.” Poetry pulls in the direction of such transformations, and it’s such insurrectionary wildernesses that keep pulling me back to it.

Phyllis and I decipher some of her marginal notes in Kropotkin, look at other books, a bright abstract painting (hers) we haven’t paid attention to before, order pizza and drink beer. With each of us holding a copy of her new Collected Poems, me asking something about Kropotkin, Phyllis suddenly remembers a poem where someone is wearing a red hat, and we are both off searching for it, neither of us remembering. We find it at the same exact moment, working our way through the book from opposite ends.

What keeps drawing me back to Phyllis? Her strength to remain alone (which I lack), her resolute withdrawal, her ability to dwell in the glare of her fragments and failures. It’s as resistance that she continues. Islanded. Bulwarked. But open, curious. What a barrage she had to endure—as a single, unaffiliated, unrepentant intellectual woman in her day (I think of Anne Boyer’s incredible comments on struggle from an interview with Amy King posted today).

I come to Phyllis for the possibilities of despair, for endurance, for the potentiality that remains in determined resignation (I can’t go on / I will go on). And for her poems on Lenin and Kropotkin and the persistent and potent failures of our revolutionary dreams.

Her failures and refusals are fashioned from a position painfully honed in the negative space around the western patriarchal colonial forward pushing and acquisitive arrow through time. Charles Olson: “it is unfinished business I speak of….” Webb: it is the business of not finishing I speak of—the western and European urge to do, to make, to identify and dictate what is to be done that she undercuts, abandons. Her question is: what is to be undone? It’s a question for the anthropocene—for this age of geophysical capitalism.

It is a luxury and privilege to visit her. At just this moment—with the planet careening on its warming arc, spilling storms out of its darkening oceans, an election in the works that may, or may not, make much of a difference, and the Unist’ot’en Camp, where Indigenous land defenders are holding the line in the path of numerous pipelines punching their way into the unceeded heart of these mountains and rivers without end—it hardly seems the time to escape to an island to visit a solitary and aging former poet. But I do, as I must—holding to the resistances that I can.

Just before I leave, Phyllis mentions that she is getting rid of books, lightening her load. I ask about Kropotkin’s Memoirs, on the table between us. No, she says, I don’t think I can part with it yet. I leave soon after, with George Woodcock’s The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin (Boardman 1950) in my bag. It’s a good second prize.

70 Theses Against Tar Sands Pipelines

  1. Today is a sensitive location.
  2. Life is not settled it’s unsettling.
  3. Clouds we make form what seems but isn’t really haphazard weather.
  4. Today brittle pipes might crack beneath our feet, loosing toxins.
  5. Today we walk a line between a fossil past and a future afire.
  6. But maybe we could still walk in unspoilt fields of tomorrow, erasing this line.
  7. Maybe we could still walk breathing and indeterminate and open to possibilities not described by this line.
  8. Observe that large jets are missing despite their loads of fuel, technological instrumentation.
  9. Observe that waterfowl in this area and elsewhere seem no less precarious.
  10. Observe the concept of the ocean as a “sink” for carbon and runoff.
  11. Observe that we are walking the path of the pipeline that is a property cutting across properties as it will to the harbour transecting lived space with fossils afire.
  12. Now who I ask is a pauper, who a prince?
  13. Now upon whose door can we nail these theses and stake our honest complaint?
  14. Because you would lay pipe beneath Eagle Creek and Squint Lake.
  15. Because you would lay pipe beneath Stony Creek and Lost Creek, beneath Heron and Dynamite Creeks, and beneath Silver Creek.
  16. Because you would lay pipe beneath great blue herons, red-tailed hawks, belted kingfishers, red-winged blackbirds, the occasional pheasant, river otter, beaver, and raccoon, beneath cutthroat trout and spawning salmon, beneath black-tailed deer and coyote.
  17. Because you would lay pipe beneath big leaf maple, red alder, western hemlock, western red cedar, Douglas fir, salmon berry, Indian plum and red elderberry.
  18. Because you would lay pipe beneath Forest Grove Elementary School, Southside Community Church, and the homes of Drew and Gail Benedict, Allison Stroun, and the entire Dhaliwal family, amongst others.
  19. Because 55 species of fish use the Port Moody Arm Basin for loafing, foraging, in-migration and out-migration, and for all or part of their life-cycle ecology.
  20. Because the Tsleil-Waututh people have lived on beside and around these waters for thousands of years and they are the keepers of these waters sacred to them and unceded and balanced stewardship is how they have always lived here.
  21. Because the Musqueam and Skwomesh peoples have lived near or around here for uncounted generations and clean water has been their necessity too crossing forest paths to take a deer or medicines home.
  22. Because we have a love of parks, green spaces, waterways and coastlines, bays and inlets where we might walk swim and fish away the days at leisure.
  23. Because there is of course oil in the pipe lying beneath our feet.
  24. Because the estimated frequency of significant oil spills on any given new pipeline is approximately two per year.
  25. Because in this case the existing pipeline is over 60 years old and instruments don’t last species do or might longer than banks we will see.
  26. Because the diluted bitumen which in this case Kinder Morgan pipes here beneath our feet is moved at much higher temperatures and under higher pressure than conventional oils, and is more corrosive than conventional oils.
  27. Because when a diluted bitumen spill occurs the chemical condensate evaporates resulting in toxic air-born vapours and the release of carcinogenic benzene and hydrogen sulphide into low-lying areas and waterways.
  28. Because the bitumen once separated from its condensate sinks to the bottom of bodies of water, impacting the very base of the food chain and all the existing methods of spill recovery are based on surface removal (by booms or burning).
  29. Because in July 2007 Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline burst at the intersection of Inlet and Ridge Drives spilling 250,000 litres of crude oil into streets and the front and back yards of homes and Dynamite Creek and eventually into Burrard Inlet; 250 residents were evacuated and $15 million spent on clean-up—it could have even been worse and it is worse.
  30. Because in January 2012 a pipeline rupture at Kinder Morgan’s Sumas Mountain tank farm spilled over 100,000 litres local resident’s breathing and burning eyes.
  31. Because to take another example after almost four years and $1 billion they are still cleaning up the 2010 Enbridge spill in Kalamazoo Michigan which has caused adverse health effects to some 58% of local residents and killed more than 3000 turtles 170 birds 40 mammals and has essentially eliminated fish and macroinvertibrates from local freshwater habitats that have not recovered and might not ever.
  32. Because as Rex Weyler once said every drop of oil you don’t spill into the water still spills into our atmosphere as carbon dioxide, adding to global climate change.
  33. Because the climate is warming faster and more dangerously than previously believed and the science is clear—this is anthropogenic climate change and even NASA and the UN are warning of the potential collapse of industrial civilization due to unsustainable resource extraction and the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth and I learned this from 12 year old Ta’Kaiya Blaney.
  34. Because as a NASA funded report claims all societal collapses over the past 5000 years have involved both the exceeding of ecological carting capacities and the economic stratification of society into elites and commoners which factors co-implicate and yes we are collapsing too.
  35. Because it’s said that the 85 wealthiest individuals on the planet have the same assets as the poorest 3.5 billion yes half the earth’s population but who’s counting?
  36. Because in 2013 Kinder Morgan was valued at $110 billion and paid shareholder dividends of over $1.7 billion.
  37. Because Kinder Morgan’s CEO and former Enron executive Richard Kinder received over $60 million in salary in 2012 but including stock options made $1.1 billion or so the internet tells me but really who’s counting?
  38. Therefore we beings being life forms and forces of incredible diversity all equally in possession of every possible right to a full and healthy existence according to our various natures;
  39. Being so often concerned with how we might sustain our various existences and sometimes aware and sometimes unaware of our cohabitation, overlapping, and general spatial and temporal coexistence one with each other;
  40. Being so often shaped, limited, and determined by the fact of this coexistence and in many cases sometimes obviously and directly but oftentimes also curiously indirectly and in almost unnoticeable ways co-dependent and carefully balanced each against and with and upon all the others;
  41. Being multiple and stray and various and differently adapted to our diverse ecological niches and fragile continuities;
  42. And one of us being a species named homo sapiens being capable of directly and indirectly impacting all the other species including itself out of proportion to all the other species though no less co-dependent coexisting and no more or less entitled to a full and healthy existence according to its particular nature;
  43. So that this one species having or having asserted and effected a larger impact on all the other coexisting species thereby takes on a kind of mantle of responsibility due in part to this species capacity for self-awareness and modification of its behaviour which is social;
  44. Thus it is on these grounds that this species most directly responsible for environmental and ecological calamities and crises the world over for instance climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels due to the systematic exploitation of people and resources and the private accumulation of capital stands here today to admit these responsibilities and declare that it will no longer permit itself the capacity to unequally impact destroy or otherwise dispossess other life forms of their ability to continue in their coexistence;
  45. Or at least we aspire to strive for such responsible stewardship which we might learn from First Nations and of which the maintenance of a company to extract distribute or pipe fossil fuels takes no part;
  46. And so we as members of this particular species declare or should declare our unrelenting opposition to the plans operations activities and profit-motived machinations of Kinder Morgan, a corporation like any other made and capable of being unmade enabled and capable of being disabled by human beings much as ourselves;
  47. For Kinder Morgan is a company formed out of the body of another company (Enron) and through the purchase of another company (the publicly owned BC Gas Company) where disaster begets disaster just as profit promotes further profit and inequalities always escalate in this system;
  48. For Kinder Morgan is in the business of transporting and distributing fossil fuel energy products and is ultimately part of an industry that produces excessive profits for an elite few and massive ongoing and often unpredictable global consequences for all coexisting life forms on this planet via global warming and its uneven and unjust consequences which are a direct threat to life on this planet;
  49. And the consequences of climate change and global warming impact poor and struggling populations more directly and immediately than they impact those in wealthy nations which so often cause global warming in the first place through their excessive energy consumption and this is to say nothing of other animals which also do not burn fuel but bear the brunt of ecological crises nonetheless.
  50. We say this knowing that we are consumers in a largely affluent society who work for wages and use these wages to purchase consumer goods and thereby sometimes derive enjoyment and certainly our continued material existence;
  51. Who have for instance purchased automobiles which run on fossil fuels to drive perhaps to the store or perhaps on a vacation over sharp-terrained coastal mountains to peer into pristine lakes or possibly spot a bear upslope and loping away from us into a stand of second growth fir;
  52. Who run errands in those automobiles that are of ambiguous import and usefulness and who bring home large amounts of petroleum based plastic products containing processed foods and amusements we will soon dispose of;
  53. Who wear clothes also fashioned from those petroleum products and who have mobile phones that are very distracting and amusing and which are also made of petroleum based products and also contain rare earth metals extracted in disparate parts of the earth and brought to us so we may play Plants vs Zombies by ships and trucks also powered with fossil fuels;
  54. Who after six months still use only 1% of consumer goods we have purchased the rest being disposed of in landfills and oceans and manufacturing and consumption account for more than half of the carbon dioxide we produce pathologically gulping stuff down;
  55. Who did not necessarily mean to do anything harmful but fell for the sleekness of products and the way marketing campaigns made everything seem so sexy and easy and convenience became a truism almost no one could contradict;
  56. We know this yet still declare our opposition to oil pipelines, the tar sands and the entire fossil fuel industry knowing that we are as much a part of the problem as Kinder Morgan or any other company is;
  57. We acknowledge that to oppose this industry is to admit that we must change our lives and consume less and re-localize our economies and do without some and possible many of the consumer goods we have found so distracting and amusing and really whose to blame well we are;
  58. We acknowledge that there are alternative energy sources which are renewable and which will have decidedly less destructive impacts on local ecosystems and the global climate and that these alternatives are becoming more and more realistic and affordable each day and that many countries though not the country of Canada are making progress in transitioning to renewable energy sources and that some of these sources are solar, wind, and geothermal;
  59. We contend that the argument based on job creation is a red herring to employ an ecological metaphor because jobs have many sources and no one type of job should have precedent over any other and the goal anyway should be jobs that are life-promoting and life-sustaining and not life-destroying and apparently anyway more people are employed producing beer than oil in Canada.
  60. Now wouldn’t a beer pipeline be something hmm?
  61. So we declare ourselves to be for life and not for death and for the future and not for the apocalypse.
  62. We walk with these others look around you look others too saying we will no longer stand for a world of pipelines and tar sands and carbon sinks burning futures.
  63. We will no longer burn our futures for unequal and unjust todays however fascinating and filled with distractions and privileges.
  64. We will no longer stand for a world of waste and petroleum products and no thoughts of future consequences of our acts and we will try not to contribute to the problem by say allowing more pipelines to be built and more oil spilled and burned more suffering delivered to so many left outside of benefit.
  65. We will take what actions are necessary despite government decisions media misrepresentations and corporate swindling we will act because we make up whatever we we can imagine it’s complicated but simple too we are and have the real power we just don’t always exercise or feel we can exercise it we can we will.
  66. And these streams we cross and re-cross daily and the smallest of organisms dwelling in and around them we recognize are as real and valid as anything else even more than a designer home overlooking the ocean or Las Vegas or a container ship filled with rubber ducks and certainly far less destructive.
  67. And we recognize that the temptations are great and people are bought off every day and we are very frail and small and temporary individually but can we also agree that we are many and they are few as has been said many times and in many ways?
  68. Now let’s see what we can do walking together along the path of this pipeline or walking to the place we can gather and blockade the new pipelines coming.
  69. Now come outside in the weather we are blossoming.
  70. Now come outside something’s in the air it could be tomorrow we could be different there together if we start today come outside together.


Written for the “People’s Procession,” read at the conclusion of the march and attached to the gates of Kinder Morgan’s Westridge Marine Terminal, Burnaby BC, April 12 2014


Notes Towards a Manifesto of the Biotariat

In a poem called “Almost Islands” (which riffs off of John Donne’s famous “no man is an island” passage), collected in my book To the Barricades (Talon Books 2013), I proposed a new social body: the biotariat. Here’s the relevant part of the (rather long) poem.

People of earth
there are no islands now
the planet is peninsular
jutting in space
one blue-green growing
brown orb attached to
disease we’ve made in
threshold song no
isolato on genetic shores

How does the predator
become the trustee?
Musk gesture pheromone
or mode of socio-economic
production—no species
no island for flit
of swallow’s blue-green
back rustle of genetics
in the ditch we probably dug

The next revolution
is what culture will teach
we can and can’t do
as system’s feedback loop
grabbing the red flag
spore poppy claw
of the biotariat
and heading off into
the weeds developers
left back of decay

It’s easy enough to throw an invented term into a line of poetry. In this fairly philosophical and speculative post, I would like to take the opportunity to begin to flesh this idea out just a little.

1. When we compare humans to animals in terms of mistreatment (“they were treated like animals”—in Gaza or Syria or the Sudan or…), we mean no disrespect to animals; we mean only that animals, including human beings, are often mistreated, exploited, and accorded no dignity. These processes are increasingly systematized and totalized.

2. First, a provisional definition. The biotariat: that portion of existence that is enclosed as a “resource” by and for those who direct and benefit from the accumulation of wealth. So: workers and commoners; most animals and plants, including trees and forest and grassland ecosystems; water; land, as it provisions and enables biological life; minerals that lie beneath the surface of the land; common “wastes” and “sinks” too, into which the waste products of resource production and use are spilled—the atmosphere and the oceans. It’s that large. The enclosed and exploited life of this planet.

3. Is it possible to politicize life as such? To—even conceptually—imagine its “class composition”? To read it—cross biotically—as social? I believe that current world conditions push us in this direction—make this an unavoidable move.

4. This is the reason to propose a biotariat: the enclosure and exploitation of life, in all its manifold aspects (from boreal forests to sea turtles to Bangladeshi garment workers to the homeless of the world’s major cities to sex trade workers to the coral reefs and so forth and so on), has reached a stage in which “we”—all of life—are in the same desperate and drunken boat—constrained there by a system of total and planetary accumulation that even the term “capitalism” perhaps cannot adequately capture anymore. In what sense is this “economics”—this means of the production of financial inequality that systemically impacts and imperils life itself?

5. Some key terms. Commons: the shared, widely understood; that which life requires access to in order to persist; that limited resource which is “managed”—either through ecological checks and balances, or human-generated customs—in order to be available for continued use. Enclosure: the privatization of the commons for exclusive access and use, for purposes of private profit generation, typically in ways with little regard to the resource’s sustainability.

“The urban proletariat were commoners without a commons,” writes Peter Linebaugh—displaced by enclosure. So the biotariat is life without a common (shared, open, non-privatized) support for life itself.

6. Enclosure, Peter Linebaugh notes (in Stop, Thief!), involves at once the “taking of land and the taking of bodies.” Linebaugh is noting the historical convergence of the enclosure of common lands and the “body snatchers” who stole and murdered commoners and other poor people to provide cadavers for the burgeoning medical schools of early nineteenth century England. But we can extend this analysis to the “taking of land” from indigenous people under colonization (and the extension of colonization into the current era of extreme resource extraction) and the “taking of bodies” evident in both the residential school system and the vast numbers of murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada. Going even further, the “taking of land” becomes almost total under current conditions, where the entire surface of the earth and its atmosphere too functions either as “productive resource” or sink for waste products (including carbon emissions), and the “taking of bodies” includes the capture of nearly all animals in factory farms, zoos, or “nature reserves.”

But again—how can we politicize life as such?

7. The Gaia hypothesis proposes that the earth is a single, self-regulating complex system, integrating biological, atmospheric, and inorganic subsystems. With the biotariat, I would imagine a politicized version of this hypothesis—the earth as planetary commons, all life as constituting the commoners who depend upon access to the planetary commons. This would be to project not a divine earth goddess (Gaia), but earth as a repressed commons, lowly, leveled, and exploited. Not as singularity, but as the multitude of life, coming, under the impetus provided by globalization and climate change, into a new and necessary solidarity.

8. The politicization of life as such, and thus the calling to arms of the biotariat, depends upon a willingness to accept “a definition of politics as a political ecology and a notion of publics as human-nonhuman collectives that are provoked into existence by a shared experience of harm.” This is Jane Bennett, from her book Vibrant Matter. The perspective of the biotariat requires “taking the side of things” (parti pris des choses—Francois Ponge), or what Bennett describes as

“Dogged resistance to anthropomorphism…. I will emphasize, even overemphasize, the agentic contributions of nonhuman forces (operating in nature, in the human body, and in human artifacts) in an attempt to counter the narcissistic reflex of human language and thought.”

9. To recognize that the commons is more than a system of social reproduction—that it in fact is a system of ecological sustainability, writ large, into which human social reproduction fits. So—commoning, as a verb, is what all life does—a process and an action upon which all life depends. The proposition of a biotariat calls a new collective identity into being, a new common subjectivity formed by life itself.

10. To acknowledge the biotariat is to conjoin Marxist and ecological analysis (I’m obviously not the first to suggest this synthesis): not only workers are exploited in this system—all of life is exploited in its totality. “Natural resources,” just as much as the human resources of labour force, are the resources capitalism exploits in the accumulation process. As counterpoint, Linebaugh notes that “The activity of commoning is conducted through labor with other resources; it does not make a division between ‘labor’ and ‘natural resources.’” On the commons, human and natural resources are co-implicated in the process of ecological reproduction. Capitalism separates them and, anthropocentrically, even capitalism’s critics have maintained the separation of (human) labour and (natural) resources. We need to return to an analytic based in the common fact of life as such—its reproduction, human and (interdependently) otherwise.

11. From the enclosure of common lands and the dispossession of commoners, leaving them with no means of survival outside of the wage, to the colonization (i.e., outright theft) of indigenous territories the world over, the extent of capitalism’s enclosures has only grown. Next comes the industrialization of agriculture, the meat factories many animals now live short entire lives in, the rendering of much of the landscape outside of cities a single, giant “open pit” from which “resources” are stripped, to genetic modification and the introduction of “man-made” petroleum products, chemicals, and pesticides into all ecosystems and all life forms the planet over. The “class” threatened by this system now—the class that is repressed and exploited for profit—is, indiscriminately, all of life (both present and past, when we consider the extraction of fossil fuels).

12. What can “we”—the biotariat—do? How can you “organize” life as such in resistance to totalized, planetary capitalist exploitation? This isn’t Animal Farm, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, or a Tolkien tale in which an army of trees will join us on the battlefield. I don’t have an answer to these pressing questions—but I will offer some speculation in future posts. For now, I will only suggest that organizing on a common ground with all of life—resisting capitalism from the position of life itself (rather than one human class or social subsection)—draws together a number of strands of current global resistance—from indigenous land resistance through climate justice movements to new urban occupations and the organization of migrant rights—all of which might be reconceived and reinvigorated as the resistance of the commons of life to the new and massive enclosures of total subsumption and a totalized global capitalism.

13. William S. Burroughs once proclaimed, “Death needs life for what it kills to grow in.” Now we might say, capitalism needs life for what it kills to grow in. And so we—the biotariat—are now enclosed in one massive factory, our bodies ground into profit.

14. It’s the only way to end this first foray. Biotarians of the world unite—the only thing you have to lose is your chains!

Reading Wordsworth in the Tar Sands

We were walkers
In a dangerous time
Of storm and thaw
Took damage in our
Stride—the vacant
Air the wildered mind
Ensnares—beat down
And scraped clean of the
Burden of overwhelming
Being—a voice here
Intervenes as if a
Common property of the
Formality of these lines—
The new garden relieves
The overburden of
Merely growing things
Scrapes the earth clean
Of organism—dirty paint
From used palettes scraped—
The new garden the voice
Proclaims—is a mine
Of ordered destructions
Hard boundless bounds
Of energy slaves—earth
From which bitumen’s ripped
To fuel a mind from which
Finance life has stripped

Wordsworth—I feel you too!
Though there is no mechanism
To nuance this conversation
Across the years—so I brought
Your ruined cottages your
Evening walks and Grasmere
Homing here to the Tar Sands
To stroll across northern desarts
Not knowing how well you fit—
The method of our walking
From seeing to contemplating
To remembering—is yours
Though no solitary haunts
Are here—no birds that scud
The flood—here we tread
Together the shadowy ground
Bright in the sun round
The darkest pits of vacancy
Scooped out sockets of eyes
Where skeletal holes of earth remain
Waterless and drained


The place from which I looked
The plane descending on Fort
McMurray or the road we walked
Around the bounds of one dry lake
And if I thought I thought of dying
Of stone and tombs and pits
No profit but one thought
The lot of others could be mine
And—aerial—we might business
Halt—tempting notions—wind
Over dead water—I thought of
Clouds where lay the land
Grey billows of moneyed dust
Nickel and naught—shadows
Brittle butterflies and the liquid
Depths of dry grass—benzene
And naphthenic acid sands
Without restraints or bounds
Blowing out and over this
Huge concave world the
Chemical truth extracts its
Word—it’s simple really—they
Tore the forest off fast like
A bandage over wounded earth
Walking—we were seeing
Silvered shunts of sand lakes
Like salt flats wondering what
Winkles out in yonder mercury
Sheen? No ponds pretend to
Lighten belief—air canon and
Scarecrow miners surround
These tailings are desolation’s
Dream of crumbling enamels
Whoever it was said boreal
Swept it clean in cold accounts
Before land wastes were
Fenced former forests of sand
Thick dark thoughts leaching
Heavy metal music machines
Or death metal bands screaming
Unfathomable ruination inside
A sealed steel cube in space

Dear imaginations—lighten up!
Your part is human protest
But there are no visionary scenes
Of lofty beauties uplifting to see
Even if Burtynsky might
Shoot them chromatic as
Abstract patterns of chemical dirt
No matter!—When in service
Of monetary gain and increasing
Industries of land liquidation
This world is anvil entertainment
Bashed first peoples flat land home
Still springing thrust midst the
Fossilized dead on whose ancestral
Heat we strange grammar feed
As strange accumulation folk
Pummel pores and veins of
Saturated soils coiled up in the
Barrage we make making roads
And the slow bombardment
Of never ending development

Perhaps I digress—the occasion
Is a public walk—but the aesthetics
Of the place is pure negativity—
Open maw is no landscape
There is no viewpoint despite
The signs and picnic tables of
Doom’s treeless playgrounds
No play of light at sunset on
Tumescent swaths of an earth
Heaving its golden breast towards
A slate sky where gawkers careen
In tin cans winged while in utter
Foundries of digital light
Pounding out templates of data
We break to browse disaster porn
Look death in its vertiginous eye
One house sized truck after another
Blanket ourselves in perspectival
Air of vanished relations—no
This is just the vast insides
Of machine whose impetus
Money tells—no point from which
To see it whole or unveil its grasp
On brow of yonder hill—just a
Moving power that moves itself
And us tempest tossed within it
Sloughing boreal off its bitumen back
The calculus which compels
Its animate limbs for alien power
Is assembled from our loathing
And slouches now towards Fort
McMurray and Fort McKay to
Deliver a world of dead birds
And unquenchable thirsts


Walking—we were old technology
Biotic and slowly evolving
Dropped into circuit
Pilgrims circling on a
Healing walk walking all day
Beating the bounds in
Circumference of a single
Tailings pond between still
Other tailings ponds edge
Of the largest mine in the
World—world-sized mine
Past Syncrude and Suncor
Refineries and the vast desart
Of the Tar Sands stretching
Beyond where the plants
One after another were

This is where we walked
This is where we swam
Some voice again humming
Drum and song to keep us
Moving beneath bullets of
Economic praise spraying
Billboards and the birdless
Lakes on our left not
Lakes but pools of poison
Doing what beneath their beds
We can only guess leaching
Towards the Athabasca
Flowing wide nearby on
To Fort Chip and the toxins
Captured in animal flesh there
The last human tenant imagined
Barren of all future good
Water scarred skin and wooden
Buffalo of Wood Buffalo
Cigar shop life and mines
And ponds where ancestors lie
Don’t let the new houses fool you
She said from the ruined cottage
Life of Fort Chipewyan First Nation
You can’t find the map of us
On their financial statements

It doesn’t smell as bad
As I thought it would
(though it does smell bad
or at least like a gas station world)
It is surrounded by fences
And canons and clearly owns
The police its money is heaped
In deep black banks
It has broken every treaty with life
Its ceremony is poison
It seems to have eaten the ducks
Its clime is coming fast
And is difficult to resist
So we circle in the sun
Round a wound thinking healing
Circling erasure and watching
As trucks erase erasure
Lingering over layers where
Trees are several destructions ago
Lines in flame earth—dust of the
Dead and dying collected and
Levelled by eager land movers
The great trucks of nether worlds
Dropping dead matter on top
Of dead matter where a lake
Once lay where boreal forest
And muskeg once stretched
To the horizon ringing round

This is where we walked
This is where we swam
And I can only poultice
The dry pieces of this
Crack my eyes over
Dry petrol glands of the
Land stretching white
Flat bright glare along
Thrust of bleak road round
Which trucks never cease
To turn in a carbon gyre

We are the species
That walked out of Africa
Walked everywhere
Found our fuel in forests
Then in the ground beneath
Forests—a widening gyre
Wrapped animal bone in
Sweet dry grass offering
And now stand in grass
Beside the road offering
Prayer on this first stop
First of four directions
We could still vindicate
A species of relent
Still unrelenting old sun
We pry up burning ground
Looking for more and movement
Where we should be less and still

Second stop—drumming and
Singing between two tailings
Ponds edged by sand dunes
The desart where the forest grew
Remembrance that came and went
Like a bird to its grave in the water

Third stop—past the refinery
Smoke and Syncrude tanks
The monster with its long metal
Arms pulling all to hell
Just don’t reach—arms—too
Deep into our dreaming
We’re not telling where
We’re going next nor revealing
The fact we have a where
To go next secret futures across
The shores of utopia we are
Walking to and upon nation
Leading drowsy nation

Fourth stop and fourth
Direction—still drumming
And still singing—just this
Just this—the elders praying
Should earth be wrenched
Throughout or fire wither all
Her pleasant habitations and
Dry up ocean left singed
And bare or the waters
Of the deep gather upon us
Fleet waters of the drowning
World—know that kindlings
Like the morning still
Foretell—though slow—
A returning day lodged
In the frail shrine of us aglow
Old technology of people together
Holding the line against changing weather


Wordsworth—if I on this occasion
Affirm anything—it is that I will
Seriously pursue the simple task
Of walking with those others of my time
Who also small and failing are trying
To walk against the traffic spilling
In out and through our cities
Out over and across the land—
The trafficless wastes of which we all
Together variously depend upon
The queer cool and resistant
Fields streams lakes and forests
That linger like old myths we once lived by
But are in fact facts we still test and try

It’s then—tired and hot after the
Long walk through the burnt land
Sitting at last having just jumped
With so many others into the
Murky waters of Willow Lake
That I suddenly recollected
The valet at the hotel
I stayed at this past May
Asking if I had any poems
About mountains—recalling
This here far from hotels
And far from mountains
Flat land of aspen and swamp
I had to admit I didn’t
Though I had a story
Never yet written down
How once young and too
Serious unhappy and searching
For I did not know what
I set out to climb a mountain
I’d passed many times driving
Through a high pass to the
Coast west of Port Alberni
And Sprout Lake—a sharp peak
Jutting through cloud tatter

It was evening already
Or at least late afternoon
I threw gear in my car
And westward took my way
Drove three hours intending
To set off in the dark
Camp and make the peak
In the morning hold communion
With the invisible world

It was stupid and compulsive
I wanted to hurt myself
Or have something outside
Myself hurt me or somehow
Lift myself up out of myself
Impossible weight of late
Capitalist life in velvet chains

Arriving at the mountain and
Parking on the side of the road
Fading light it was raining
And late fall or early spring
I forget but I could see
Through vapours shot tongues
And promontories it was
Snowing up on the peak above

Fuck it I said I took
My gear out got ready
In the rain beside the Volvo
One last check and I
Cannot find my keys

Instantly a light fell like
A flash they are in the
Ignition the car is locked

How many signs does one need
How many times do you
Have to fail at failing?

I knew I was beat knew
I’d return to my shitty
Apartment and shitty job
Maybe escape another day
Maybe never I turned
In the rain my boots
Crunching gravel stooped
And picked up the biggest
Rock nearby put it through
The car’s side window
The shower of small glass
Beads all over the seat
Drove home with the rain
Coming in beside me late
Into the night the car’s
Headlights fracturing the
Vapour not knowing it
Would be twenty years
Before I’d write a poem
About a mountain—sitting
Exhausted in the Tar Sands
And fulfilling at least one thing
That I had neglected doing

It was over reaching
All this desperate over
Reaching made me recall
My own insignificant and
Privileged hubris
Lost amidst the vast over
Reaching of this world
Wide mine tallying
Small drop in the human
Mind that accumulating
Feeds its imagined difference
Feeds though finite upon
Infinity only to hunger
Always for more
The world that beckons
Like an open pantry door


Dear common—lowest
Denominator—highest right
Lift light of future foliage
Here where bright burnt
Sands hinge chemical ponds
Over loosest leaves of boreal—
Burnt brooks and forests for
Fatter fuel in bitumen beds
Beneath everything we see—
Remove everything we see
To reveal it—paucity of
Ideas for making homes
Making lives led as ghosts
Already haunting doomed
Earth we split and devour

It’s elders brings us back
Living idea elders drumming
Singing and walking indigenous
To all the overburden which
Is no burden but carries
Itself echolocaic through
Leaves of this living and
Wakes while walking still
Breathing in dreamt shade

I could almost gather
Intuitive hopes for spring
Heap method of gleaning
Against Google Chrome of
Most expensive trucks
Or cheap flights to Vegas
Or the women who—bare
Commodities—travel here
Or the single yellow bus
Bringing migrants to clean
The factories of empty futures

So stop with me here
Burn out the day
Burn out the night
Then kindle dim mornings
To further this device—
What needs to die is
The refusal to die—it’s
Death that feeds life

If the old garden was
An aristocratic preserve
Of clockwork geometry
And the Romantic garden
A radical turn in open
Nature as pretend pasture
In an enamoured mind
Now we return to
Constructed enclosures
Open pit and tailings pond
A factory earth of engineered
Extractions to lay commodity
Paths in purchase and ensure
New aristocrats their
Helicopter lives—what we
Need now is a wild swerve
Away from arsenic mercury
And polycyclic hydrocarbons
Downstream in ducks and
Muskrats and moose meat
And the people of Fort Chip
Who feed on feeding the land—
A wild swerve out of entropy
To new free energies spooling
In what we can’t predict
And will not yet foretell
But will imagine not as
Trading futures or deposits
Speculated into asset mills

Stopped here near the
Blasted vale or just after
Lift off on gas wing south
Over seeming endless forest
I find I still need a little
Language of the Tar Sands
The knowing by walking
That tells how boreal grew
And gathered animal cohort
And plant polity over bitumen
Deposit and didn’t once think
Noxious profit gas even when
Bubbling surface bogs leached
And aspen trembled—even when
Drinking its life from waters
Just thin surfaces veiling the
Pitch coppered tight beneath

What strange adaptors we are!
That things will grow again
Is no consolation—the difference
Between this situation and
The situation of the old growth
On top of bitumen base is the
Difference between a happen
And the ecological capacity
To bear this happening and
A making and the ecological
Capacity to bear this human
Act and choice—what strange
Adaptors we are—moving
Swifter than old accumulations
To chemical our hues where we
Are still that vitality that springs
A weed beside the poison road
Banks of the poison pond
Beneath arch of poison sky
All remade by our adaptions

Will we—delimit—ourselves
Or—ova storm of digital increase
Uncap our climate and trade
Mere earth to reach residual heights
Of the value form and receive—
A new dispensation of finitude forced
From the very ground we have removed
And the sky we have spilt our angers on?

Let me walk a little longer at
Bodily scale—we have always been here—
Tomorrow—contemplating this
Landscape and letting the flood
Of memories of the future in
Recollecting that time to come
When none of us will be disposable waste
That time somewhere near
Where the road turns at the guarded
Edge of the refinery that this
However sketchy poem did at last
Become a poem I will have written
Circumambulating a common to come
Curling towards stillness at all scales
Having walked one amongst many
Through a dangerous time and place
The withering land turning towards
Each animal’s unrecountable face

—June 27-July 8 2014