“It was always what was under the poetry that mattered”

Reading the Paratext in Once in Blockadia by Stephen Collis


  • Geoffrey Nilson


Once in Blockadia by Stephen Collis is poetry of direct action, a book of revolutionary record where the speaker is a participant in the protest. Collis radically challenges traditional uses of form, breaking the bounds of the poem and asking the reader to engage more deeply with his text. The organizational metaphor of the barricade connects with the poetry’s social and political aspirations but also showcases a blockade of normative reading, one where the text is a contained entity. Guided by literary theorist Gérard Genette, structural analysis of Once in Blockadia allows a comprehensive picture of its intertextuality. An active reading—from covers and epigraphs to interviews, legal transcripts, and news reports, in what I call a critical literary praxis of ‘reading the notes’—provides unique understandings of poetry that highlights the complexities of interacting with a text that is forever unfinished for both the writer and the reader. The active nature of this paratextual writing and reading challenges the dominance of the author or publisher over a text, opening the closed poem to a democracy of voice, content, and meaning. For Once in Blockadia, every context is a paratext and every paratext becomes, granularly, part of the text itself.