Vancouver poet Stephen Collis offers us a wonderful meditation on commons as both anti-capitalist and beyond politics in a wonderful essay, “On Blackberries and the Poetic Commons.” Noting that the culture of private property is pervasive and suffocating in modern life, Collis sets out to identify what makes an already existing commons a commons.
He concludes that it is somewhat a fiction that we make up. If the idea of “the market” is something that we must dream up and sustain together -- a “social imaginary” that organizes our physical and social realities – then surely we need to dream up the commons in the same way, as “imaginary alternatives.” That is the only way to summon the commons into reality.
To this task, Collis recommends the lowly blackberry:
"Blackberry brambles are the marginalia of the urban and suburban city/text. Occupying unused or underused spaces, they hold forth common abundance where private property is ambiguous or in disuse, decline or abeyance. We troll through our neighborhoods and even into the center of the city. Along easements and the sides of highways, at the ends of cul-de-sacs and in vacant lots, along open ditches and decrepit fencing, in the deteriorating zones of post-industrial wastes, the ramble entangles and marks the very edges and gaps in the regime of private property. They mark lulls and failures in capital, the moments of decay and depreciation after industrial production and before gentrification. In taking to our fences, the brambles even appears to be attempting to stand between properties, on their margins, on that thin line that is neither mine nor thine.
"….We assume blackberries to be a common resource – no one in his or her right mind would pay for blackberries, though I have seen them, and scoffed, in a supermarket. Like the historical English commons, the ‘patriomony of the poor’ (Neeson, 55), the blackberry bramble is governed by certain customary rules of use. Take only what you need and leave enough for others. Those in a neighborhood have first dibs on the neighborhood patch (you don’t drive in from the outside) – unless the patch is in parkland or other non-residential spaces. The berries high up or deep in a patch are for the birds and the soil and next year’s fruit – you don’t damage the brambles to get at the difficult to reach berries.