PASS, John

Author Tags: Literary Landmarks, Poetry, Publishing

LITERARY LANDMARK: Intersection of May and Memorial, adjacent the Ross Bay cemetery, Victoria

Before they took up long-term residency as parents on the Sunshine Coast, the married co-publishers and writers John Pass and Theresa Kishkan fell in love in Victoria in 1979 and were married in nearby Sidney that year in October. More than thirty years later, Pass republished poems from that era in a retrospective collection, Forecast (2015).

May and Memorial

I’ve just thought, comfortably
of making love to you
some warm spring evening

among the graves.
At the corner

of May and Memorial
there is a house we could live in
with low bright windows reflecting

the cemetery, mooning
those sun-long avenues.

May and Memorial in Victoria is also the setting for part of Theresa Kishkan's novel, The Age of Water Lilies. The main character, Flora Oakden, relocates from Walhachin to a house on the corner of May and Memorial and lives the rest of her life there. Across the street is the Ross Bay Cemetery where another character, Tessa, dreams her way through childhood, trying to locate the buried creeks, trying to figure out something about war and commemoration. "It was where I spent a few years of my childhood," says Kishkan, "and a place I also wander into and out of in my memoir, Mnemonic: A Book of Trees."


John Pass was born in 1947 in Sheffield, England and has lived in Canada (in Calgary, Winnipeg, Coquitlam, Vancouver and on the Sunshine Coast) since 1953. He has a BA in English from the University of British Columbia (1969) and taught at Capilano College (now Capilano University) in Sechelt and North Vancouver from 1975 to 2007.

By 2015, Pass had published nineteen volumes (books and chapbooks) of his work and his poems had appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies in Canada, the US, the UK, Ireland and the Czech Republic. In 1988 he won the Canada Poetry Prize, an international competition sponsored by Canada/India Village Aid. His poetry has won awards from The League of Canadian Poets, The BC Federation of Writers and BC Cultural Services, and has been nominated for National Magazine Awards and The Pushcart Prize. He was Visiting Poet at Brigham Young University in Utah in l990 and a mentor in 1997 at Otherwords, the Writing & Publication Workshops of the BC Festival of the Arts.

In 2001 Pass won the Gillian Lowndes Award for significant achievement by a Sunshine Coast Artist. He has served as editor/mentor to poets at The Banff Centre for The Arts, as Guest Writer at The Sage Hills Writing Experience, and on juries for The Malahat Review Long Poem Prize, The Butler Prize, The Dorothy Livesay Award and The Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. He has read at literary festivals across Canada, including the Ottawa International Writers Festival, The Sunshine Coast Festival of The Written Arts and the Whitehorse Poetry Festival. He has also read abroad at venues in the US, England and, most recently, at universities and festivals in the Czech Republic. He was the recipient in 2002 and 2009 of senior arts awards from the Canada Council.

Central to Pass’s oeuvre are a linked quartet of books pulling the personal into focus through our culture’s largest lenses: classical, Christian, Romantic, and modern/post-modern. The first and third volumes in this series, The Hour's Acropolis (Harbour Publishing, 1991) and Water Stair (Oolichan Books, 2000) were shortlisted for The Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize (BC Book Prizes). Water Stair was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award in Poetry. Stumbling in The Bloom (Oolichan Books, 2005) won the Governor General’s Award in 2006. His first book of poetry after winning the Governor General's Literary Award, crawlspace (Harbour, 2011), explored the 'strictures and limitations' of aging, love and loss, and family ties. It won the 2012 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize.

John Pass gathered a selection of early, out-of-print poems for Forecast: Selected Early Poems 1970–1990 (Harbour 2015). In the foreword he states, "I came of age in a society devolving into conformity and anxiety, but British Columbia's southwest coast felt simultaneously timeless, gorgeous, spacious--a lagoon of potentiality welled within wild borders of vast geography, unopened history--and my path was lit with the time's late flare of Romantic idealism and Modernist authority."

With his wife, writer Theresa Kishkan, John Pass lives on 8.5 acres of forest, garden and orchard near Sakinaw Lake on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast, where they built a house, raised three children, and run High Ground Press, specializing in the letterpress printing and publication of poetry broadsheets.


Finalist, Malahat Review Long Poem Prize, 2015
Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, BC Book Prizes, 2012
Nominee, National Magazine Award, 2011
Nominee, Pushcart Prize, 2011
Canada Council Senior Arts Award, 2009
Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry, 2006
Canada Council Senior Arts Award, 2002
Gillian Lowndes Award, 2001
Finalist, Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, BC Book Prizes, 2001
Finalist, Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry, 2000
Nominee, National Magazine Award, 1996
B.C. Cultural Services Award, 1996
League of Canadian Poets National Poetry Contest (2nd), 1994
Finalist, Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, BC Book Prizes, 1992
Canada Poetry Prize (1st), Canada/India Village Aid International Poetry Contest, 1988
Honourable Mention, BC Federation of Writers Literary Rites Competition, 1987
Canada Council Short-term Grant, 1974


Visiting Poet at Brigham Young University, Winter Term 1990, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in Creative Writing and The Writing of Poetry.

Mentor in Writing & Publication workshops for Otherwords, The BC Festival of The Arts Writing Program, Powell River, May 1997

Editor/Mentor in the Writing Studio at The Banff Centre, May 2002

Guest Writer, The Sage Hill Writing Experience, Regina SK, May 2008


Pass was an English Instructor in the Adult Basic Education Program at Capilano College (now Capilano University) 1975 - 2007, teaching composition and writing skills from literacy to college foundation (English 100 entry) levels. In the early 1980's he developed a sequence of ABE English courses at Capilano that was adopted province-wide in BC colleges. He has been Co-ordinator of the ABE Program at Lynmour and Sechelt campuses.

Previous to his work at Capilano College he taught English and Drama in a number of secondary schools in Vancouver, North Vancouver and Coquitlam. He has given poetry readings and directed classes in writing-related activities to students at every level from pre-school through graduate school.

He co-taught, with Theresa Kishkan, West Coast Writing, a BC Literature course at Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic, February 2012


Forecast (Selected Early Poems 1970 – 1990) Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, 2015, $18.95 978-1-55017-731-2
crawlspace, Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, 2011 (96 pp) ISBN 978-1-55017-519-6
Self Storage, Leaf Press, Lantzville, 2011, (21 pp) ISBN 978-1-926655-26-0
Stumbling In The Bloom, Oolichan Books, Lantzville, 2005 (120 pp) ISBN 0-88982-201-8
Twinned Towers, Fox Run Press, Madeira Park, 2005 (24 pp) ISBN 0-9732305-8-4
nowrite.doc, Leaf Press, Lantzville, 2004 (29 pp) ISBN 0-9732765-7-6
Water Stair, Oolichan Books, Lantzville, 2000 (103 pp) ISBN 0-88982-179-8
Mud Bottom, High Ground Press, Madeira Park, 1996 (17 pp)
Radical Innocence, Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park,1994 (72 pp)
ISBN 1-55017-107-0
The Hour's Acropolis, Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, 1991 (82 pp)
ISBN 1-55017-043-0
Rugosa, Reference West/Hawthorne Society, Victoria, 1991 (24 pp)
ISBN 1-895362-22-11
An Arbitrary Dictionary, Coach House Press, Toronto, 1984 (74 pp)
ISBN 0-88910-284-8
There Go The Cars, Sesame Press, Windsor, 1978 (24 pp) ISBN 0-920580-02-5
Blossom: An Accompaniment, Cobblestone Press, Vancouver, 1978 (32 pp)
Love's Confidence, Caledonia Writing Series, Prince George, 1976 (32 pp)
Port Of Entry, Repository Press, Prince George, 1975 (48 pp)
AIR 18, Airbooks, Vancouver, 1973 (34 pp) ISSN 0044-6947
The Kenojuak Prints, Caledonia Writing Series, Prince George, 1973 (16 pp)
Taking Place, Talonbooks, Vancouver, 1971 (40 pp)

[BCBW 2015] "Poetry" "Publishing"

Photo by Keith Shaw

Nowrite.doc (Leaf Press, limited edition chapbook)

Is it possible to read Keats these days without a smirk, let alone write about beauty without some undermining second thoughts? To “do” beauty is to risk banality, to open oneself to ridicule. To dare it straight out, as John Pass does in his Nowrite.doc (Leaf Press, limited edition chapbook), also “invites despair, despair confronting the unmanageable beauty, the unconstrained beauty no strategy no trope no tone gets true.” As he mows his lawn, repairs the roof, picks raspberries, fixes the toilet and digs potatoes, ruminating all the while on the luxuriant details of his Sunshine Coast surroundings, Pass is a neo-Adam in paradise. If there is a serpent in John Pass’ garden it is the poet’s self-conscious doubts regarding his ability to write about “beauty so complete and complex and aloof and light-footed I often feel useless and burdened before it” But it’s not all roses. There are also kidney stones, a bit of brooding on the deaths of family and friends, worry about his son leaving home and plain old chores. There’s just enough unease in this unabashed paean to keep it from sliding into the bucolic. Whether he is working in his orchard, love-making or lolling in the lake, John Pass conveys a voluptuous sense of place. This chapbook, small enough to fit into a pocket, is a mini-holiday in Eden, a relief from irony, a Thanksgiving hymn. -- by Hannah Main-van der Kamp

[BCBW 2004]

Stumbling in the Bloom
Review (2005)

Can anyone these days live in paradise without cynicism? Paradise is popularly conceived as perfection and since post-moderns consider perfection to be either boring or unachievable, the Adam or Eve role is bound to be a charade.

John Pass, who lives and writes in an Eden called the Sunshine Coast, achieves the delicate maneuver of writing about beauty and happiness without irony or certainty. “My peace falls / into place near perfection, is nearly there. And I would be the poet/ Of those places wholly. I would give them away/ in restlessness, rest, to have them certain./ Certain? That one thing or the other? No!/ Subtlety, shading is the tang.”

It’s not all sunshine in the garden and wilderness. The contentment is shadowed by atrophied friendships, back injury, virus infection, rot and decay, kids leaving home, kidney stones, depression and anxiety (the cure for which: chopping firewood in the presence of an amiable dog.) A long poem about the Twin Towers (a Canadian perspective) is not out of place here yet Pass tempts the reader to believe that “a wondrous life” is still possible. We are invited into “The huge and intractable beauty … “ “where it's always the first day of summer.” His lush, tumultuous and immoderate lines echo the piled upon pile layers of the rainforest’s particularities. Beauty, “complete, complex aloof and lightfooted” has been Pass’ theme in many books. After decades of gazing and recording, he’s still in an ecstatic state of grace because paradise is not primarily a physical place but the ability to remain in the paradoxical tension of happiness and uncertainty.

The wisteria's “off-hand fragrant gesture,” “the duvet of November fog those mornings/ light seems to push from within/ the downcast leaves, their brasses/ and umbers gleaming”; these are not greeting card, bucolic images because the copious language is inventive often quirky. He's no minimalist. His more is more. Gulping life, “sun-stunned and song-prone,” Pass is over-the-top goofy at times but never predictable. Writing well about place depends not on conveying its familiarity but on uncovering its unique angles, strangeness, namelessness. Some of these poems are incautious even excessive; the reader is carried along on a stream so enticing that coming to the book's end is a let down.

The believability of this poet’s fulfillment is that he doesn’t second-guess it. Pass, stumbling in the bloom, is man besotted with a particular place, a possible Paradise.

by Hannah Main-van der Kamp

John Pass wins Governor General's Award
interview (2007)

Two Toronto-centric gatherings, the lucrative Griffin Poetry Prize and the glitzy Giller Prize, have recently purchased respect with relative ease, but the Governor General’s literary awards in Ottawa remain venerable as an institution.

Winning his first English language poetry GG for his sixteenth title, relative outsider John Pass of the Sunshine Coast was catapulted into the national limelight for writing Stumbling In The Bloom, published from Lantzville by Oolichan Books.

Pass thanked his wife Theresa Kishkan for her consistent encouragement and told a news conference: “Public acknowledgement of this order is remarkably gratifying. It gives me some assurance that my forty years or so writing poetry has been worth it, not just to me but to readers.

“It’s an odd art, simultaneously intimate and alien, private and public, immediate and remote. You start out wanting words for everything, the world, and end up, if you’re immensely persistent and fortunate, creating a world, one in which others might catch convincing glimpses, intimations of their own worlds.

“Or, to put it another way, you start out as a kid in his backyard in Calgary, day-dreaming, aimlessly swinging a stick maybe, muttering to himself, and end up on a stage in Toronto before the national media.”

BCBW: Do you remember how you felt when you first heard the news?

PASS: I heard news of the nomination pulling into the parking lot of Capilano College in Sechelt on my way to work. I was completely surprised. The book got very few reviews and only one enthusiastic one, from Hannah Main-van der Kamp at BC Bookworld. I didn’t really expect to win. I thought it would probably go to Ken Babstock or Sharon Thesen. So I was thrilled and surprised all over again when the phone call came a couple of weeks later.

BCBW: What has been the role of Oolichan Books?

PASS: Oolichan published my two most recent titles, Water Stair in 2000 and
Stumbling In The Bloom. Both were nominated for the GG. Ron Smith is an
excellent editor, perceptive and attentive to detail without being intrusive. Also the design of both these books has respected and reflected the text admirably.

BCBW: In what way?

PASS: The use of a wider format in Stumbling, for example, to permit longer lines without breaking them, was risky for Oolichan. Bookstores don’t particularly like outsize books as they’re difficult to shelve, but the poetic values came first. I appreciate that kind of editorial decision a lot.

BCBW: You’ve also done two books with Harbour—but never any book with a “big” publishing house back east. Does this mean slow and steady can win the race?

PASS: The “big” publishing houses in poetry are nearly always the small literary publishers. On this year’s shortlist, for example, only one of the four titles was published by a “big” house, McClelland & Stewart. The others were Nightwood, Oolichan, House of Anansi (with two shortlisted titles). Those are three of Canadian poetry’s BIG houses!

I don’t know that winning a GG is winning the race. One goes on writing, hopefully, beyond the victory lap. I think the key to accomplishment in poetry was well-articulated recently by the Anglo-Irish poet Michael Longley, someone from the same circle as (and until recently hugely overshadowed by) the remarkable career of Seamus Heaney. He says in an interview in The Guardian that poets have to remember to take poetry seriously, not themselves.

BCBW: Would you agree with our reviewer Hannah Main-van der Kamp that you are a man “besotted with a particular place, a possible Paradise”?

PASS: Yes, I’m besotted with place alright, but I think there are particular instances, even in Stumbling In The Bloom, of more than one possible paradise. Each poem reaches out to its own, and the reader’s.

[BCBW 2007] "Interview"

John Pass at Rideau Hall
Speech (2006)

Your Excellencies, fellow writers, honoured guests, what a singular pleasure it is to be acknowledged in this way by my country, to be a poet summoned to the capital, and without a hint of the apprehension that must accompany such a summons in less enlightened times or places, where a room at the fine hotel might be prelude to a prison cell, or a place at the banquet a portal to the beheading. What a privilege it is to write in Canada, where one pursues poetry, if mostly in obscurity, most importantly and for the most part in security and comfort.

I do confess, however, to one tiny apprehension since my nomination --- that I might now reasonably be called upon to make profound pronouncements about poetry, or worse, to summarize my own.

It won’t, of course, be summarized. Like any art, like reality itself, it is haphazard and orderly all at once, and resists generalities, insists upon the integrity of its particulars.

So from the fabric of Stumbling In The Bloom I’d like this evening to tug one thread only, one that is not especially vibrant nor central to the weave but seems appropriate to prize-winning, and has been for me a kind of lifeline throughout this extraordinary experience. A number of poems in the book engage the dilemma, the jeopardy even, of human accomplishment. The most specific of these is the poem sequence ‘Everest’, which sprang from the coincidence that Edmund Hillary made his famous ascent of the mountain in May 1953, the month that I arrived, at age five, with my parents and three year old sister, in Canada, immigrants from the UK. From serendipity to the heart of things:

Since Hillary 1200
summiteers, 175 deaths against the tallest question: what

to do with a life?

What indeed? Human endeavor is paradoxical, is brought up perpetually against its antithesis; a mountaineer engages and comes to respect most what is not the mountain: precipitous space, fierce and frigid wind. Alongside my gratitude for this award, the generous certainty of its gesture, I’d like to place these few less certain lines, an edgy moment from my life in poetry where words encounter their antithesis, that is also their bedrock and raison d’etre -- the wordless world. Here is the final section from ‘Everest’ entitled Horizon:


Like a streak of morning under overcast,
the wordless under the word, little curve

of earth’s surface one covers even going
to the compost bin, even mowing the lawn.

Unknown, unknown but for cadence in us, a pace
participant in permanence, a vibrancy, pulse
not dramatic, not abstract either, of eternal

presences, of everywhere. A steady
light. Where gods move to accomplish
the pointedly pointless, deeply impossible thing.

For helping to sustain the possible – human imagination, artistic life – against our tantalizing horizons, I thank you all.

[Dec. 13, 2006, Rideau Hall]

The Companions Series: Prospectus
Press Release (2009)

The Companions Series of broadsheets features poems by contemporary poets written in response to poems they have chosen by other poets, printed face to face on classic laid papers using High Ground’s treadle-driven Chandler & Price platen press. Most of the contributors’ poems make their first appearances in print in the Series. Sheets are signed and numbered by the contributors in limited editions of 60. Approximately 40 signed and numbered sets are available for purchase. Each Companions Series set includes 12 broadsheets, as specified below, with additional title sheet and folder.
1. William H. New’s Glossing Footnotes in response to John Clare’s Emmonsail’s Heath In Winter. Handset in Goudy Old Style and Spectrum.
2. Sue Wheeler’s Understory in response to Don McKay’s Stumpage. Handset in Goudy Old Style.
3. Lori Maleea Acker’s An Inner Regard in response to an excerpt from Wallace Stevens’s Things Of August. Handset in Goudy Old Style.
4. Theresa Kishkan’s A Version in response to Sappho’s Fragment 58. Handset in Cloister.
5. Joe Denham’s Abandoned Orchard in response to John Thompson’s Apple Tree. Handset in Goudy Old Style.
6. George McWhirter’s Good Friday, 2003. Driving West Into Point Grey in response to a selection from John Donne’s Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward. Handset in Cloister.
7.Russell Thornton’s A List in response to his translation of Juan Ramon Jimenez’s I Am Not I. Handset in Goudy Old Style.
8. Christopher Patton’s Via Negativa in response to an excerpt from Ezra Pound’s Canto LXXIV. Handset in Cloister.

9. John Pass’s En Route in response to Duncan Campbell Scott’s poem of the same name. Handset in Goudy Old Style.
10. Anik See’s Yes, Give Us Some in response to William Carlos Williams’s This is just to say. Handset in Spectrum.

11. Gillian Wigmore’s Vanderhoof Girls in response to Charles Lillard’s Vanderhoof. Handset in Goudy Old Style and Cloister.

12. Cornelia Hoogland’s After Meeting The Wolf, Red Arrives Home in response to an excerpt from David Harsent’s Marriage. Handset in Spectrum.

The Companions Series sets will be available for purchase at $150. CAD, October 24, 2009 at The Alcuin Society Wayzgoose, 10am - 4pm in the Alice McKay room, main branch, Vancouver Public Library. To pre-order please send a certified cheque or money-order to High Ground Press, 15211 Sunshine Coast Highway, Madeira Park BC V0N 2H1.

Forecast: Selected Early Poems, 1970-1990 (Harbour $18.95)

John Pass’ Forecast: Selected Early Poems, 1970-1990 (Harbour $18.95) includes out-of-print poems that ruminate around the potential of travel, an orchard he cares for, evolving relationships, house-building, becoming a poet, husband and father. Pass’ Stumbling in the Bloom (Oolichan, 2005) won a Governor General’s Award. He lives on the Sunshine Coast.