John Pass’s poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies in Canada, the US, the UK and Ireland. He won the Canada Poetry prize in 1988 and the Gillian Lowndes Award in 2001. Sixteen books and chapbooks of his work have been published, most significantly the four volumes comprising AT LARGE: The Hour’s Acropolis (Harbour Publishing, 1991), Radical Innocence (Harbour Publishing 1994), Water Stair (Oolichan Books, 2000) and Stumbling In The Bloom (Oolichan Books 2005). The Hour’s Acropolis and Water Stair were short-listed for The Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize (BC Book Prizes). Water Stair was also a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. Stumbling In The Bloom, which includes the poem ‘The Cave In The Coals’, won the Governor General’s Award in 2006. John Pass lives with his wife, the poet, essayist and novelist Theresa Kishkan, near Sakinaw Lake on BC’s Sunshine Coast.
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
Probably falling in love and needing to articulate those complex and wordless feelings. I think poetry has always an element of seduction in it too, first of oneself with the luxury and slendour of language, and then of the lover in any reader—lover of another person, of course, but also/and/or of the world, all aspects of human thought and experience.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
Anywhere and everywhere. The power of metaphor is to provoke compelling relationship/connection between dissimilarities, and those connections are alive every moment in the world we inhabit, recognized and realized when happened upon in words.
What is your writing process?
To pay attention, simultaneously to what I’m doing/imagining, suddenly and wonderfully intersected by the talking to oneself that reveals it. And then to shape that into something on a page that holds to the initial AH-HA! and can be shared by a reader. The shaping is best done of real particulars of life/experience: things. The physical world is our shared ground and the best poetry is made out of honest work there, where words meet and expand upon a world I trust my reader lives in too. I don’t work to a schedule but in hope/confidence that poetry will continue to visit me and find me worthy.
What is your revision/editing process?
To go back to drafts after sometime to see whether I can still get what I was up to, clearly and fully. To the extent that I can’t, I make changes, usually of the sort that condense and focus, adding complexity and nuance, drama, to the original.
Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?
Yes, but badly. I remember in Grade 11 English though that I just “got” it when we studied poetry, even to the point of being able to anticipate the teacher’s questions. It is something, the only thing in school I think, that came naturally to me. The understanding of it I mean, not the writing of it myself. That took years to get halfway good at, but the sense I had of great poetry’s astonishing wholeness, coherence, compelled me to work at the craft. It still compels me.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
A poet’s own life is the best resource. Beyond that read, read, read to learn the craft—especially work on the page in books by single authors, where you can get the sense of how individual poems work in the larger context of a poet’s imagination, with the poems coming before and after, and the sense of what an individual poet’s “voice” sounds like—so you’ll more readily recognize your own as it emerges.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
That my life, my experience, was worthy of this art. Any life lived passionately, with imagination and a willingness to work (and a love of poetry!) is.