Note: visit my Blue Portugal page for latest news, reviews, etc.
Blue Portugal and Other Essays, University of Alberta Press, Wayfarer Series, May, 2022.
The Weight of the Heart, Palimpsest Press, May, 2020.
A reader like Richard Pickard is such a gift.
He said this! “The Weight of the Heart is a remarkable novel, and timely. Everyone with an interest in BC literature needs to read it twice, and I have so much more to say that you should be glad I’ve managed to stop here.”
Wonderful review of The Weight of the Heart in the Malahat Review.
Best part? Maybe this:
The Weight of the Heart also finds in Wilson’s and Watson’s writing an experimental style and a mode of consolation. Like Wilson’s independent protagonists, the narrator discovers her autonomy and grit in the landscape she travels. Watson’s spectral figures and interest in sacred rituals resound in the symbolic scenes of almost drowning in which the narrator is saved by her brother’s mysterious presence and in Kishkan’s invocation of Egyptian burial rites as a refrain throughout. Most obviously, the double hook of Watson’s title recurs in the dualities throughout the novel—in the two rivers, in twin foals (the colt unfortunately lost in birth) by a mare named Angel, and most clearly in the two siblings who are bound together in a landscape where life and death regularly meet. So, Kishkan and her narrator know where to look in Canadian fiction for a view of the British Columbian landscape that reveals these striking oppositions and their consoling unions. A unique and compelling creation in its own right, Kishkan’s poetic exploration of grief lives up to its literary precursors.
The Weight of the Heart in the Ormsby Review.
The Weight of the Heart in the Sunshine Coast’s Coast Reporter.
The Weight of the Heart, reviewed by Sarah Boon:
Michael Hayward reviewed The Weight of the Heart in Geist 116.
The Weight of the Heart at Carousel Magazine.
Courtepointe, translator Annie Pronovost, Marchard de Feuilles, 2018
Euclid’s Orchard, Mother Tongue Publishing, 2017
Reviews of Euclid’s Orchard:
- In our local newspaper, the Coast Reporter
- On Kerry Clare’s blog, Pickle Me This
- Anthropologist Robin Ridington’s blog
- There’s a lovely review of Euclid’s Orchard at Good Reads—just scroll past the negative review and read the nice one!
- This really wonderful review of Euclid’s Orchard, by the elegant Linda Rogers, in Pacific Rim Review of Books
- A review of Euclid’s Orchard in that fine magazine, Canadian Literature
- The brilliant Cate Sandilands has reviewed Euclid’s Orchard in the Ormsby Review. (She is a beautiful writer herself so this is a true honour.)
- Euclid’s Orchard nominated for the 2018 Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize: At
- At Richard Pickard’s blog, Bought Books
- A gratifying review of Euclid’s Orchard in Geist 107, by Michael Hayward:
Winter Wren, Fish Gotta Swim Editions, 2016
- Listen to an interview about Winter Wren at CKCU-FM radio in Ottawa. (Interview begins at 28 minute mark in line below.)
- And read about Winter Wren here at BCBookWorld
- Lovely review of Winter Wren at Richard Pickard’s blog. Best part? Oh, maybe this passage! “Kishkan’s new novella, Winter Wren, is a phenomenal read, and the latest evidence that there’s no accounting for which artists are the ones who get famous. Kishkan has a wonderful touch with small moments, and indeed this novella is largely constructed of small moments surrounding some vastly larger moments, laconically told.”
- Winter Wren in Geist 101. “”The beauty of the novella format is what might be called its ‘ample brevity’ : long enough to develop characters, to establish a mood and flesh out a specific setting; brief enough to read through in a day or two.”
- In Book Crossing
- Winter Wren in The Goose (A Journal of Arts, Environment, and Culture in Canada)
- Winter Wren in Herizons.
- Winter Wren goes on a field trip.
- Winter Wren meets a fan on Book Crossing.
Patrin, Mother Tongue Publishing, September, 2015
Patrin is the old word for the clues Roma people left for their travelling fellows – a handful of leaves or twigs tied to a tree.
Patrin Szkandery, a young woman living in Victoria BC in the 1970s, restores an ancient quilt and travels to Czechoslovakia to trace her Roma history over the unsettling terrain of central Europe in the years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The pieced cloth proves to be both coded map and palimpsest (patrin) of her extended family’s nomadic wandering through Moravia in the first decade of the 20th century. The elegant and beautifully attentive lyric prose of Kishkan’s earlier work in fiction and memoir is augmented here with masterful pace and plotting. Patrin is a little jewel of a novella, an exquisitely nuanced and moving glimpse into the grand themes of exile and homecoming across continents. Stitched seamlessly it is a suspenseful and historic tale.
From the cover:
“Follow Patrin on her delicate trail into the heart of old Europe, where time is one with experience–and experience is a satisfying feast for the senses. With inimitable, quiet grace Theresa Kishkan will gently lead you on an intimate journey into the truest places of the human heart.”–Pauline Holdstock, author of The Hunter and the Wild Girl
“Patrin is a thoughtful reflection on one’s search for identity and self acceptance. Rooted in the exploration of origin stories and veiled connections to the present it reveals our innate need for ancestral belonging and meaning.” Gurjinder Basran, author of Everything Was Good-bye
- In our local newspaper, the Coast Reporter
- At Richard Pickard’s blog, Bought Books
- At the Vancouver Sun
- And a lovely one on Amazon (November 16, 2015)
- Anthropologist Robin Ridington has reviewed Patrin on his website
- There’s a wonderful review of Patrin on Kerry Clare’s Pickle Me This site (February 8, 2016)
- Sarah at EdgeofEvening has written a very generous review
- A nice response in Victoria (Patrin’s hometown…)
Patrin is available as an e-book:
Mnemonic: A Book of Trees (Goose Lane Editions, 2011)
Warm, imaginative, and thoroughly original, this memoir intertwines the mysteries of trees with the defining moments in the life of novelist and essayist Theresa Kishkan. For Kishkan, trees are memory markers of life, and in this book she explores the presence of trees in nature, in culture, and in her personal history.
Naming each chapter for a particular tree — the Garry oak, the Ponderosa pine, the silver olive, the Plane tree, the Arbutus, and others — she draws on Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, John Evelyn’s Sylva, and strands of mythology from other classical and contemporary sources to blend scientific fact with natural history and the artifacts of human culture.
Never pedantic and always accessible, Mnemonic reveals — through one woman’s relationship with the natural world — how all of us have roots that intertwine with the broader world, tapping deep into the rich well of universal themes. In the words of Pliny the Elder, “hence it is right to follow the natural order, to speak about trees before other things…”
From the cover:
“At once erotic, intellectually rigourous and beguiling, Mnemonic is cultural botany, memoir, arboreal ethnography and love story. It is a sublime and rare thing when writing so gracefully defies taxonomical classification.” — Terry Glavin
“Theresa Kishkan invites us into the company of her favourite trees, where memories perch lightly in the foliage. Her words are readied for flight, yet her stories have deep roots in the experience of a life well lived. Mnemonic will nourish your own heart wood.” — Candace Savage
• The blog Buried in Print
• A review by Di Brandt here, in University of Toronto Quarterly
Nominated for the Hubert Evans Award, B.C. Book Prizes 2012.
The Age of Water Lilies, Brindle and Glass, 2009.
With The Age of Water Lilies, Theresa Kishkan has written a beautiful novel that travels from the time of colonial wars to the pacifist movement to 1960s Victoria, and shares a unique and delightful relationship between 70-year-old Flora and 7-year-old Tessa.
When Flora Oakden leaves her English home in 1912 for the fledgling community of Walhachin in British Columbia’s interior, she doesn’t expect to fall in love with the dry sage-scented benchlands above the Thompson River-and with the charismatic labourer who is working in the orchard. When he and all the men of Walhachin return to Europe and the battlefields of France, Flora remains behind, pregnant and unmarried. Shunned by those remaining in the settlement, she travels west to Victoria and meets freethinker Ann Ogilvie, who provides shelter for her in a house overlooking the Ross Bay Cemetery. Fifty years later, among the headstones of Ross Bay, curious young Tessa is mapping her own personal domain when her life becomes interwoven with that of her neighbour, the now-elderly Flora. Out of their friendship, a larger world opens up for these unlikely companions. Theresa has written a sweeping story that transcends time and springs from a passionate exploration of the natural world, its weather, seasons and plants.
“[She] has a sure hand, kneading narrative from the quiet ache of loss and rebirth… Words never get in the way of good storytelling”— Vancouver Sun
“Kishkan has created characters the readers comes to care about. People, places, and objects operate of both a literal and metaphorical level.”—Quill & Quire
Phantom Limb, Thistledown Press, 2007.
In Phantom Limb, Kishkan invites her readers to explore culture and nature by looking at landscape and place through a series of historical lenses, ranging from natural history to family history to the broader notions of regional and human history. In her popular essay “month of wild berries picking” she reveals the extent to which native stories articulate the complexity and importance of rules that govern relationships between species, a profoundly symbiotic world where one respected not just the territory of another species but its dung, its bones, its very spirit as well.
Resonating throughout this collection, especially when describing the natural world or in her travel essays, is a rich lyricism and a distinctive visceral imagery. Kishkan is among those literary naturalists whose words transcend the flora and fauna to engage human relationships, social concerns, historical milieus, and political boundaries. For these reasons Phantom Limb stands elegantly in its own energy and light.
- • Winner of the first annual CNFC Readers’ Choice Award
- • Shortlisted for the Hubert Evans Award for Non-Fiction, B.C. Book Prizes
- • Read Susan Olding’s interview with me at her wonderful blog, Proved on the Pulses
- • Read Don Denton’s interview at the Literary Photographer
- A wonderful review at bookaddiction.
“A good essayist is at all times quizzical, and in Phantom Limb (Thistledown) Theresa Kishkan is better than good as she explores the complexity and magic of the natural world, extracting what is essential from the sacred as well as from the mundane. Many of these essays are rooted in B.C.’s Sechelt Peninsula as Kishkan reads the stories that reside within her local landscape: exploring the ecosystem of a neighbouring estuary she reflects on “the passage of families throughout history and landscape”; watching coho spawn in a nearby creek she sees “a parable of leaving and returning”; in “An Autobiography of Stars” she uses quilting and constellations as metaphors to explore the love of a mother for her daughter. There is a richness of feeling in Kishkan’s writing, a blend of clear-eyed observation and reflection that makes Phantom Limb a true pleasure to read, and a worthy companion to Red Laredo Boots, the collection that first brought this fine writer—poet, novelist and essayist—to my attention. “– Geist
A Man In A Distant Field, Dundurn Press, 2004.
Declan O’Malley came to the coast of British Columbia because it was as far away from Ireland as he could possibly go. Haunted by memories of his family’s death at the hands of the Black and Tans, Declan is unable to escape his grief. He immerses himself in a new life, seeking to produce a more perfect translation of Homer’s Odyssey while at the same time becoming closer to the family on whose property he is living. But Declan cannot free himself from his past, and when Ireland beckons, he is drawn to his own history and to the opportunity for a happier future.
“One is tempted to refer to Kishkan as word-drunk, but despite her obvious love of – and sensual pleasure in – language, the term doesn’t quite apply. Her writing is too tightly controlled, with the clean, slow burn and earthly sensibility of a fine whisky. Sip carefully or drink freely. Either way, you’ll soon find yourself under Kishkan’s spell.” — Quill and Quire
“It’s no accident that the great early 20th-century writers – Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce – seized on Odysseus as the anti-heroic archetype of man in the modern age. The Trojan War was a kind of cultural civil war with reverberations that ultimately destroyed the world of the victors. Of the survivors, only Odysseus, the failed conscientious objector, offered hope of redemption through faith, endurance and the transformation of the self. With her new novel, A Man in a Distant Field, Sunshine Coast author Theresa Kishkan demonstrates that the story of the archetypal survivor has lost none of its epic emotional power, despite being mocked by a popular reality TV show. Like Odysseus, Declan O’Malley is one of history’s walking wounded. An Irish schoolteacher and the victim of a horrific atrocity inflicted by the Black and Tans, he has fled to the farthest shore of the world, the coast of British Columbia. In 1922, Oyster Bay on the Sechelt Peninsula is still a grey area. The natives’ waning prehistoric culture touches the frayed edge of a colonial pioneer culture stretched to its limits. Here, where even the sea has no memory of Ireland, he becomes a beachcomber and lives the marginal life of a man marooned between worlds. But all we are is the sum of our memories, Declan discovers as he labours with his old Greek primer to make a personal translation of The Odyssey as a way to keep from going barking mad. Inevitably, the correspondences between the sufferings of Odysseus and his own deep loss open possibilities of escape from alienation. His rescue of, and reverence for, an old native burial canoe – a kind of symbol of the doomed ship of Odysseus – invites him to experience the creation of a new canoe with local native fishermen. Through his translation work, Declan rediscovers himself as a teacher. He uses it to teach Rose Neil, his landlord’s bright 12-year-old daughter, to read. Recognizing Rose as the person who has saved him so he can complete his journey, he returns to still-troubled Ireland to confront his ghosts, reclaim his identity and earn the love of a Penelope who mourns her own loss yet keeps faith with the idea of love. Kishkan carries all this off masterfully in a scant 300 pages by combining the crafts of the poet and the screenwriter. There isn’t a moment in this novel when you can’t “see” something intensely, whether it’s the shining black dorsals of a pod of killer whales shadowing a cedar canoe or the wildflowers growing around a secret “Mass stone” where Irish Catholics were driven to take the sacraments in the wilds. The cadences of Irish speech, not only in the dialogue but subtly woven into the narrative, maintain the continuity of Declan O’Malley’s mood, as well as a sense of the period. Kishkan also uses a technique from classical Greek drama. A powerful sense of horrific violence informs the story, but the violent events all occur “offstage,” recounted in dialogue or as memory flashbacks. The only one that forms part of the action is the aftermath of a beating. The novel is constructed like a play in reverse. Instead of creating minimal sets and suggestive backdrops in front of which the dramatic action occurs, Kishkan evokes a backdrop of garishly violent historical events, in front of which small mundane rituals of sanity and redemption are acted out: planting seeds, building shelters, cooking, talking, teaching, dressing the wounds of young idealists, offering hospitality to strangers, learning to love. An emerging poet in the late 1970s and early ’80s, Kishkan married award-winning poet John Pass, built a house on the Sunshine Coast, raised three children with him and was mostly too busy to write. According to her, she discovered she’d “lost her poetic voice” when she began writing seriously again in the early ’90s. To find a voice, she turned to prose, producing a collection of essays, Red Laredo Boots, in 1996. Then in 1999 she published the exquisitely poetic novella Inishbream. In her first full-length novel, Sisters of Grass (2000), set in the B.C. Interior, she was already experimenting with the tricky virtuoso act of weaving the thread of a lyrically apprehended “ordinary” life into the warp and woof of history and tradition. The result was a hauntingly beautiful, but distinctively regional, novel. In A Man in a Distant Field, she applies the method to a transformative period in modern Western culture. She picks up the classic thread dropped by postmodern Play-Doh writers and weaves it into a tragic tapestry worthy of Penelope herself. ” — John Moore, Vancouver Sun.
Inishbream, Goose Lane Editions, 2001.
A wanderer arrives by chance on Inishbream, a rocky dot in the sea just off the west coast of Ireland. A lover of boats and a strong worker, she soon marries the young owner of her stone cottage. For a time, she does her woman’s work, fishes with her husband, and walks along the shore, imagining Saint Brendan and the invisible world so real to the islanders. Through the winter, she repays Inishbream storytellers with tales of coastal British Columbia, not so very different, after all, from their own.
In the spring, the islanders learn that their isolation will end: the government has promised them modern houses on the mainland. The wanderer cannot wait for the migration; she must leave Inishbream and go home alone. In the islanders’ soft dialect and the wanderer’s own tongue, Inishbream conjures relationships between the newcomer and her husband, between the island people, the sea, and the land, and between the coastal landscapes of reality and imagination. In the uneasy peace of partial acceptance, the foreigner grows, changes, and starts to envision her own place in the world.
Inishbream is also available in a hand-printed and hand-bound limited edition from Barbarian Press. That Inishbream was chosen for this exclusive private edition attests to the clarity of Theresa Kishkan’s storytelling and the beauty of her writing.
“…you may find your lips moving along, your voice capturing the rhythm and the plain-spoken quality of Kishkan’s prose, informed by the Irish dialect encountered by her narrator. Coupled with this gift for narrative voice is Kishkan’s keen awareness of place, and her ability to evoke it for the reader. When she writes of Ireland, the reader is vividly transported into small rooms, dim and smelling of peat smoke. When her narrator, in those dim rooms, tells of her Canadian past, the reader experiences this country in a new way, sees it through new eyes...Inishbream is a story imbued with the rhythms of speech and of the natural world, of dying and living, of flight and change. It holds the same fundamental truths as a sung air, as the hanging notes of a tin whistle, of the resonance of pipes.” — Quill and Quire
“I don’t think I knew what I had in my hands, when I started Inishbream. Once I recognized its value to my thinking about this my only place in the world, instead of a journal of more or less foreign experience, albeit beautifully written, I didn’t want it to end, and yet I needed desperately to find out how it would end.”
Richard Pickard, http://boughtbooks.blogspot.com/2019/07/theresa-kishkan-inishbream.html
Sisters of Grass, Goose Lane Editions, 2000.
In her vibrant first novel Sisters of Grass, Theresa Kishkan weaves a tapestry of the senses through the touchstones of a young woman’s life. Anna is preparing an exhibit of textiles reflecting life in central British Columbia a century ago. In a forgotten corner of a museum, she discovers a dusty cardboard box containing the century-old personal effects of a Nicola valley woman. Fascinated by the artifacts, she reconstructs the story of their owner, Margaret Stuart. Margaret, the daughter of a Native mother and a Scottish-American father, she tries to fit into both worlds. She’s taught photography by a visiting Columbia University anthropology student that she falls in love with.
With strong, poetic language, Kishkan makes the past reverberate through the present in a richly patterned work celebrating the complexities and joys of life and the sustaining connections of family.
“Rare is the writer who can vividly conjure an unfamiliar place – and an unfamiliar historical backdrop only increases the challenge. Sisters of Grass, then, is an astonishing debut…Kishkan’s prose is clearly that of a poet, but it’s restrained in service to the narrative – rich and evocative, but never overwrought. Sisters of Grass is beautifully understated, with a quiet grace that succeeds in transforming the regional to the universal, filling the reader with a sense of the mysteries of the world, and humanity, that can never fully be resolved.” — Quill and Quire
Red Laredo Boots, New Star Books, 1996.
As a girl growing up in British Columbia, and now as a mother with a family of her own, Theresa Kishkan has travelled and camped the length and breadth of the province. In these lyrical essays describing her journeys, Kishkan brings to life a landscape impregnated with history and memory, from the Skeena Valley in the north through the dry plateau of the Nicola Valley to Saltspring, Bella Coola, and the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Red Laredo Boots is Number 6 in the Transmontanus series of books edited by Terry Glavin.
Out of print (but I have some copies available if you’d like one. $16, plus shipping).
I began my writing life as a poet and published several collections of poetry, all out of print. I have copies of Black Cup and Ikons of the Hunt if you’re interesting in contacting me. I also published 3 chapbooks—Premonitions & Gifts (with Doug Beardsley), Morning Glory, and I Thought I Could See Africa (this is a letterpress edition, printed here at High Ground Press). I have several copies of Premonitions & Gifts available as well as copies of I Thought I Could See Africa. And if you twisted my arm hard, I might open the box of my first collection of poems, Arranging the Gallery, with its ugly cover and misprinted page, complete with gummed insert to replace that page.