“somewhere to live/for everyone. inside the language.”


It was 43 years ago today that a friend called and asked if I’d like to join him and another poet for dinner before a reading that evening at Open Space down on Fort Street. The other poet was part of a benefit reading, organized by Warren Tallman, for bill bissett, who’d been vilified by a group of Conservative MPs and who’d lost arts funding as a result. ( As well as a writer, bill was publisher of blewointment press.) I said sure I’d join them. The other poet was John Pass. At the beginning of the evening, we didn’t like each other. Part way through the reading — and I am trying to remember who else read: bill for sure, but who else? Maybe Judith Copithorne –, I listened as John read love poems for the woman he was living with, and I realized I felt kind of. . .jealous? Later, he confessed he was wondering how I felt as he read them. By midnight, we’d decided to spend the rest of our lives together. (This is only a slight exaggeration.) It wasn’t without its difficulties, its sadnesses. There was the woman he was living with to tell. There was a man I loved in the west of Ireland where I’d been living and was planning to return in, oh, two months’ time. Our extrications caused pain to others and I regret that. But somehow we found a way to make a life together. In the photograph above, taken about a year and a half after we met, we’d bought the 8.39 acres we live on today, we were expecting a baby the next spring (I think it’s the last time I wore that dress. . .), and the rest of our 40+ years were unrolling before us like an intricate carpet, maybe the carpet John wrote about in his book, Port of Entry (Repository Press, 1975), still on the floor in his study in North Vancouver when that photograph was taken one floor below, but too tattered to pack when we moved two years later to the house we built on our land.

                                                  no records remained,  no evidence but
the requirement of a history
a carpet, on the forest
floor, to calm the sea

a history to be contrived
to accommodate. somewhere to live

for everyone. inside the language.
–from “The Carpet”

Was it one of the poems he read that night at Open Space? I don’t recall. But in those hours, a history began, continued, remains, its evidence in poems, photographs, our books, a house, our children. A carpet, spread out on the beautiful earth of our lives.


Autumn, publishing season. John’s new book arrived the other day. Forecast:Selected Early Poems (1970-1990), published by Harbour Publishing. It gathers together the work he published in chapbooks and small books now out of print. Harbour did a lovely job of production. When Anna Comfort O’Keefe was designing the cover, she and John exchanged ideas, various images, and came up with something I think is really interesting. (I took this photograph in the sunroom with today’s sunlight dappling the book.)


The front cover shows a window opening, newly-framed. Looking out, you see trees (the trees out our windows), a full moon that provides the “O” in the book’s title. And the back cover shows the same window opening several decades later but you’re looking in, the trees reflected in the old glass. That’s our blue window, the one in our dining area. And the book’s trajectory covers a similar span of years.

I know these poems so well. There are some from books published before I met John in 1979 and in fact I’d read some of them before I knew him. “The Crossing” is one of my favourites, from Port of Entry. Its preoccupations — place, how we find ourselves a place and how we write into it and out of it — forecast much of our life together.  Here are the final lines:

not until arrival does the journey

focus. but that is late and looking

back distorts the purpose

we cannot hold our coming through the world

Continue reading “Forecast”