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Praise for The Hour's Acropolis

"It's difficult to render the flavour of this subtle yet brilliant poetry; Pass plays the language of both sound and sensual resonance...There are vast intertexts, delightful allusions, a quick wit I love in any writing. The Hour's Acropolis has already staked its claim as one of the finest books of the year. . . I recommend it as a prime example of what fine-tuned poetry can accomplish"

-Books in Canada

"Pass is writing from the depths of rootedness. His is a voice inviting us to join him in reverie and meditation. The poems in this collection are...about the imagination and the very act of imagining. Invitations to reverie, that's what these poems are"

-Victoria Times-Colonist

"John Pass's poetry, whether he writes of Mediterranean coasts far off in time or modern Pacific ones, is irradiated with a clear sharp light of imaginative thought that the ancients would have applauded."

-George Woodcock

"These are fine poems in strong measures. . . The Hour's Acropolis, the first and 'classical' book of Pass's continuing work At Large, creates instances mythic and un-mythic out of a satisfying density of image, giving these poems the sense to bear the weight of authentic praises, authentic feeling."

-Sharon Thesen


Malahat Review: An Essay on Pass's The Hour's Acropolis and Radical Innocence
John Pass sets four lines by W B. Yeats as an epigraph to his latest book:

The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns that it is self-delighting
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven's will.


These sentiments may seem merely a rather wordy justification for selfindulgence. They aren't. The affrighting here is as significant as the appeasement and the delight, and the movements between and uncertain balance of these positive, neutral, and negative impulses-their, vacillation, to use another Yeatsian term-point outwards as much as inwards, indicating the scope and seriousness of Pass' work.

The Hour's Acropolis and Radical Innocence form the first two parts of Pass' continuing poetic series, At Large. The earlier collection draws substantially, though not exclusively, from the tales and images of Greek myth; the second balances this with a similar general dependence upon biblical material. Both represent, in his words, an "invitation to reverie," and so, appropriately, tend somewhat to interpenetrate. A casual reference to the birth of Moses at the end of "Our Whim" (THA) is extended to an account of the desert wanderings in "The Tribe, Retreat and Retraction" (RI). The Christmas day parody of "Scrape" in the second book ("Angels we have heard on high / might forgive me / the lazy Dickensian atmosphere") echoes the beginning of "Amused Us," the second poem of The Hour's Acropolis: "From on high, was it? / Nearby I'd say, though / well nigh inaudible."

A more complex verbal and thematic linkage occurs with a pattern of post-modem punning, much in the manner of George Bowering, that flavours, or rather provides a spice for, a significant number of poems from the two volumes. There's a good variety of such material, extending from the silliness of "Skip / the light fandango" ("And Invent" THA) to the mock definition of "Your names' / spent absentia" ('It" THA) or to quasi-proverbial "A nibble Mr. Newton, or what's an apple for?" ("Terminal Velocity" THA). Some of the effects are intentionally crude, such as "the soaps / you're soaking in, the hoarse operas" from "To Divine," the final poem of The Hour's Acropolis, or the sexual pun on "his needling need" in "So Vivid" from the same collection. In general, the word play in Radical Innocence is more abstract, such as the heavily ironic meditation "in the dear and now" (from "Coda") about "the would-work, always faulty, incomplete. / Bad wiring," or more brisk, "like a spark-plug, simile / dissembling" ("Their Tribe, Retreat and Retraction"). Pass' humour is still present here, though showing a darker side. The most ambiguous and the most poignant of all these puns occurs in his elegy for bp nichol ("Of a Precipitous Sadness" THA) where he remembers how the dead poet, now in the guise of Orpheus, "took breath and sang and was cut to pieces / who called himself 'beep' on the phone." The balance of objective and subjective reactions here is perfectly achieved.

What emerges most clearly and consistently from these two books is an attitude, a poetic stance, that is personal and impersonal at once. In "Whose Lineage It Was, Lost" (RI) he speaks of "the journey repeatedly / personal and immediate" as a general image for his work. "To Divine," however, urges the reader to a vision that is "Long past personality. Long into disappearance," a scientific abstraction whereby "Long looped in the dramas / of passion and indifference, chemistry / makes decisions, then physics, pure math." These contrasting attitudes are maintained one way or another throughout the books, though the brief, rather wistful piece "In A Son Born" in Radical Innocence suggests a kind of tertium quid that Pass describes as "just obliquely sitting." The expression is reminiscent of Emily Dickinson's injunction to "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant" and may well serve as a loose definition of poetic process. Pass is cautious here, suggesting as much as stating, and very well aware of the evanescence of his insight:

What can I tell you? For seeking, for sitting we miss it exactly. Perfectly. We feel it ease away.

Yet his voice can be firm as well, defiant even. He attacks the grotesque misuses of science with ironic praise of how a "Helen," not she of the classic Troy tale, but a Canadian heifer, a great producer has embryos flushed from her "Like popcorn from a bucket" for Russian herds, her genetic inferiors.

Sometimes the gloves come off entirely, as in 'Now Almost" (THA), where he unleashes a frontal attack on the commercialization of "organic toiletries, the pricey bric-a-brac / ... and the high- / tech post-industrial brightly painted / pipework of the doorway." His ire is directed particularly at what such touristy icons distort, "a people-space sporting flags and cedar / benches greened with zinc / preservative." He expresses a more general concern with the depletion and destruction of the natural environment in "Even To Women, Half" (RI) with the quietly relentless observation:

the forests
aren't finite and the seas'
capacities for dispersing
heavy metals.


Pass has a quick eye also for the commoner, small-scale absurdities of "suburban budgies beeping" or the "Mum" who "watched ducks / and with a lucky f-stop got some, smudges / duck-like silhouettes against prairie sunsets" ('Birds" THA). He mixes wry humour with a degree of pathos in "And Ghostly Possibility" (RI) as he carefully describes the "Fat couple" who ?can't get the kite in the air / tho' they hoof it and huff heroically / and want it so." The scene teeters on absurdity as the poet laconically notes that "They must be lovers." As he continues, however, the little scene turns into an exemplum of his deepest themes of aspiration, persistence, and simple acceptance:

There is that note of earnest idiocy between them, the serious consideration of how in the lee of the tree it lies their showy hope, the lifeless red and blue nylon, not tugging and swooping, a flash above them, not the god-lure, the buoyed embodied liveliness, the lithe and spirited selves they persist for, trading places again, untangling.

Pass' double stance of objective observer and subjective actor is delicately adumbrated in the title poem of Radical Innocence - a simple domestic scene of father, mother, and young child - by two linked references to biblical and classical material that gather in and balance the traditional literary bases he has so far built upon in the At Large project.


The temptation scene from Genesis is evoked with an apparently casual remark on parental responsibility:

who are we
not to get it wrong?
A little wrong. Whose choice

in the midst of ...


This cautious moral musing is then pushed aside by the unexpected yet somehow appropriate thought of the incautious Icarus (who has also appeared briefly toward the end of The Hour's Acropolis in "We Had No Stomach For") in his stolen chariot:

In daylight, sunlight
can his horses at full gallop

fly? For all their seeming to choose not to?
Except in the old stories?


The conflict of Judaeo-Christian necessity and Greek insouciance is now neatly resolved by a simple natural vision as "baby starts up sunny, free. . . / and as new remembers, reminds us / what to say" - which is of course, in petto, the saying of the books themselves.

Both The Hour's Acropolis and Radical Innocence interpret the present in terms of the past as, presumably, the rest of the series will continue to do. The "archaizing attitude" or attempt to see "life as myth" (as Thomas Mann described it in Freud, Goethe, Wagner) creates a continuous tension in the richest and most successful of Pass' poems, which strive to and usually do maintain such multiple and simultaneous points of view. The tension makes them demanding as well as somewhat dangerous to approach - their ground keeps shifting - and exhilarating to stand in, once some footing has been found.

-ALLAN BROWN, Malahat Review