Lorenzo Reading Series: John Terpstra

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On Monday, Mar. 9th at 7 p.m., poet and prose writer John Terpstra read as a part of the Lorenzo Reading Series.

In the Ganong Hall Lecture Theatre, Terpstra captivated his audience with readings from two of his works of poetry, Two or Three Guitars: Selected Poetry and Brilliant Falls, as well as an excerpt from one of his non-fiction books of prose, “The House with the Parapet Wall.”

The first poem Terpstra shared was included in the compilation of poems, Two or Three Guitars, and is also the title poem of his poetry collection, Forty Days and Forty Nights.

“Forty Days and Forty Nights” was written in the voice of his mother, and chronicles Terpstra’s parents’ immigration to Canada from the Netherlands. One of the lines from “Forty Days and Forty Nights” that the audience immensely enjoyed was as follows: “We had no names, just places we were being sent; like letters in the mail.”

The next two poems that Terpstra read were from his book of poetry Brilliant Falls. The poet explained that the bright orange book is symbolic of Holland, where his parents are from, the colour representative of the country.

The first poem from “Brilliant Falls”, appropriately titled “Hindsight,” recalls the day that Terpstra let his 14 year old daughter drive his car, which she subsequently almost crashed.

Next came the poem “The Highway that became a Footpath,” which is about a new highway built where there was previously q forest in Terpstra’s hometown of Hamilton, Ontario.

Terpstra proceeded to read from one of his four books of non-fiction, “The House with the Parapet Wall” chronicling the life and death of his mother. The book of prose is written in short sections, and is somewhat sporadic. Terpstra wrote the book before he knew that his mother was sick, and explained that this was his subconscious way of coming to terms with her illness and death.

While reading the book, Terpstra became extremely choked up, and commented that he barely made it through the last section. The one main quotation that made him and the audience emotional was when his mother’s life was coming to an end and she said, “You get to go home in the end. You get to go to your most favourite place in all the world.”

When asked if he tends to write about a specific theme throughout his prose and poetry, Terpstra explained, “I write what is given to me to write—if that doesn’t sound too high-blown. The themes that choose me are often local, domestic, geographic, natural, relational.”

On his audience, the writer states: “I don’t aim my work to any one or specific audience. Mostly, I just hope that I will have an audience. And I think that I do, but don’t really know what kind, or where it is located. I write my words into the bright blue sky and over the deep blue sea, and hope that they find a place to land. It is great when you hear that someone has read one of your books, especially if it is a book that came out a few years ago. Then it feels as though your work has some currency in the culture.”

When asked what types of things inspire him as a writer, Terpstra commented, “I am inspired by weird things that happen. Or not-so-weird. A squirrel that gives me the evil eye through a sky-light window. A naked Barbie doll lying on the living room floor.”

Terpstra was asked if there was a specific reason as to why he tends to write non-fiction, and if it is harder to write about real events that have happened to him personally by an audience member. Terpstra answered, “There is some fiction in my new book of non-fiction, “The House with the Parapet Wall.” It fit with what I was doing, and I thought I should give it a try. Normally, I do not have a fictive bone in my body. I am all about trying to figure out and make meaning out of the stuff that happens in life.”

For those wondering what advice he has for aspiring writers, Terpstra kept it short and sweet: “Persevere.”