Monday, August 5, 2013

John Terpstra*

John Terpstra — poet, writer and cabinet maker — is the author of nine volumes of poetry, including Disarmament (which was short-listed for the Governor General's Award for poetry in 2004) and Two or Three Guitars, his selected poems. His newest collection, Brilliant Falls, has just appeared from Gaspereau Press — the publisher behind Terpstra's poetry and prose books since 2000.

Don McKay has said, “John Terpstra’s meditations have the soundness and snug fit of consummate carpentry, measure in language and in thought showing ‘the ultimate patience involved / in all things made.’ His writing is religious writing from the ground up, negotiating the difficult moral terrain between wildness and ‘development’ with an imaginative grasp reminiscent of Dennis Lee’s Civil Elegies. His are important books, with the toughness of maple, and the compassion of cedar.”

The following poem is from his new book — Brilliant Falls (2013).

Topographies of Easter

We are walking in the mild mid-winter
snow and thin ice, up Coldwater Creek,
its many tributaries, their steep ravines
tracing the blue and brown lines that wind
dizzily over the unfolded whiteness of our new
map, like staves for the crazy earth song we've been
sight-reading with our feet. We are singing the impossible
pitch of these slopes and cliffs, losing our place
in a landscape that lives to improvise, and the map
helps, but nothing written is in stone,
and it's always a revelation, stopping to
compare what's on paper with being there.

Because I did not for a moment doubt in childhood
the story of this rising, shall I, now
I am wiser? The world still has no
boundary. The lines still shiver and wave;
the impossible takes place; people are kind.
And these woods are still as real and magic
as when I first chased and followed any path
that found me, and just as fearful, and brown death
still haunts the green, discolouring all
in brilliant falls ground to sodden mulch,
from which, in deepest regions of the wood,
the bright stem still rises, witnessed by
those few who run like children home to tell us.

I'll say this: whom she supposed to be
the gardener sings and dances the contour lines
that are his body; this body that is broken
for us to wonder at the source, broken
into beauty that lures our present rambling
and leads us to the edge of this escarpment,
where the waters fall, where all our many streams
cascade and plunge, in curtain and ribbon, over
terrace and washboard
--------------------------(our terms for the living text:
earth's open veins)
----------------------and where we meet her,
who has run and sung and danced these trails
since the day she first saw
the massive rock dislodged
from the cliff-face
----------------------of any reasonable expectation.
And all these years removed from childhood
we still leap aboard, to feel if it shifts
of moves us, trusting and not trusting,
not willing and willing
--------------------------the rock to roll on.

Posted with permission of the poet.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about John Terpstra: first post, third post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: