Monday, April 19, 2010

John Terpstra

John Terpstra is the son of Dutch immigrants to Canada — a poet and cabinet-maker living in Hamilton, Ontario. His poems often consist of reflective narratives, which usually stretch to two or three pages, and express his fascination with landscape, community, Scripture and story. His seventh volume of poetry, Disarmament (Gaspereau Press, 2003) was short-listed for the Governor General’s Award. In this collection there are six poems which begin, “In the church where we go to now...” although the idea of church isn’t always literal, nor is it concerned with making Christians look good.

Three of John Terpstra’s most-recent books are prose; this is a logical transition, considering his narrative style. Hopefully his nonfiction will not squeeze out his poetry writing. His most-recent book of poetry is his selected poems: Two or Three Guitars.


------Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate is a pool...
------------------------------------------------------— John 5

There is no water flatter, or more still,
than the water that is contained within the blue walls
of the randomly shaped swimming pool
at the resort hotel on a shore of the Caribbean Sea.

Lounging beside it, I recall the pool
around which the infirm would gather, waiting
for the one day of the year an angel came
to trouble its surface, and the first to enter was healed.

I have waited the better part of a long winter
to be here. Beyond the palms of this hotel
is the village of small concrete homes, flat roofs
and brightly-coloured doors that opened

to the tour bus negotiating its exceptionally
narrow streets, hauling us all from the airport.
The bus bleats, Let me through, Let me through.
You wouldn’t have thought we could make it.

Poolside, rich imported languages blossom
like tropicals. French, Italian, German, Dutch.
and the one I dip my tongue into,
are interspersed with the occasional bleat

of goat. The goats are tied to palm trees,
under which the tour buses idle. Porters
push carts of baggage between lounge chairs
while the angels who daily trouble our sheets

and towels to perfection, talk, and walk in twos
a straight line through to the rust buckets waiting
to return them home to the village, after shift.
The poor are with us always, and we have come

a long way to find them. The first one into the pool
is already better for it, in this heat.
The water returns to a stillness I have come
already to love. Were he to stretch a hand

and offer it, I think I could not stand
to relinquish this choice infirmity.

(Posted with permission of the poet)

Read my Image Update review of John Terpstra's poetry collection,Two or Three Guitars here

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about John Terpstra: second 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: