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John Terpstra Writer

Activities of mind, hand & heart

“I have thought every thought about how I would rather be somewhere else, anywhere else. I have thought that there is no place on earth that I would rather be. I have asked myself, Why do I persist?”

John Terpstra ‘71
Excerpt from Skin Boat: Acts of faith and other navigations

John TerpstraJohn Terpstra, Class of ‘71, has a name that is well-known to Hamilton readers. He is a celebrated author in our community, having won three recent Hamilton Arts Awards: the 2014 Literary award in the non-fiction category for The House with the Parapet Wall, the 2015 award in the poetry category for Brilliant Falls, and in 2016 for Writing.

For alumni who were students at Hamilton District Christian High during the years 1967-1971, these awards should come as no surprise. John won multiple prizes for poetry in the school Fine Arts Festivals in Grades 10-12. “Poetically, I peaked early,” John notes.

As an athlete on the basketball team, track & field team (100 yds, 220 yds, long jump, triple jump, high jump), and Editor of the school newspaper, John was an active member of the HD school community. In his senior year, John put together the yearbook –along with Dave Krosschell — and had a small role in the theatre production, Cry, the Beloved Country. In addition, there was a high school band. John remembers an escapade:

“My ‘Minstrel Boy‘ friend, Peter Tigchelaar and I once hid out in the school overnight. We rehearsed our two-man band, Springfield Episode, from the gym stage (it was actually a three-man band but Syd Hielema wasn’t there that night) and played on the gym equipment, then high-tailed it to Tim Horton’s when the janitor came in the morning. We returned to school at 9:00, very groggy.”

It was at Hamilton District Christian High that he discovered writing poetry as his path through the ‘wilderness’. John speaks highly of Mr. Huizinga, his English teacher, who nurtured his questioning spirit, and who introduced the class to TS Eliot. But it was another student who introduced John to his writing guru.

“Joyce Los, who was a grade ahead of me, handed me a copy of John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony in the school library, and said, “You should read this.” I did read it, and many other books by the same author, who became my first official, ‘I want to do what he does’ writing guru.”

Typing class may seem like an unlikely place to write poetry, but John reflects on how he started writing something that on the page looked a little like poetry during Miss Buesink’s class in Grade Nine.

“Typing was something I was good at – an activity of mind and hand – and after having completed our daily, in-class assignment early, typing soon became the tool by which I made short lines which traveled down the page. I miss the sound of the typewriter bell still.When Mr. Nienhuis, our Grade 10 English teacher, assigned us the writing of a poem for class, those short lines which traveled down the page surprised me by transforming themselves into one of those: a poem. It came as quite a surprise. A revelation, really.”

Woodworking is something John just walked into, learning on the job, without planning or schooling. As a well-known woodworker in this community, his skills range from house-building to fine furniture-making. To help create a balance, John usually spends the mornings writing and afternoons woodworking. He notes:

“Woodworking is also an activity of mind and hand, though with a different balance between the two, and is connected to a living part of the earth: trees. For some reason, this connection is important to me. I love it, I think, because, words or wood, I love to make things.”

At present, John is working on a collection of prayers that he wrote for Sunday mornings at his church. This will be published in November under the title, In the Company of All.

In spring 2017, a new book of poetry, tentatively called, Poetry Burns will be coming out. In addition, John is expanding on an essay he wrote for the Hamilton Arts & Letters online journal, for a book that will appear in 2018 under the title, Daylighting Chedoke.

When asked about what advice he could offer to our current HDCH students who have a passion for writing, John comments:

“My advice? If you already know that writing will be a lifelong thing, then the word is, persist. If writing is your art, rather than a livelihood, then you have entered a different economy from the capitalism we all share regardless. You have entered God’s economy. In my experience, you can trust it to help you get your work done and to pay the bills, and these two often opposing things will be accomplished in ways that are completely individual to you, that you will have to learn as you go, so there is no pattern for you to follow or to provide comfort.”

ASprogisAdrianne Sprogis
Communications Specialist
Hamilton District Christian High