John Terpstra takes the Magic 8
The author of Two or Three Guitars: Collected Poems, and Disarmament fields questions from the Canadian literati on how his "work for money" choices have influenced his writing, his "geography of writing," and why writing poetry is like sky-diving.
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1. From Timothy Taylor: No seriously: how important have your other work choices—i.e. the things you’ve done to make money—been to your literary writing?
I chose to do woodworking (cabinetmaking and carpentry) because it seemed the least psychically intrusive, and it made a little money. “Chose” is a bit of a misnomer. I walked into it, without formal training, and stuck around. I like making things with my hands. It complements making things with the head and heart. A balance between the two has been productive for me.
2. From Todd Babiak: Do you ever feel so scared in the dark, when you're alone, that you have to turn on a light? If so, what are you afraid of?
I do always make sure that the closet door is closed, but the only thing I am afraid of when I wake up in the middle of the night is that I won’t be able to catch that last bus to destination SLEEP, but that rarely happens.
3. From Pasha Malla: Who is one writer, living or dead, you wish could edit or critique your drafts?
From among the living I would choose Richard Wilbur, the American poet, because he would be both a sympathetic and incisive reader. From among the no longer living, I would likely choose someone non-literary. Meister Eckhard comes to mind—I’m only half-kidding. Or Chaucer.
4. From Zsuzsi Gartner: How do faith and science intersect for you as a writer?
I will read this question as though by “science” you mean “reason”, and they are the two wings by which the mind rises toward wisdom.
5. From Sharon Butala: Someone once said to me, "It's a sin not to write," meaning that if you have the gift you do not have the right not to use it. Is writing something given to you by the gods and thus it is your duty to pursue and develop it?
It is a person’s duty, or difficult privilege, to become who they are. If it is a person’s difficult privilege to have been born or created a writer, then in the grand scheme of things if they do not follow that path it will likely not go well for them, and the world will also be less.
6. From Vincent Lam: At some point in the writing of a book, have you ever had a real low point? Can you tell us about that, if you feel comfortable doing so? What did you hold on to to get out of that place?
The geography of writing has Grand Canyons, Mount Robson’s and Death Valleys. It helps to look up from the inevitable lows and remember that you’ve been here before, and that the geography will change if you simply keep moving. The glorious thing about writing is that the completion of a work brings a kind of happy forgetfulness of the misery that was part of how you got there.
7. From Pasha Malla: How important is it for a country to have an identifiable, national literature?
It’s important that writers in a country are able to write freely. I’m not enough of a nationalist to think an identifiable, national literature is important, but am nationalist enough to be glad to have received a nomination for a Governor General’s Award in poetry because it realized an ambition I had as the child of immigrant parents, and that is to participate in my birth-country’s culture.
8. From Todd Babiak: If you had to stop writing, due to some fantastical calamity, what career would you pursue and why?
I would pursue a career in sky-diving, so that I could do literally what it simply feels like I do each morning when I get out of bed, which is jump out of a plane at 10,000 feet.
John Terpstra has published eight books of poetry, including Two or Three Guitars: Collected Poems, and Disarmament, which was short-listed for the Governor General’s Award. Brilliant Falls, his latest, will appear Spring 2013, from Gaspereau Press.