Not only is John Terpstra one of my favourite poets, he is also a fellow Hamiltonian–and it is a joy to have him as part of our local literary scene. Over at the Hamilton Arts Council blog I reviewed his recently republished book Naked Trees.
Here’s a little from that post:
September is here, and the season of dying leaves will soon be upon us. But at least Hamilton is beautiful in autumn. You need only take a walk along an Escarpment trail bordered by Fall-enflamed branches to know that. Many of our urban streets are lined with majestic maples and oaks and sycamores. To live here is to be accompanied by hundreds of thousands of perennial woody plants—to watch them grow and change and come and go in our parks and in cemeteries, in open spaces in our own backyards.
These are the very trees that award-winning Hamilton poet John Terpstra praises, questions, and ponders in his newly republished collection Naked Trees. First released in 1990, this edition features beautiful woodcuts by Wesley Bates, another Ontario artist. And you need not be an arborist, a poet, or even a Hamiltonian to appreciate this gorgeous multi-poem meditation on gifts of nature most of us daily take for granted.
“This book pays tribute to the fallen,” says Terpstra in his introduction, letting you know this is not a collection that rejoices in the living trees without lamenting those lost. He is tender with his subjects—grateful for them, and admits that as a writer and a cabinetmaker, he owes them a great debt.
The first section tells a story familiar to many: a tree forced down. In this case, it is a silver maple in Terpstra’s neighbourhood taken by a city work crew. With it go memories and histories—not just Terpstra’s, but also those of the people who lived so long in its orbit. Its absence brings “A loss of equilibrium. And the entire street feels less secure.” And haven’t you felt this? Or seen a street of someone you know so altered?
Throughout the book, Terpstra’s melancholy yet patient tone is just right—never melodramatic and yet never blithe, and always ripe with fresh metaphors. Chunks of tree do not just ‘sit’ on the ground—instead they “lay scattered on the lawn like oversized building blocks that some oversized kid had kicked down.”
Continue reading here.