John Terpstra

Since the early 1980s, John Terpstra has been a mainstay of the Canadian literary scene, publishing both poetry and non-fiction. He has also been a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Charles Taylor Prize. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where he works as a writer, cabinetmaker and carpenter.

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Skin Boat: Acts of faith and other navigations
John Terpstra

2009 / Memoir / $25.95
9781554470792 / Trade paper / 160 pp

“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?”

Skin Boat is John Terpstra’s frank reflection on faith and church in a secular era. In the contemplative but direct prose style of his previous works of prose, Terpstra draws on his daily interactions with friends, neighbours and fellow congregation members, his work as a carpenter and cabinetmaker, and the stories of St. Brendan and St. Cuthbert. Turning over words like worship, praise and maker—mainstays of the Christian lexicon—Terpstra prods at vocabulary too often glossed over by believers and nonbelievers alike, approaching faith as equally an intellectual as instinctual and physical act.

“As this book began to grow,” says Terpstra, “I knew that I wanted to work the story lines of two medieval saints into it. The one, Cuthbert, had been rattling around in my brain for twenty years or so. It wasn’t his life or achievement that interested me most, but his uncorrupted body. He was exhumed a decade after burial, but his flesh had not decayed and he appeared to be only sleeping. He slept on, and became a spiritual tourist attraction for centuries afterward. Brendan, my second saint, was famous for a sea voyage. He may have been the first European to set foot on North America—in the sixth century. I had read an account of a modern re-enactment of his fabled journey: a gripping high-adventure, a kind of North Atlantic Kon-Tiki. What I found when I turned to the original medieval account of the journey was mesmerizing, mysterious, contradictory, open-ended and, well, as strange as Cuthbert’s uncorrupted body. I thought I would hook my sail to their boats and see where they took me.”

Over the course of the book, Terpstra considers the religious tradition in which he was brought up, his and his wife’s decision to leave that tradition, the evolution of their adoptive church community, and occasional visits to other denominations. Conversations with members of his congregation, friends and co-workers illuminate and complicate any provisional conclusions reached en route. Ultimately, it is this degree of honesty and perplexity, too often missing from contemporary examinations of faith, that set Skin Boat apart as a thoughtful inquiry into its persistence.

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Other Books by this Author

Call Me Home
John Terpstra

2021 / Canadian Poetry / $21.95 CAN
9781554472260 / Trade paper / 108 pp
John Terpstra

2017 / Poetry / $19.95 CAN
9781554471676 / Trade paper / 80 pp
The House with the Parapet Wall
John Terpstra

2014 / Memoirs / $24.95 CAN
9781554471393 / Trade paper / 160 pp
Brilliant Falls
John Terpstra

2013 / Poetry / $17.95 CAN
9781554471232 / Trade paper / 64 pp
Falling Into Place
John Terpstra

2011 / Nature / $24.95 CAN
9781554471102 / Trade paper / 240 pp
Two or Three Guitars: Selected Poems
John Terpstra

2006 / Poetry / $49.95 CAN
9781554470273 / Fine / 144 pp
Two or Three Guitars: Selected Poems
John Terpstra

2006 / Poetry / $19.95 CAN
9781554470266 / Trade paper / 144 pp
Brendan Luck
John Terpstra

2005 / Poetry / $4.95 CAN
9781554470136 / Pamphlet / 24 pp
The Boys, or, Waiting for the Electrician’s Daughter
John Terpstra

2005 / Biography / Memoirs / $25.95 CAN
9781554470112 / Trade paper / 144 pp
John Terpstra

2003 / Poetry / $18.95 CAN
9781894031738 / Trade paper / 104 pp
Falling Into Place
John Terpstra

2002 / Nature / $25.95 CAN
9781894031608 / Trade paper / 320 pp
John Terpstra

2000 / Poetry / $2.95 CAN
9781894031325 / Pamphlet / 16 pp

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