Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

The Proust Questionnaire, with John Terpstra

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John Terpstra

Award-winning Hamilton author John Terpstra stands beneath Hamilton's urban tree canopy — and the result is his fifth collection of poetry, Naked Trees, published this spring with Wolsak & Wynn. His book is a reference guide for the weary, heat-soaked flaneur who leans against the worn wood of a utility pole or takes refuge from the sun under the boughs of an old maple.

In his answers to the Proust Questionnaire, John tells us about kindness, the dodo, getting the house painted and Do Be Do Be Do.

The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.


What is your dream of happiness?
The feeling as a poem or other piece of writing is coming together into its own.

What is your idea of misery?
The feeling when #1 isn?t happening.

Where would you like to live?
In a tree. A big tree.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Generosity of spirit. Respect.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Openness of heart. Respect.

What is your chief characteristic?
I bring joy. Ha! Well, sometimes.

What is your principal fault?
My moody self-absorption? The fact that I am always right?

What is your greatest extravagance?
Driving a Honda Fit.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Their driving.

What do you value most about your friends?
Their company.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Ugly behaviour.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
Picking my nose. Meanness.

What is your favourite virtue?
Of the seven heavenlys, I pick kindness.

What is your favourite occupation?
Playing the guitar and singing. Or they would be, if I could do them.

What would you like to be?
Honestly? More widely read.

What is your favourite colour?
Easy: green.

What is your favourite flower?
Not so easy: lily of the valley.

What is your favourite bird?
The dodo, for its lovely name, and its ill-fatedness.

What historical figure do you admire the most?

What character in history do you most dislike?
Your evil twin.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
At this moment, Thomas Berger and Alexander McCall Smith.

Who are your favourite poets?
Richard Wilbur, Billy Collins.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Doc (is that his name?) in Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Anyone who gets up in the morning.

Who is your favourite painter?
John Duffy. He?s scheduled to paint my house next month.

Who is your favourite musician?
My friend, Bart Nameth, pianist extraordinaire. Paul Hogeterp and Glenn Macdonald and Marvin Oldejans, with their voices and guitars.

What is your favourite food?
The French fries from Randy?s Burgers at the corner of King and Spadina, in Hamilton, are without peer. It?s the beef tallow they fry them in.

What is your favourite drink?
My favourite drink was a blended scotch.

What are your favourite names?
John and Mary.

What is it you most dislike?
Telemarketing phone calls, and pointless questionnaires like this one. Oops. I?m being unkind.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
The usual: time travel, the ability to fly in the air and swim with the dolphins.

How do you want to die?
Mid-sentence, with my head slowly descending onto the keyboard. Okay, maybe let me finish the sentence.

What is your current state of mind?
I?m doing okay, thanks. You? There are a couple of cherry side tables I want to get started making in the shop.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
With much help, maintaining a balance between vocation and breadwinning. Oh, and getting up in the morning.

What is your motto?
I can?t remember. It?s either To be is to do (Socrates), To do is to be (Sartre), or Do Be Do Be Do (Frank Sinatra). Maybe Kurt Vonnegut knows.


John Terpstra has published four previous collections of poetry, several of which have won awards. His book Forty Days and Forty Nights received the Bressani Prize for Poetry in 1988; his long poem "Captain Kintail" won first prize in the poetry category of the 1992 CBC Literary Competition; and in 1995 Terpstra won first prize for Non-Fiction awarded by the Hamilton and Region Arts Council. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

For more information about Naked Trees please visit the Wolsak & Wynn website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check back for more Proust Questionnaireswith Canada's literati in this latest series of interviews on Open Book.

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