Tuesday, March 20, 2012

“EVERYTHING BARREN WILL BE BLESSED”

Pinyon Publishing is rapidly becoming “the poet’s press,” and its latest title, Everything Barren Will Be Blessed by Don Thompson, is a wonderful example of the fine poets featured in this small press’s list. I love Thompson’s collection – it’s a significant landmark on the landscape of poems about the West, from the abstract painting by Susan Elliott on the book’s cover to the rich poems that capture the Southern California desert and fertile valleys. I am particularly inured to this “poetry of place” because it features the area I wandered as a tourist every summer for twenty years.

Don Thompson’s voice is that of a contemplative who can deal with solitude and silence and who is capable of spiritual insights as well as playful composition. I found that the collection enlarged my own passionate observations about the natural world of Southern California. The poems are filled with grace and an audacious imagination. Thompson takes us far, as John C. Van Dyke wrote in The Desert: “…beyond the wire fence of civilization…where the trail is unbroken…”

An example of the poet’s ability to combine playfulness and profundity in four quatrains about the Southern California valley is entitled “Preacher Valley” (which Thompson knows well as he lives on a cotton farm in a house that has been inhabited by four generations of his wife’s family):

“Everything we need to know
has been written in unhurried longhand
between the hills and the sky.
You can trace it with your finger.

It’s all carved in stone, too,
in those jagged musings of freeze and thaw.
Cottonwood and scrub oak
have been pinned to the earth like memos.

It’s even written for us
in the crabbed scrawl of the grass
and the scribbles of tumbleweed—
forever irritated, impatient

because we never notice
and go around muttering discontent,
self-obsessed and oblivious
as if our hearts were illiterate.”

Thompson is also well-acquainted with the wildlife of Southern California, writing about coyotes, hawks, and other bird life; and about the vegetation of pistachio trees and tumbleweeds “bounding along/while little ones hustle to keep up…” His word portraits about animals, particularly coyotes, are both witty and urbane; e.g., “Strangers:”

“Solitary coyotes usually move on
when they see someone coming—
uneasy, though not panicked.

But once, rounding a blind corner
on a winding road
between one nowhere town and another,

we came upon a crowd of them,
two dozen or more,
scattered across a hillside;

and each turned to stare,
fearless, not much interested
to tell the truth—

the way we watch a stranger go by,
wonder where he’s going, if anywhere,
and forget him as soon as he’s gone.”

I read this volume of poetry last night at bedtime and didn’t turn out the light until I had finished reading the last wonderful poem. As the title indicates, poet Don Thompson has blessed the barren landscape of California desert and valley with this collection of accessible poetry about the San Joaquin Valley area. This is a book of poetry that will deepen readers’ perspectives and their sense of connection with nature. The poems are notable for “right” detail and metaphor, as well as memorable images that delight and nourish mind and spirit.


Everything Barren Will Be Blessed is the sequel to Thompson’s Back Road, a collection of poetry that captured the Sunken Garden Poetry Prize for 2008. This is an impressive voice published by an impressive press that has become a real match for 21st century small presses.

Everything Barren Will Be Blessed can be ordered from http://www.pinyon-publishing.com/ or from Pinyon-Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, California 81403
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