Book Review- ‘A San Joaquin Almanac’ by Don Thompson

(Review by Daniel R. Jones)

In our January issue, I ran three poems by Don Thompson. Don Thompson has been publishing poetry for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks.  In addition to his poems in our inaugural issue, I also purchased his most recent poetry book, A San Joaquin Almanac.

When I first cracked open A San Joaquin Almanac, I expected a glorified love letter to the San Joaquin Valley in California. What I found was considerably less reductive than that, and so much better. In this book, Thompson relays the weather patterns of the soul. He plums the depths of a people and the space they inhabit. Each month possesses its own poem, and 44-pages later, I’m left with the impression that I really did spend a year in the Valley.

The first thing that grabbed my eye was Thompson’s incredibly diverse palette. His poems are a sensory overload, effortlessly contrasting the light and dark hues of the world he calls home. Thompson has no qualms about penning visceral, immersive lines, such as the following: “Coyotes, so sleek last winter,/ look bedraggled, moth-eaten, the unappetizing color/ of tobacco juice stained teeth.”

But for as coarse and carnal as some lines can be, the poems are also populated by the likes of Li Po and Dame Julian, W.H. Auden and Tiffany angels. Thompson can hook you, with lines such as “…memory is a rundown theater/ in the seediest neighborhood/ of the limbic system.” He can also have you reaching for the thesaurus, employing words such as “amanuensis” and “sacerdotal.” The net effect of these poems is a geography of words. While mulling them, I felt I could vacation in them. The world was so engrossing; I could almost step through the page and settle down in the Valley, myself, if I could just learn to stomach the unrelenting heat.

A lesser writer might struggle with such disparate pieces, where sordid characters nestle alongside five-dollar-words; where the pious and profane coexist on the page. But not Thompson. This book is one to take your time on. Purchase A San Joaquin Almanac from Main St. Rag Publishing Co. and check out Don Thompson’s website at www.don-e-thompson.com

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