First Friday Open Mic Zoom Session, July 2, 2021 with interview of Don Thompson

By Carla Joy Martin

There was a happy gathering of poets at our Zoom Open Mic on Friday, July 2, 2021.  The participants were Anke Hodenpijl, Carla Martin, Chris Nielsen, Christopher Craddock, Cynthia Bermudez, Don Thompson, Eric Osborne, Heather Ponek, Portia Choi, and Suzanne Weller.

The Zoom session can be viewed at the following link:
Passcode: seEL1@3S

Don read us poems from his chapbook, A San Joaquin Almanac.  Here is the selection we enjoyed that evening:


By Don Thompson

As long as someone cracks the thin ice
on his trough,
the horse is content, warm
inside his retro, woolly mammoth coat
this so-called January morning
Midwesterners would mock.
Cold enough for us.

Out in the low hills frost
spreads like wildfire
through the stubble of black grass
that charred last autumn.

And down here, the old ashes
of memories
no one knows how to forget
settle onto yesterday’s rime.

The sun rises south by southeast—
tentative, a banked hearth fire
rekindled behind Bear Mountain.

Its light, such as it is, suffices
to gild the windowpane
of an upstairs room in a farmhouse
as if glistening on quiet water…

Fishing  the unquiet
upper Kern River one summer,
hooking only suckers,
Dad stepped into a faux creek bed,
quicksand in which his legs
vanished as if bitten off,
then fell back, twisted to clutch solid ground,
instead of falling forward
to be siphoned into oblivion.

Neither of us spoke, stunned,
but also habitually silenced by emotion,
with less and less to say
the more we felt.

Facing death fifty years later,
he bit his lip, blinked back tears,
and embraced his aging, only child—
both caught
in time’s unhurried quagmire.

Our souls, you might as well say,
ought to glister like exotic fish
and often do—
though commonly bottom feeders
stirring up muck in the shallows
where inner light isn’t even an issue.

Our deepest selves swim out of sight
and in secret, 
indigenous to black waters,

to private grottos no one can see into
or violate.

Down in that unclouded, untroubled refuge,
the illumination each has been given glows
electric blue, bioluminescent lemon yellow,
opal, or old-school rainbow-hued.


from A San Joaquin Almanac (Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2020)

Q.  What inspired you to write your poems?  What are their back stories?  

A.  Most of my stuff comes from something I notice while paying attention outdoors or something that catches my attention when I’m oblivious.  Often I just come across a word that I want to use in a poem.  That word will probably be cut in the finished work.  Then I usually try again.  I’ve written a half dozen things before finally convincing that word to stay put!

A San Joaquin Almanac consists of a three-part section for each month.  It has quite a back story, actually.  It was originally written as a tell-all confessional spiel that was at least three times as long.  A publisher eventually expressed interest in it, but then my natural reticence set in and I withdrew it, thinking that none of that was anybody’s business anyway.  So I tossed it in my mss trunk.  Well, about a year later I begin to feel that since I’d put a solid year or so into writing the blasted thing, I ought to look at it again.  In that revision, I reduced it to a third of its original length, cutting out all of the overly personal stuff and keeping what had been basically the setting, background and generalizations.  As it turns out, Main Street Rag took it rather quickly.  And  Almanac ended up winning the 2021 Eric Hoffer Book Award for poetry chapbooks.  It gets to wear a little gold sticker on its cover!

Q.  Do you like to read poetry?  If you do, what poets have influenced you?  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire?

A.  Do I read poetry?  Does the bear…well, you know.  First of all William Stafford.  About ’64 I came across Traveling Through the Dark prowling in the library while I was in forestry school.  Looking into that book, I thought: This is what I’ve got to do!  Since I do read poetry every day and have for well over fifty years I suppose, there could be an endless list of names of people who’ve interested and even sometimes obsessed me.  But names that come to mind as lasting influences include John Haines, Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser, classical Chinese poets, especially Yang Wan Li.  Rilke of course and even more, Emily Dickinson, whom I read daily though rarely understanding what she’s talking about.  And actually I’d have to add Miles Davis, but that’s another story.  

Q.  What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create poems?  How do you make a poem?  Do you have a special place you go to, or music you listen to, etc.?  Give us a glimpse into your creative process.

A.  I can’t imagine having music on while writing.  Quiet, please.  Through the years, since I was always working a day job, I developed the habit of writing in the morning before work—Monday through Friday, if you please.  This means early to bed and early to rise, it means discipline, it means being there ready when and if anything good should come along instead of the bilge you produce most of the time.  These days after over a decade of retirement, I’m liable to jot down something that occurs to me any time.  But I still prefer to sit at my desk in the morning to try working it up.

Advice to writers?  Well, there’s no such thing as poetry, actually, but only a poem—the one at hand at any moment.  And that’s your problem!  The challenge in giving advice is to help the writer make the poem more his or her own rather than making it more like mine.  Not easy. So my advice is to enjoy your writing and keep at it: Scribble on!