Don Thompson

Don Thompson captures the beauty of Kern County through poetry. 

By Kasey Meredith

Not everyone can hear the sweet music that rocks sing, but poet Don Thompson does.

“The whole world is alive,” Thompson said. Capturing the beauty of Kern County through the lens of spindly almond trees in his poetry garnered him the title of Kern County’s poet laureate. Thompson was nominated and ultimately won the title because of his transcendentalist, detailed poetry on Kern County’s natural beauty.

“I generally write about things I see, I’m not a romanticist,” Thompson said. “My mind works the same as anyone else’s.”

However, the fire within Thompson to become a poet needed to be toked — he went 25 years without trying to publish. Poetry is a private affair for Thompson, as he described his efforts to publicize his work “awkward and uncomfortable.”

Thompson first fell in love with poetry while wandering in a library and coming across “Traveling Through the Dark” a collection of poems by William Stafford. “BAM, it was like nothing anybody had ever heard of,” he said.

At first he only thought of himself as an observer and didn’t take the pen to paper until another visit to the library.

“I was reading Thoreau and a phrase struck my fancy and I made a poem of it,” Thompson said.

Nowadays, Thompson writes poems daily with the occasional poet laureate duty sprinkled throughout, like speaking to high schools or a book club. In the beginning he would get up around 5 or 6 a.m. to write his poem for the day, because between finishing school and working other jobs, he had no energy left at the end of the day.

“I’m a poet I live in my head,” Thompson said, he would even be thinking about the poems he was going to write while at other jobs.

He said he was always drawn to what poetry was able to do to him, make him have that “yes” feeling.

Thompson said that his work has evoked the same feeling in readers of his poetry. “I’ve had people say to me ‘I’ve never heard of that but that’s how I feel,’” he said.

Because even if it does feel uncomfortable to publicize his work he does it to connect with his audience.

“It’s not about the horizontal audience,” Thompson said, referring to how many people the poem reaches. “But it’s about making the vertical connection, making the connection that goes deep.”

And now that he’s a fully established poet, he hasn’t stopped observing. Like Thoreau’s Walden Pond, Thompson writes about “trees, rocks and critters.” Thompson is far from being a nihilist, he’s constantly observing and searching for the world’s meaning.

Eventually Thompson got to a point where he could just pump out poems and they would be published. But coming back to his idea about the vertical connection of one of his poems and a reader made him keep going.

”What inspires writing is the act of writing, you can’t write without words and many times it’s just one word,” Thompson said.

He writes every word as though it will be his last font of inspiration. “There’s something in me that questions, ‘Is that the last one?’” he said. “Or do I smolder to the end.” 

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