As its name implies, National Poetry Month is meant to be observed across the country. But here in Bakersfield, it's strictly local.

What else could it be with folks as celebrated as poet Don Thompson and author Gerald Haslam featured at the kickoff Sunday afternoon at Russo's Books?

True, Thompson lives on a farm in Buttonwillow and Haslam, who grew up in Oildale, now makes his home in Northern California. But you get my drift. If you're anything like me, you appreciate the really good stuff these two write. And it's nearly all about this rich, fertile valley we love so well. Well, most of us do -- love it, that is.

A few days ago I talked to Thompson about the early stages of his writing career and was surprised to learn that Haslam recognized the poet's talents even then.

"I'm grateful to Gerald Haslam," Thompson said. "He contacted me in the '70s and put two of my poems in a book he was writing at the time, 'California Heartland.' Meant a lot to me, gave me a sense of validation."

The anthology, co-authored by Haslam and James D. Houston, is subtitled: "Writing from the Great Central Valley." Haslam has since published several fiction and nonfiction books relating to California and the West. His latest is "In Thought and Acton: The Enigmatic Life of S.I. Hayakawa," a biography of the San Francisco State professor who became famous for his controversial role in the protest movement of the 1960s.

It's expected that Haslam will read from or discuss the Hayakawa book on Sunday at Russo's. And who knows? He may draw upon a few others, such as the second edition of "Workin' Man Blues: Country Music in California," or "The Great Tejon Club Jubilee."

Thompson, who now has six books to his credit, will read from "Everything Barren Will Be Blessed," his most recent published volume of poetry. Like most of his other work, the poems are inspired by the area surrounding his home, a farm that has been owned by three generations of his wife's family.

"I'm not an urban man. I wouldn't be able to write and live in an urban environment," he said. "I belong in a rural environment."

Poetry Month grows

This marks the third year local writers have come together to celebrate poetry. The program was founded by several local poets as a tribute to two colleagues, Lee McCarthy and Helen Shanley, who had died a few months before the inaugural event.

As the celebration has evolved, it's become more inclusive and now features participants performing in various formats, such as a theater, an art gallery, an independent book store and a church.

There will be eight events this year. All are free and open to the public, with the exception of the Poetry SLAM on April 13 at The Empty Space, where donations in support of the theater will be accepted.

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