Publication Date:  May 1, 2021
Paperback, 64 pages
ISBN:  978-1-937968-82-3

Booksellers:  Available from
Small Press Distribution

$20.50 retail, or
when you order directly from
Broadstone Books, below
born in Bakersfield, CA, and has
spent most of his life in Kern
County. He has been publishing
poetry since the early sixties,
including a dozen books and
Back Roads  won the
2008 Sunken Garden Prize. He was
the subject of an
LA Times profile,
"Planted in the San Joaquin."

He and his wife, Chris, live on her
family’s farm near Buttonwillow in
a house that has been home to four
generations.  In 2016 he was
selected as the first Poet Laureate
of Kern County.  His website is
San Joaquin Ink
"The Art of Stone Axes comprises close to a hundred quatrains arranged in sequences.  
Like those Neolithic tools, they have nothing to do with our era, with electronic
devices and hyperactive social media, but seek out what is timeless in our environ-

The quatrains draw on many traditions from the ancient Chinese and Japanese to the
Imagism that reignited 20th century poetry.  And they respond to that aphoristic
impulse that runs through American verse from Emily Dickinson to J.V. Cunningham.

These little poems represent the essence of what I’ve been trying to do for over fifty
years: to connect inner life with the landscape (the San Joaquin Valley in my case) so
that we can recognize ourselves as part of one world and not psyches exiled from our
natural surroundings.


    From here to the barren hills,
    Nothing but sand grass and thistles—
    Except for one spindly mesquite
    With roots six inches deeper than doubt."

                                                                      —Don Thompson

The name of Don Thompson’s new collection of quatrains derives from a quote by
Randall Jarrell, describing a poet as “a maker of stone axes” and asking, “why make
them now?”  The answer to Jarrell’s question may be found here. In the title poem,
the one stand-alone quatrain in the book, Thom
pson observes

    You can chip the stone into shape,  
    Approximately, but not much more.  
    All the skill’s in binding it to the handle—  
    The tight wrap, the unimaginable knots.

It’s an apt metaphor for poetry, the words always at best approximate, the skill
coming in how the poet binds them into form, shaped to use. Thompson’s knots are
skillfully tied, and he demonstrates, elegantly and eloquently, that a form as
traditional as a quatrain sequence can perfectly express contemporary themes.  

Indeed, the brevity and concision of such short poems seems to have anticipated our
age of tweets and texts and soundbites. Take, for instance, the poem “Harvest,” from
a sequence describing an abandoned farm labor camp:  

    Migrant ghosts still come here for a season.  
    Too busy to haunt, they’re out in the fields  
    All night, harvesting loneliness—  
    The one cash crop that never fails.  

In these brief words, Thompson not only captures the desolate feeling of a place, but
references the hardship of migrant field work, of our unresolved national struggles
with immigration, with economic equity, with labor and dignity. And aren’t we all
“harvesting loneliness” in this age of pandemic?  In four lines, Thompson can contain

His sequences range over topics as diverse as sheep grazing in a winter pasture to
poems in honor of Sir Philip Sydney, but most of all the quiet wisdom of nature.  His
closing poem, tellingly titled “Not the End,” offers this scene of life going on
“beneath our notice”:  

    Autumn’s anthem: bees  
    humming in the Chinese elms.  
    When there’s no more honey to make,  
    They make music.  

Why make poems, and especially short poems, these “stone axes”, seeming relics of  
another age?  Because, like the bees, they make music.
The Art
Stone Axes
Poetry by