Critical Commentary

Advanced praise for Steve Tompkins' Clay County Pastoral, forthcoming from Word Press:

"In his debut collection, Steve Tompkins assembles a vivid map of family legacy, war, PTSD, and childhood woven together with a zen wisdom that dots the poetic landscape. This amazing collection is filled with ferocious and tender moments that invite readers to get their hands dirty fishing the muddy rivers, to wander the pastoral fields of Missouri, and to sample the food toiled from the land.  A powerful debut from a talented, emerging American poet." 

               Juan J. Morales


“Steve Tompkins begins his debut collection with a question for the heart: Are you willing to put your hand into the mouth of the unknown, ready and able to face the consequences of a vulnerable life?  In this accomplished volume of poetry, Tompkins says yes to the ‘whiskerfish’ lurking in the dark pools of consciousness, a treasure that is ours to claim.  With immense tenderness and intelligence, Tompkins crafts a collection within the poetic lineage of Robert Frost, Richard Hugo, and William Stafford – this is hard, stark, even haunting work, nevertheless suffused with musicality and pathos.  His dialogues with the figure of Clayton Parker, notably his final elegy sequence, deserve to be set beside some of the best narrative poetry being written today.”

               —David Keplinger  

“What a first collection!  With a richly descriptive eye and colloquial tone full of intensity and intellect, Steve Tompkins shows his empathy, both tough and tender, for the farming and working families in the South and Midwest by taking us to Clay County, a place where one finds ‘no ordinary living and dying going on around here.’  His poems are as consistent as moonlit nights following hard days, both fully thought-out and fully experienced, a smooth volume that moves with humor and sorrow over its landscape where ‘some dreams…just take a while to die.’ One can’t help but finish this book feeling a deeper connection to a much larger state of mind.”

            —Robert King  

“Like a Johnny Cash song, Steve Tompkins’ Clay County Pastoral is a piece of Americana that is rooted in the people and in the land.  This amazing collection of poetry manages to transcend the philosophical through an everyday language—the language of real life.  To experience these poems is to come away with a completely different perspective of the world in which we live, a perspective gained with help from the character of Clayton Parker, whose colloquial language and tremendous life-force help drive the energy of this incredible work.  In this book the stories are magnificent, the images brilliant, the rhythms superb.”

            —Tony Moffeit

“The poems in Steve Tompkins’ Clay County Pastoral know how to catch a reader's attention and keep it.  In this accomplished collection, we find a fully-present poet at the height of his powers.  I am grateful for this earthy, spirited work, unafraid to go ‘down deep in the muck’ and demonstrating that paying attention is a means of transcendence.”

            —Aaron Anstett