For the National Poetry Month project at the Cuyahoga County Public Library, I researched eight Forepoets, that is, Northeast Ohio poets who have died but whose poems and lives go on in our heads and hearts. That feature had to be cut, but I am posting the eight forepoets here on my blog.

DANIEL THOMPSON was very much on my mind for this Earth Day as I thought of his book titled, Even the Broken Letters of the Earth Spell Heart.

Northeast Ohio Forepoet Poet 

Daniel Thompson, 1935-2004


five facts you may not know about Thompson: 

·       A street named after Thompson is in downtown Cleveland (photo here at Wikipedia)
·       Junkstock, his poetry reading event held in a junkyard, was a summer high point for many poetry lovers
·       An inveterate activist, he campaigned against the use of Chief Wahoo through protest and poems. See one of his protests in this YouTube video  
·     His life and death were formally recognized in the U.S. House of Representatives. Read the tribute given by Dennis Kucinich on May 11th, 2004 here
·       He authored seven books of poetry, including the posthumous, The Big Book of Daniel edited by Maj Ragain and available at Bottom Dog

Finally, I have not a fact but a poem of mine about the last time I saw Daniel, spending two days with him. As a matter of fact, I took him to prison:



by Diane Kendig

For years, he wanted to go to prison with me. “Prison, Daniel,” I said, “is not jail,” where he had done some time. Given his tendency to pranks, I thought he’d be the last writer I’d ever take into prison. Then at the end, during what inmates would call my “short time,” I decided he was the last writer I wanted to take into prison. I called and he came and could have been a chaplain, so piously he submitted to the strict entry procedures. We made the half-mile walk to the cavernous shift room, and he read to a crowd of  eighty or so—though if you know him, you know he said, not read: he chanted and cooed, beginning with Those in power always want/ those in poverty to live on poetry…. The room got quieter and hotter, and Daniel’s voice got louder.
The guards began to gather in the back, first a gray shirt, then several, then several white shirts—“How can there be this many white shirts left this late?” I thought nervously, thought we'd be ousted for the passion he was raising in the place—until I noticed that the guards were applauding, that they loved Daniel’s hymn to the veterans in the marketplace: crew-toothed, blue, open flies, eyes of salt and humor surviving/Wars and rumors and they nodded to his complaint about justice as a railroad. One took exception to Daniel’s Dillinger poem and shouted, “But he did shoot the deputy.” This was the old Lima Correctional Facility, the L.C.I. and in Lima, they know their Dillinger.

I have to tell you, that I have never heard Daniel so loud and clear, despite his age and weariness, about 6 months before the first cancer diagnosis, all the reverberations off metal doors and concrete floors and walls. He gathered up everything he had on injustice and hurt, all those broken letters of the earth, love’s new light he still held out for, and man, he sang them off. In that hard room Daniel took us all into the purpose of his poetry, which as another Ohioan said, is the purpose of all poetry: to break our hearts. Some men wept.

Taking Daniel out of prison would have been harder, except he was tired and even he did not want to sleep there. I drove, he rode shot gun, his right arm along the open window as he chuckled and repeated, “but he did shoot the deputy” on the long ride home that exceptionally warm and starry autumn Friday night that Daniel took the prison.  


  1. I remember that long walk and those eager students. Sorry I missed this reading.