Monday, January 11th, 2010...6:17 pm

daniel thompson | even the broken letters of the heart spell earth

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A public poet

and political activist since the sixties, Daniel Thompson is the founder of Poetsbank and organizer of such cultural events in the Cleveland area as Junkstock. What started simply as a poetry reading in a junkyard with a little music, white tails, champagne and junk food evolved, 1981-1990, into an annual, noon-to-moon, arts extravaganza. In fact, one year the arts marathon at Pearl Road Auto Wrecking lasted nearly thirty hours and totalled sixty-eight acts.

Poetsbank helped poets establish a presence in Cleveland by focusing on poetry as a performing art and encouraging a greater participation in the life of the community. Now when Daniel moves through the city, he hears voices, past and present, shaped by this vision—be it the Twelve O’clock Poets at high noon in the Old Arcade, the Midnight Poets of Arabica, something literary at an art cafe in his childhood haunt of Tremont, or Coventry’s love affair with the spoken word as it stirs the air at Mac’s Backs.

Daniel keeps alive the tradition of Hart Crane, Langston Hughes and d.a.levy with open readings of their works. He has long urged City Council to name streets in their honor. He wants this for other Clevelanders, too, namely Jesse Owens and Ralph Delaney, the friend for whom he wrote, There are Saints in the City. The all-women readings in the Flats he organized have already honored friends of his, local women poets who died.

Daniel chose the first team to represent Cleveland in the National Slam, ran the open competitions the next year, and then walked away. His search is not just for audiences and venues nor for the voices of poets, old or new, but for those whose responsibilities begin in dreams. He has been the dreamer responsible for poetry at the Hessler Street Fair, special events at the Barking Spider, two monthly series: Poetry & Jazz at the Bop Stop and Poetry on the Edge at the Red Star, and a poetry-video work in progress, the Cleveland Millenium Artcar.

Gerald Locklin, Mark Weber, Daniel Thompson | Photo: © Jim Lang

During the struggle in the seventies Daniel went back to his Alma Mater, Kent State, to do graduate work in May 4 Studies at its Ravenna campus, a.k.a. Portage County Jail. He now returns to Kent as a poet for May 4 and for Maj Ragain’s Jawbone Open and Fridays at Brady’s. His personal experiences of jail, workhouse and prison have led him to bring live poetry and music as well as a wealth of books to inmate populations. On occasions he even acts as an advocate in the courts for poets in trouble.

Daniel’s first book, Famous in the Neighborhood, is dedicated to his dog, Truffaut, who suffered an absurd death. The book’s title also served as the name of his radio show on WCSB at Cleveland State. Locally his work has found a home in The Homeless Grapevine, in diverse literary publications, including the two Artcrimes he edited, Artbark and Crimes in the Dark, the latter in a popcorn box, and in the West Side Market Park on Carl Floyd’s outdoor sculpture, Tempus Pons. Twice his poems have appeared on T-shirts, once in defense of fiery revolutionary Cheryl Lessin, and more recently as part of a beautiful graphic by Walt Wooten in the battle to change the name and logo of Cleveland’s major league baseball team. Daniel often performs with musicians and is the featured poet on percussionist Sam Phillips’ CD, Genetic Memory, and on a cassette by Drumplay. On April Fool’s Day, 1992, the County Commissioners proclaimed him poet laureate of Cuyahoga County.

A well-known musician from the area once refused to play while Daniel read. “Your poetry has its own music,” he told him. “You have passion,” said another. And, indeed, Daniel is a daring old man on the flying trapeze of poetry. He flies through his work with the greatest of ease, filling the air with death-defying news, then suddenly letting go, astonishes with a triple somersault of heartbreak until once again the ear catches the swing in his nocturnal voice of solitude. Knowing poetry can be dangerous, Daniel at times wonders whether to be a poet in Cleveland is to be at risk. Starting with d.a.levy’s tragic death in 1968 local poets have died on an average of at least one every two years.

18 EURO incl. postage world-wide for this Book & CD

the Cleveland poets
the world knows
and those I knew
Hart Crane
Langston Hughes
Barbara Angell
Tim Calhoun
Christopher Colombi
Simon Emler
Barry Greenberg
Sarah Hudson
James C. Kilgore
Peter Lauehner
Mary Ann Magner
Steve Melton
James A. Miller
Clara Pfister
Norman Pickel
Muriel Ticktin

18 EURO incl. postage world-wide for this Book & CD


You’ve driven your golden spike
Into the dark night of my soul
You carry my death in the smoky
Breath of your cities
You’re the iron horse, the ironic
Force that’s sped up the nightmare
Of history, our genocidal mystery
It’ll be a great day when this wobbly
Depressed hobo poet, riding the rods
Finds you’re carrying peace
Mine eyes have been watching you closely
Train. This is now a new freedom train
The new Swing Low, Sweet Harriet Tubman train
No high noon killers on this train
No death nor internment camp counselors
On this train. This is no bourgeois train
This is the Woody Guthrie-Bound for Glory train
This is the Leadbelly train, the A Train, the A.
Philip Randolph-Pullman Porter train, the John
Coltrane, the Ain’t I a Woman-Sojourner Truth train
The Great Day in the Morning Peace Train! Train! Train!

Download listen to Daniel Thompson | Poetry Fool

18 EURO incl. postage world-wide for this Book & CD

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