THOMPSON, DANIEL (21 April 1935 – 6 May 2004) was an influential Cleveland poet and activist. Known to many as the “Junkyard Poet,” Thompson dedicated his life to fighting against injustice and discrimination, using his poetry to draw attention to the struggles of the homeless and the failures of the U.S. penitentiary system.
Thompson was born in Washington, D.C., however he lived most of his life in Cleveland. He attended Kent State University, where he also conducted graduate work focused on political activism. Poetry was Thompson’s main method of activism; his poem “Tell Chief Wahoo” was used by the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance in protest of the CLEVELAND INDIANS. He also advocated on behalf of Cleveland’s HOMELESS population, with many of his works being published in the Homeless Grapevine magazine in order to raise awareness of and funds for the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. Thompson was also a strong opponent to U.S. military conflicts, and he was frequently arrested for anti-war protests throughout the 1970s. His time spent in jail caused him to advocate for changes to the U.S. justice system and improvements for the lives of inmates. Thompson frequently held poetry readings at local Cleveland prisons and at the Justice Center.
Thompson’s work earned him wide recognition. In 1992 he became the first Poet Laureate for Cuyahoga County. That same year, Thompson organized Cleveland’s first poetry slam. This was not the first time that Thompson had tried his hand at organizing poetry events; in the 1980s he founded Junkstock, an art, poetry, and music festival held at the Pearl Road Auto Wrecking junkyard – thus earning him the nickname the “Junkyard Poet.” Thompson also organized Cleveland’s first team of poets to attend the National Poetry Slam, and was the founder of Poetsbank, an organization which promotes Cleveland poetry. A number of Thompson’s poems were published in the 2011 book The Big Book of Daniel: Collected Poems of Daniel Thompson.
Thompson was not only a poet, but a spoken-word musician as well. In 1996, Thompson performed on the album Genetic Memory, which sold thousands of copies across the Cleveland area. In 1998, he released his CD Famous in the Neighborhood, which he recorded with famous Cleveland jazz musicians Ernie Kridva and Bill D’Arango. Thompson also toured with the Cleveland band Drumplay.
Daniel Thompson died on May 6, 2004 from Leukemia. He was 69 years old. His impact, however, is ongoing in as the numerous organizations and events which he founded continue throughout Cleveland. Following his death, a street in downtown Cleveland was renamed Daniel’s Way, with a commemorative plaque inscribed with Thompson’s poetry. It reads:
“Save my poems for rainy days
Say them out loud. Listen, the rain