by Ivan Sheehan
On May 6, 2005 friends, fans and those closest to Cuyahoga County’s late Poet Laureate, Daniel Thompson, gathered at the street once known as West Second for a dedication ceremony in his honor.
The portly, bushy-beard poet, activist and humanitarian known equally for his candid, illuminating words as his penchant for ruffling the feathers of authority figures from local judges to civil rights objectors in the south during the 1960s, was recognized for his contributions to the community-at-large with the renaming of West Second to Daniel’s Way.
“He would have loved it,” says Barry Zucker, a friend of Thompson for nearly a quarter of a century, and the founder of Shaker Heights Library Poetry Not In Woods series.
“Anyone who knew Daniel for any period of time knew he was into the history of things,” says Zucker. “He was really into the history of Cleveland – especially its poets.”
Thompson was committed to highlighting Cleveland’s poetic contributions. During his lifetime, particularly after his official recognition as Poet Laureate in 1992, Thompson organized numerous poetry readings across town – from the Barking Spider in University Circle to area junkyards – that included recitations and discussion of the life and work of poets who impacted Cleveland such as Hart Crane, Langston Hughes, and d.a. levy.
But Thompson’s interest extended beyond simply educating the community about Cleveland’s poetry heritage. “He was always trying to get the streets named after them,” remembers Zucker, “but he never succeeded.”
Thompson’s dream of having a street in Cleveland named for one of the city’s brightest poets, and characters, would not go deferred.
Brian Davis, Editor of the Homeless Grapevine, published Daniel’s work for over 10 years and worked with him for 15 years on poetry projects. Davis felt that Daniel would take special interest in breaking the law on his street. “I am sure that if Daniel were still delivering bread to homeless people, he would be driving the wrong way on this one-way street named after him.”
“Everyone knew Daniel,” says Zucker. “He was such a character and so talented.”
Within in weeks of his passing, his far-reaching collection of acquaintances orchestrated Daniel’s Way. And given his propensity towards legal tangles, the humor of the streets proximity to the Justice Center is not lost on those who knew him.
“It is very ironic and funny,” says Zucker. Even in death, Thompson had the last laugh.
Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #71, July 2005. All Rights Reserved..