18 Famous Poets From Missouri

Written by Dan

Last updated

Missouri has been home to some of the greatest English-language poets over the last two centuries. Many have felt their presence in classrooms, libraries, and residencies across the Show-Me State for years – but who are these famous poets from Missouri?

This blog post will briefly overview some of the most influential artists to grace our state’s history and provide tips on discussing their work with your students.

In this article, you’ll learn why each poet is important, what legacy they left behind, and how you can engage your students when talking about them and their art.

Related: For more, check out our article on Poems About Missouri  here.


T. S. Eliot


First on our list is T.S. Eliot, a titan in the world of poetry who lived from 1888 to 1965. Eliot is renowned for his complex, highly symbolic poetry and is perhaps best known for his epic poem, “The Waste Land”. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Eliot’s poetry was heavily influenced by his interest in philosophy, religion, and modernist literature.

His ability to weave together diverse literary and cultural references resulted in a unique poetic style that continues to influence and inspire writers worldwide.

Sara Teasdale


Next, we turn our attention to Sara Teasdale, who lived from 1884 to 1933. Known for her lyrical yet straightforward style, Teasdale’s poetry often explored themes of love, beauty, and death.

Her poem, “There Will Come Soft Rains”, is a beautiful testament to her ability to capture the delicate interplay between nature and human emotion. Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Teasdale’s work resonates with readers for its emotional depth and lyrical beauty.

Mona Van Duyn


Continuing our journey, let’s explore the life and works of Mona Van Duyn, who lived from 1921 to 2004. As the first woman to serve as U.S. Poet Laureate, Van Duyn’s poetry was characterized by its intellectual depth, formal mastery, and emotional honesty. Her poem, “Late Loving”, beautifully captures her ability to portray the complexities of human relationships. Born in Waterloo, Iowa, but long associated with St. Louis, Missouri, Van Duyn’s work offers a rich exploration of the human condition.

Quincy Troupe

Now, let’s delve into the world of Quincy Troupe. An acclaimed poet, editor, and professor, Troupe’s poetry is marked by its rhythmic energy and powerful social commentary. His poem, “Poem for My Father”, showcases his ability to blend personal narrative with broader themes of race, culture, and identity. Though born in St. Louis, Missouri, Troupe’s work reflects his experiences living in various parts of the United States and abroad, offering a unique perspective on the African American experience.

Lena Doolin Mason


Moving forward, we remember Lena Doolin Mason, who lived from 1864 to 1924. A pioneering African American poet and activist, Mason’s poetry often explored race, identity, and women’s rights themes. Her poem, “To the White Women of America”, is a powerful call to action for equality and justice. Born in Georgia but later moving to St. Louis, Missouri, Mason’s work continues to inspire readers with its passionate advocacy and timeless relevance.

Howard Nemerov


Next up, we have Howard Nemerov, who lived from 1920 to 1991. A distinguished poet, critic, and professor, Nemerov’s poetry was known for its philosophical insight, formal precision, and dry wit. His poem, “The Vacuum”, is a fine example of his ability to infuse everyday objects with profound meaning. Born in New York City, but spending much of his academic career in St. Louis, Missouri, Nemerov’s work uniquely explores the intersections between the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Patricia Lockwood

Now, let’s turn our attention to Patricia Lockwood. A contemporary poet and memoirist, Lockwood’s work is characterized by its bold humor, vivid imagery, and exploration of internet culture. Her poem, “Rape Joke”, showcases her ability to tackle difficult subjects with a unique blend of seriousness and irreverence. Though she spent her early years moving around the Midwest due to her father’s occupation as a Catholic priest, Lockwood later settled in St. Louis, Missouri, where she continues to push boundaries with her innovative writing.

Jane Ellen Ibur

Continuing on, we have Jane Ellen Ibur. An educator, advocate, and St. Louis’s current Poet Laureate, Ibur’s poetry often reflects her passion for teaching and social justice. Her poem, “The Little Boy and the Ball”, beautifully captures her ability to tell compelling stories through verse. Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Ibur’s work inspires readers with its heartfelt observations and commitment to change.

Eugene Field


Finally, we remember Eugene Field, who lived from 1850 to 1895. Known as the “Children’s Poet”, Field’s poetry was marked by its humor, warmth, and appeal to children. His poem, “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod”, remains a beloved classic. Though born in St. Louis, Missouri, Field’s work reflects his experiences living in various parts of the Midwest, offering a charming glimpse into the world of childhood.

Orrick Glenday Johns


Orrick Glenday Johns, a remarkable poet who graced the world from 1887 to 1946, left an indelible mark on the literary landscape. Known for his deeply thoughtful and introspective poems, Johns often explored themes of human nature and society. His famous poem, “Second Avenue”, is a testament to his talent for capturing the pulse of urban life. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Johns was inspired by the city’s vibrant culture and its contrast with the quiet beauty of rural America. His poetry, characterized by its rich imagery and emotional depth, resonates with readers today.

Kevin Prufer

Next up, we have Kevin Prufer, a contemporary American poet known for his unique blend of historical and speculative themes. Prufer’s work often weaves together threads of history, politics, and personal narrative, resulting in poetry that is both engaging and thought-provoking. His poem, “In A Beautiful Country”, showcases his ability to reflect on societal issues through a personal lens. Currently residing in Houston, Texas, but a long-time resident of Missouri, Prufer draws inspiration from his experiences and observations, crafting poetry that invites readers to view the world from a fresh perspective.

Alice Corbin Henderson


Alice Corbin Henderson, a celebrated poet from 1881 to 1949, is renowned for her evocative depictions of nature and the human spirit. Her poem, “The Sun Turns West”, beautifully encapsulates her ability to imbue everyday scenes with profound meaning. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, but later moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico, Henderson’s poetry was heavily influenced by the landscapes and cultures she encountered. Her work, marked by its vivid imagery and emotional resonance, inspires readers with its timeless appeal.

Jim Chandler


Jim Chandler, who lived from 1941 to 2017, was a poet known for his poignant exploration of human relationships and the natural world. His poem, “Winter Wheat”, reveals his deep connection to the Midwestern landscapes of his childhood. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Chandler’s poetry was shaped by his experiences growing up in the heartland, resulting in a body of work that captures the spirit and beauty of this region.

Ruby Archer


Ruby Archer, a pioneering poet from 1873 to 1961, made significant contributions to early 20th-century literature. Her poem, “The Dream”, reflects her fascination with spiritual and metaphysical themes. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Archer’s work was heavily influenced by her interests in philosophy and spirituality, resulting in poetry that continues to intrigue and inspire readers.

Frederick Seidel

A contemporary American poet, Frederick Seidel is known for his unflinching exploration of modern life. His poem, “Sunrise”, showcases his ability to capture the complexities and contradictions of contemporary society. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Seidel’s work reflects his experiences and observations of urban life, resulting in both challenging and compelling poetry.

John Gallaher

A modern American poet, John Gallaher is celebrated for his innovative and introspective verse. His poem, “The Future Is a Faint Song”, reflects his ability to explore complex themes with clarity and depth. Currently residing in Maryville, Missouri, Gallaher’s work is deeply influenced by his experiences and observations of rural life, resulting in a body of work that offers a unique perspective on the human condition.

Mary Jo Bang

A contemporary American poet, Mary Jo Bang is known for her experimental and highly imaginative work. Her poem, “The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity”, showcases her ability to combine vivid imagery with philosophical insight. Currently teaching at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, Bang’s poetry is characterized by its intellectual rigor and creative daring, pushing the boundaries of conventional poetic form.

James Whitehead


Finally, we remember James Whitehead, who lived from 1936 to 2003. A distinguished poet and novelist, Whitehead’s work is known for its exploration of Southern identity and culture. His poem, “The Panther”, is a powerful depiction of the clash between man and nature. Though born in Arkansas, Whitehead spent many years in St. Louis, Missouri, drawing inspiration from the city’s dynamic culture and history.

Exploring the rich literary heritage of Missouri through its famous poets can be a rewarding journey for you and your students. These poets, with their diverse voices and unique perspectives, have significantly contributed to the tapestry of American literature, leaving behind legacies that continue to inspire and influence new generations of readers and writers.

From Orrick Glenday Johns’ introspective verses to Mary Jo Bang’s experimental creations, each poet offers a unique lens through which to view the world. When discussing their work with your students, please don’t shy away from the complexities and nuances of their poetry. Encourage your students to delve deeper into these poems’ themes, styles, and contexts, fostering a deeper appreciation and understanding of the art form.

Remember, engaging poetry is not just about analyzing text—it’s also about sparking curiosity, encouraging critical thinking, and cultivating a love for language and literature. So why not use the works of these famous Missouri poets as a springboard for lively discussions, creative projects, and even student-led poetry readings?

Consider inviting local poets to your classroom or organizing field trips to literary landmarks in Missouri. Such experiences can bring poetry to life, showing students that it’s not just words on a page but a living, breathing art form that continues to evolve and resonate with our lives.

Ultimately, teaching poetry is about more than imparting knowledge—it’s about inspiring your students to see the world with fresh eyes and discover the power of words to express, explore, and transform our human experience. So, why not start your journey today? After all, as the Show-Me State’s rich poetic heritage shows us, a whole world of poetry is waiting to be discovered.

In the words of T.S. Eliot, a famous poet from Missouri, “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” Let your students experience this magic first-hand, and who knows—you might ignite a lifelong passion for poetry.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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