Teachers often look for new and exciting ways to introduce poetry to our students. What better way is there than by introducing them to the great poets from Ohio?
Each of these 18 well-known poets may be native to or have lived in Ohio at one point, but they each made an indelible mark on literature fondly remembered today.
From Elizabeth Alexander’s moving words about relationships and family life, to Langston Hughes’ celebrated Harlem Renaissance pieces on love and racism — it’ll take you no time at all to find a poem that will captivate your class!
Keep reading as we explore how each poet brought something unique, yet timelessly relevant into the world through their writings.
Related: For more, check out our article on Poems About Ohio here.
1. Dave Lucas
Dave Lucas is a Cleveland, Ohio native who has significantly impacted the world of poetry. His work often reflects his love for his city and its rich history. His most notable poem, “Weather,” embodies his unique style, blending the every day with the profound.
Lucas’s poetry is deeply rooted in place, drawing inspiration from the industrial landscape of his hometown. His writing style is a mix of traditional forms and free verse, aiming to capture the rhythm and voice of the American Midwest.
2. Mary Oliver
Born in 1935 and passing away in 2019, Mary Oliver was a beloved American poet whose work was deeply rooted in nature. She lived most of her life in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where the natural beauty of the surroundings greatly inspired her work.
One of her most famous poems, “Wild Geese,” beautifully captures her profound connection to the natural world. Oliver’s poetry is renowned for its clear and poignant observations of the physical world, combined with a spiritual and philosophical introspection.
3. Kenneth Koch
Kenneth Koch (1925–2002) was a prominent figure in the New York School of poets. His work is characterized by its humor, surreal imagery, and deep engagement with visual art – particularly abstract expressionism. His poem “To Marina” is a classic example of his playful yet profound style.
Koch was inspired by many things but had a particular affinity for French surrealism and the paintings of his contemporaries. He favored writing in free verse and often used absurdity and humor to challenge readers’ expectations.
4. David Bates
David Bates (1809–1870) was an American poet known for his lyrical and romantic style. He lived in Massachusetts and drew inspiration from the natural world around him. His most famous poem, “Speak Gently,” showcases his sentimental style and love for nature. Bates favored writing in structured forms, often using rhyme and meter to create a musical quality in his poetry.
5. Terry Hertzler
Terry Hertzler is a contemporary poet whose work often explores themes of war, violence, and personal history. Though he doesn’t limit himself to one specific type of poetry, Hertzler often uses narrative techniques to tell powerful stories.
His poem “Second Skin” is a compelling exploration of his experiences as a soldier in the Vietnam War. Hertzler’s poetry is deeply personal, drawing on his own experiences and emotions for inspiration.
6. James Wright
James Wright (1927–1980) was an influential American poet known for his deep empathy and acute observations of the human condition. He spent much of his life in his home state of Ohio, and his poem “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” is a powerful reflection of his Midwest roots.
Wright’s poetry evolved over his career, moving from traditional forms to more free verse, always striving to capture the essence of human experience and emotion.
6. Wayne Miller
Wayne Miller is a contemporary American poet known for his insightful and thought-provoking work. His poetry often explores themes of identity, memory, and the passage of time, as seen in his well-known poem “The City, Our City.”
Miller’s work is influenced by his experiences living in various cities across the U.S and abroad. He writes in free verse, combining clear, precise language with rich imagery and metaphor.
7. Helen Steiner Rice
Helen Steiner Rice (1900–1981) was an American writer known for her inspirational and religious themed poems. Born in Ohio, Rice’s work was hugely popular, especially her piece “The Praying Hands.”
Her poetry drew on her strong faith and the everyday experiences of people, offering comfort and encouragement to her readers. Rice’s poems often took the form of rhymed quatrains, using simple, direct language to convey her messages of hope and faith.
8. Mari Evans
Mari Evans (1919–2017) was a celebrated African American poet, part of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s and 1970s. She lived in Indianapolis, where she was a key figure in the city’s cultural and artistic community.
Her famous poem “I am a Black Woman” powerfully expresses her experiences and perspectives as a Black woman in America. Evans’ poetry is marked by its strong, rhythmic language, political and social consciousness, and black identity and experience exploration.
9. Stanley Plumly
Once upon a time, in the heart of the 20th century, there lived a poet named Stanley Plumly (1939–2019). Like a well-told story, his poetry was rich with imagery and emotion. Born in Ohio, his Midwestern roots manifested in his work, particularly in his famous poem “Old Heart.”
Much like a river, his poetry flowed freely, infused with a deep understanding of human nature and an appreciation for the fragility of life. Plumly’s style was often described as lyric narrative, a blend of storytelling and song. Can you imagine a world where every word rings true to the human experience? That was the world Stanley Plumly created in his poetry.
10. Clara Ann Thompson
Have you ever wondered how it felt to be a woman of color navigating the late 19th and early 20th centuries? Clara Ann Thompson (1869–1949) gave voice to this experience through her poignant poetry. She lived in Ohio and her most famous poem, “To the Negro,” is a testament to her strong racial pride and her desire for social equality.
Full of emotion and resilience, her writing was like a beacon of hope in a challenging time. Her experiences heavily influenced Thompson’s poetry, and she favored writing that conveyed a powerful message of strength and perseverance.
11. Russell Atkins
Russell Atkins is an original thinker. His poetry, much like a puzzle, challenges readers to think differently. He is a Cleveland native and his work often reflects the city’s dynamism. One of his most known poems is “Night and a Distant Church,” where he uses disjunctive syntax and startling imagery to capture the essence of urban life.
Atkins’s poetry is experimental, pushing the boundaries of form and content. It’s like entering a maze where each turn reveals a new perspective.
12. Kevin Prufer
Kevin Prufer is like the conductor of an orchestra, his poetry harmoniously bringing together themes of history, contemporary culture, and personal experience. His poem “In a Beautiful Country” is a brilliant example of his ability to weave these threads into a compelling narrative.
Prufer’s poetry is like a mirror, reflecting the world around us with insight and empathy. His writing favors free verse, combining approachable language with complex ideas.
13. Paul Zimmer
Imagine a poet whose words transport you back in time. That’s Paul Zimmer for you. His poetry is like a time machine, offering vivid glimpses into the past. His poem “Zimmer Imagines Heaven” showcases his delightful storytelling ability and his knack for engagingly exploring profound themes.
Zimmer’s poetry is often autobiographical, drawing on his personal experiences for inspiration. His writing is like a tapestry, each thread contributing to a beautiful, larger picture.
14. Effie Lee Newsome
Effie Lee Newsome (1885–1979) was a pioneer, using her poetry to portray African American life in a positive light during a time when it was rarely done. Living in the South, her work was heavily influenced by her surroundings, as seen in her famous poem “Waking and Sleeping.”
Newsome’s poetry is akin to a warm, comforting quilt, offering solace and inspiration. Her writing favored structured forms and often used nature imagery to convey her messages.
15. Raymond Garfield Dandridge
Raymond Garfield Dandridge was a trailblazer, one of the first African American poets to gain recognition for his work. His poem “Zalka Peetruza, Who Was Christened Lucy Jane” is a testament to his unique poetic voice.
Dandridge’s poetry was like a lighthouse, shining a light on the experiences of Black individuals in early 20th-century America. He favored writing in dialect, a choice that gave his work a distinctive rhythm and authenticity.
16. Allyssa Wolf
Allyssa Wolf’s poetry is like a kaleidoscope, full of vibrant images and shifting perspectives. Her work often explores themes of identity and memory, as seen in her poem “Cerulean.”
Wolf’s poetry is like a journey, inviting readers to explore new landscapes of thought and feeling. Her writing style is fluid, favoring free verse and rich, sensory language.
17. Naki Akarobettoe
Naki Akarobettoe is a contemporary poet who uses her words to paint vivid pictures of life. Her poetry, like a blooming flower, unfolds with beauty and depth. Akarobettoe’s work is deeply personal, drawing on her experiences as a woman of color for inspiration.
Her poem “I Am” is a powerful expression of self-affirmation and resilience. Akarobettoe’s poetry is like a symphony, each word contributing to a larger, captivating melody.
As our poetic journey across Ohio ends, we hope you’ve been inspired by these 18 incredible poets who called this state home. Their words have echoed through the classrooms, resonating with students and teachers alike. They’ve shown us that poetry can be a powerful tool for exploring complex emotions, challenging societal norms, and capturing the beauty of everyday life.
From the lyrical narratives of Stanley Plumly to the thought-provoking verses of Russell Atkins, each poet has left an indelible mark on the literary world. So next time you’re in class, why not dive into one of their works?
You never know, you might inspire the next great Ohio poet! Remember, poetry is not just about rhymes and rhythm, it’s about expressing our human experience, and these Ohio poets have done just that!