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Sunday Diversion: The Deaths of Minor American Poets

Jeff O'Neal

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Jeff O'Neal is the executive editor of Book Riot and Panels. He also co-hosts The Book Riot Podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @thejeffoneal.

My favorite poetry anthology is The Oxford Book of American Poetry. It has a diverse and representative selection of poets that includes familiar names and fresh voices. The poetry itself is of course the star of the show, but an added pleasure are the snappy, succinct biographies for each poet. And, boy, can American poets find ways to off themselves.

Below are the deaths and names of 10 minor American poets, pulled from the bios in The Oxford Book. Your task…..match them up.

Good luck!






A. Hit by a dune buggy.

B. Heart attack in friend’s swimming pool.

C. Hit by car while walking to hospital to receive treatment for injuries suffered during a suicide

D. Psoriosis (Last words: “My vocabulary did this to me.”)

E. Drank whiskey poisoned by bartender

F. Disappeared.

G. Died in a snowstorm while walking home from a tavern.

H. Jumped off the Washington Avenue Bridge between St. Paul and Minneapolis.

I. Walked off with rifle. Never seen again.

J. Tuberculosis of the brain lining



1. Theodore Roethke

2. Robert Johnson

3. Philip Freneau

4. Weldon Kees

5. Randall Jarrell

6. Adelaide Crapsey

7. Lew Welch

8. Frank O’Hara

9. Jack Spicer

10. John Berryman


And now the answers (highlight the below to reveal):

Theodore Roethke suffered a heart attack in friend’s swimming pool

 Robert Johnson drank whiskey poisoned by bartender (allegedly over a woman)

Philip Freneau died in a snowstorm while walking home from a tavern

Weldon Kees just up and disappeared.

Randall Jarrell was hiit by car while walking to hospital to receive treatment for injuries suffered during a suicide attempt.

Adelaide Crapsey died from tuberculosis of the brain lining.

Lew Welch left an ominous note, walked into the woods with a rifle, and was never seen again. 

Frank O’Hara was hit by a dune buggy.

Jack Spicer succumbed to psoriosis, and his last words were “My vocabulary did this to me.”


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