How to Cope With Your New Blue Collar Poet

Chatting with David Cope, 63, is aimless in a pleasurable manner. There is work to be done and talked of, yet it's easier to slip into the casual passion of asides and subtle disclosures, which seem to permeate each breath. Speaking organized oceans of conscious thought on what's what with Grand Rapids' poetry and on his new post for the next three years as Poet Laureate, Cope has thought long and hard on what he'd like to do for the regional wordsmith geniuses he's become acquainted with. Already established on a national level with his Neo-Beat contemporaries, Cope marvels at how he must get in touch with the local scene. That doesn't mean he's clueless to the status quo of local open mics, indie zines and academics; it merely means he doesn't want to overlook anyone of note.

Cope grew up on the Thornapple River with a rich Quaker heritage of mathematical thinkers; he is the black sheep of the Cope family. Avoiding sophomoric trouble after his parents' divorce at the onset of his teenage years, he became an angry young man and watched friends and loved ones come back in body bags and with mounds of mental scars from the Vietnam War. Caught up in the anti-war movement, he attended the University of Michigan and studied under Robert Hayden, witnessed Allen Ginsberg's Moratorium Day reading at Hill Auditorium, quit school shy of graduation, fell in love and married his wife Suzanne.

Following the philosophy of Whitman, he went to exist in a simple life, first doing factory work at Miller Metal Products, then eventually moving into janitorial positions at several Grand Rapids Public Schools until settling in at Grand Rapids Junior College (now GR Community College). A torn calf muscle forced him into a life of teaching full time. By then, Cope was already published and had nearly 15 years of independent publishing under his belt with his own poetry 'zine via his own Nada Press --Big Scream -- described by Beat legend Allen Ginsberg as his favorite small press 'zine.

Author of seven collections of poetry, beginning with 1983's Quiet Lives, which includes a sparkling foreword by Ginsberg, Cope's objectivist style is reminiscent of William Carlos Williams and Charles Reznikof. In his poems, he describes facets of the real world, speaking in objects and snapshot thoughts while eliciting a subjective emotion from the reader. In 2010, Masks of Six Decades was released. He proves he still remains the ground floor poet with a pen, now with six decades of insight beneath each word.

Aside from his protestant-work-ethic and blue-collar background, Cope is the current professor of Shakespeare, Drama, Creative Writing and Women's Studies at Grand Rapids Community College. He recently retired from teaching Shakespeare at Western Michigan University in 2004.

Utilizing his position, Cope would like to edit and publish a collection of 21st Century Grand Rapids poets, "both to celebrate the talent we have here, but also to serve as an historical/poetic benchmark." Preferably using grants to pay for the project, he is not against other avenues for publishing, citing such current publishers like Wayne State University Press' Made in Michigan Writers Series.

A poetry conference at Grand Rapids Community College may also be on the horizon within the next two years. Cope explains "the conference would feature seminars, readings, panels, etc. using established local poets and poetry publishers as event facilitators, and attracting the finest talent from our high schools, colleges, and emerging talent from the reading scene for this week-long project. The goal is to explore our scene here, allow people to work together and make real contact and establish models for future discussions of this kind. I'd model this on my experiences with such projects as Naropa University's summer sessions and on the work I did to help develop the Anne Waldman induction ceremony at the University of Michigan Special Collections Library." For this, he must assemble a team.

In the dream stage of development, Cope ponders the possibility of a benefit reading for the YWCA's Domestic Crisis Center.

So, how does one cope with a loquacious blue-collar poet? Easy: write, submit, prove there's a regional poetic voice that's representative of 21st Century West Michigan writing and get in touch with those around you with the same expressions, feelings and thoughts. Attend any reading this prof hosts -- you'll be overwhelmed with his passion and dedication to the world. Congratulations, Grand Rapids: your poet is here and he is loud.

Matt Simpson Siegel is a contributing writer for Rapid Growth Media and REVUE Magazine. A former student of David Cope, Matt's writing has taken numerous forms, including the comedic short film Close Encounters of the Fanged Kind, the soon-to-be-released theatrical revenge tragedy Swell, and as former head writer for the insanely superb Super Happy Funtime Burlesque. 


David Cope photographed on location at Grand Rapids Community College

Photographs by Brian Kelly - All Rights Reserved

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