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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photos:David Cope photographed on location at Grand Rapids Community CollegePhotographs by Brian Kelly - All Rights Reserved