David Cope, Grand Rapid’s fourth poet laureate, has experienced an ironic rise from blue collar custodian to revered professor at Grand Rapids Community College. Cope has been a professor at Grand Rapids Community College for 20 years, teaching creative writing, Shakespeare, and women’s studies classes. Teaching at the college has given him access to some of the brightest young poets in the city, as well as allowing him to bring excellent poets to Grand Rapids, including Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Antler, Jim Cohn, and former GRCC graduate Carmen Bugan. He has had the opportunity to develop or be involved in numerous conferences including the Women in Arts Conference, which he designed with help from the Women’s Studies Initiative, and the Hemingway Conference where he was a presenter. Cope has taken advantage of the texts available to him from the plays he teaches in his Shakespeare class to the short stories, poetry, and plays that show models of good writing to creative writers and composition students.
Cope is well known and respected in the literary world, yet he is quick to add that his evolution as a poet has been a “long complex journey.” He struggled to find a writing style and explains that he began writing “brief anecdotal vignettes borne of the objectivist or imagist approach to the art: these constituted the approach in my first two books, the second of which won the American Academy/Institute Award in Literature in 1988.” As Cope’s confidence grew, he began “honing for sound as well as substance, allowing inspiration from Old English and Middle English poetry, Dante, and Shakespeare to help him find a more elegant syntax. The only constant in his work is his desire to write poems that reflect the complexities of real life and to avoid cleverness and word games. He became more comfortable experimenting with typography and the use of figures of speech as long as they didn’t intrude on clarity. “The journey has been a long one,” he shares, “and in these later years, it’s important that I don’t merely repeat earlier motifs, but find a way to transcend or extend them as a way to more accurately reflect the stages
of life wherein I find myself now.”
Cope stays active in the literary community by editing his magazine Big Scream. The magazine is now in its 50th issue and has offered him the opportunity to hone his editing skills along with understanding the often complex psychology of the poets who send him their work. Cope is inspired by numerous poets from ancient writers to his contemporaries. He enjoys the American lineage of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman to name a few; he views other poets, including Dante, Chaucer, and
Shakespeare, as foundational poets.
Grand Rapids has embraced David Cope and eagerly anticipates his contributions to the literary world of the city. The position of poet laureate is a fitting next step for a man whose life has been based on poetry from a young age. “Basically, one has to love poets and the art form itself in order to do any of these things” he explains, “the poet laureate position, the Kent County Poetry Contest and KDL contests, the magazine, readings, publication, making connections and friendships with others, the whole bit. I knew it would be the focus of my life when I was in eighth grade, and I have never swerved from that.”