David Cope has had his hands full since assuming the position of Grand Rapids poet laureate in April. Cope is the city’s fourth poet laureate, following Linda Nemec Foster, Patricia Clark, and most recently, Rodney Torreson, director of Through the 3rd Eye. The poet laureate position has recently changed hands and is now sponsored by the Arts Council. The process to become poet laureate has become more accessible, allowing poets to submit a selection of their poems, a list of works and publications, along with a short biography which is reviewed by a panel of experts chosen by the Arts Council. Once one has been appointed as poet laureate, he or she is expected to have at least one project to be completed by the end of their three year term. David Cope has been inspired to institute two projects, one of which is to create a benchmark anthology of local poets; the other is to set up a poetry conference at Grand Rapids Community College to encourage the relationships of established poets with emerging poets.
Cope was led to pursue these projects because he “saw a void that needed to be filled.” The anthology will give local readers and writers an understanding of the wide variety of writing styles in the Grand Rapids area along with characteristics that constitute the unique regional style. The goal of the poetry conference is to bring professional, emerging, and student poets together. Cope believes that “this kind of communication will strengthen us all as writers and make us more aware and appreciative of each other’s efforts.”
In May, Cope completed preliminary cost estimates for hosting a four-day conference involving the area’s heavily published poets, emerging poets and poets involved with various “scenes” in the city, including the Kent County Poetry Contest sponsored by the Dyer Ives Foundation, the Kent District Library poetry competition, as well as the contest sponsored by Literary Life Bookstore. He also developed a template for the conference, which will highlight afternoon and evening readings as well as discussions and panels. In addition, he completed a cost estimate for a 192-page anthology of local poets. Before summer is over, Cope plans to make contact with published poets to invite them to participate in the anthology and conference, as well as research funding for these projects.
David Cope’s love for Grand Rapids is evident; his favorite part of being the city’s poet laureate, he says, is “getting to know people who love the city and its writers, trying to make connections that will help us all grow as writers and as pilgrims on a journey to awareness. I think this position will give me another avenue to expand my skills, my awareness, and hopefully allow me to help others.”