Aubrey Frey Interviews David Cope regarding His Poem “Blue April”

Hello Mr. Cope. I am representing Through The 3rd Eye and would like to ask you some questions about your poem "Blue April." This is my favorite poem ever since I read it in Mr. Torreson's class about three years ago. The line about strutting in other people's trash really stuck out to me, and this poem had an originality that many poems fail to achieve.

What was your main inspiration to write "Blue April"?

This poem was written during my years as a custodian in the public schools. I was working on weekends as an apartment clean-up worker for slumlords, to meet the costs of living for my family. As a poet, I have always been a close observer of the people around me, and working in tough neighborhoods, I had many opportunities to honor those people who came into my focus. In this case, I was scrubbing down walls and cupboards in a second-floor apartment, and this scene occurred at a house across the street. I was moved at this little dramatic scene, which seemed to contain the possibilities of love, friendship—and the potential for heartbreak—all of which were all playing out in a place where poverty and the unromantic neighborhood with its scraps and garbage cans implied a very different “world” from the romantic possibilities these two embodied. The fact that he was, by his clothing and gestures, a “slicked-up goodtime Charley” seemed to embody the potential for her heartbreak—she’s excited at the contact and perhaps impressed by his “look” and demeanor, but it may also indicate that he’s not a “steady guy.”

Where did the idea for this poem come from?

As I’ve often said to my students, “it walks right in front of you and begs to be written.” William Carlos Williams always insisted that “the poem is close to the nose,” i.e. it’s right in front of you if you see it and imagine the possibilities.

Did you actually witness this scene in person? If not, what gave you such a vivid image for the scene you portray?

Yes, I saw it. See above.

Did you immediately begin writing when you got the idea, or was it not until later that you acted on the idea?

It’s been a while since I wrote this one (1984 or 1985?). Generally, I finished my work for the slumlord, went home and cleaned up, and the first opportunity I’d get after that, I would sit down and revisit all the people and situations I’d observed on the job. There are many poems like this in my books, especially those early ones such as Quiet Lives, On the Bridge, and Fragments from the Stars.

What's one way you prepared mentally to write about this?

One “fixes” the image in one’s mind or writes down an image of it on a scrap of paper or on one’s hand if one lacks paper. Later, one writes the poem.

Where did you spend your time writing "Blue April?"

Hard to say—long time ago. Usually, I’d sit down at a typewriter (this was before computers) and just bang it out, then take the typed-up page, make a few corrections and try again. This kind of poem is not hard to write; you simply pay attention to what people reveal about themselves and honor their experience as best as you can.

Was this a hard poem to write, or did it come easy?

No, very easy.

Some poems take a long time to finish. Would you say this one did?

No. I recall it as coming fast and requiring very little revision. Very few of my poems take a long time to finish; I have always been a fast worker, very sure of what I want to do, and I just stay on it until it’s done. Those that take a long time usually are poems that were not well-conceived in the first place, and the problems are endemic to the way in which one structures the experience (or perhaps the fact that one doesn’t “see” it in a visionary way—as best as you can, you have to feel the psychology or the inner experience implicit in the look and gestures of those you describe. If that’s not clear, the poem will be lousy).

What inspires you to continue on with poetry?

I love my life and the people who enter it; I’m crazy about Michigan, all of it, and I naturally open myself to experience as it occurs. One simply honors one’s experiences by writing out the important ones in a way that seems true and right. I also think it’s good to step out of myself, to see the lives of others and honor them; in a true Whitmanic sense, we are all large; we “contain multitudes,” and I firmly believe that I cannot speak of myself and my own life without speaking of others, all of us limited beings with a short time on earth, all of us signifiers of the time we have here and the way we live(d).

Works by David Cope

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.