David Cope’s poems are derived from the experiences he’s cultivated over the years. They are snippets of inner monologues, conversations and moments in time that capture soulful characters through thoughtfully painted portraits and expressive accounts of real situations.
“I have always been aware that poetry should seek to capture the complexities of the spirit of their time –– personal relationships, the great national and international events, the world we inherited and what we are doing with and to it, and things related to my own life as well,” Cope said. “These poems, by and large, adapt the kind of imagist free verse practiced by William Carlos Williams and his great peer, Charles Reznikoff, but the characters and situations in these small narrative poems are strictly my own.”
The poems in Cope’s latest anthology, “The Invisible Keys: New and Selected Poems,” span over 40 years and explore various periods of his life. Some depict the behavior of everyday people while others describe poignant and powerful memories.
“Each book has its great poems and lesser ones, but collectively, each one presents the subjects that moved me most during the period in which it was written,” he said. “Each book expands the repertoire of free verse styles, including the free use of tercets borne of my years of studying Dante, architectural patterns of line deployment, similar to what one might find in native blankets, and other styles –– but the subjects remain firmly fixed in the mode of writing about the important events and changes of each time period.”
Poetry has always been a mainstay for Cope, even in his youth. At the tender age of 11, his parents divorced, ending their marriage but galvanizing his passion for poetry.
“I was angry and alienated,” he said. “Poetry was about the only thing that gave me purpose then, and eventually the connection to poet Allen Ginsberg gave me the impetus to make my peace with my father, the single most enlightening experience in my life.”
Grand Rapids-raised, Cope wrote for the newspaper he put together with the other kids in his neighborhood, selling them to bankroll their childhood fancies. And in high school, he developed his style by learning from the greats.
“My first poem was written after reading Emerson’s ‘The Snowstorm,’ and after that I was hooked,” he said. “Major poets who moved me in high school and taught me techniques, the breadth and depth of expression –– Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, and after I’d discovered Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ and the poems of his beat comrades, the way opened up to totally free expression.”
Poetry, and the poets he’s inspired by, has persisted for Cope, pulling him out of dark places and allowing him the opportunity to give voice to his emotions.
“Simply, it has saved my life more times than I can recall –– times when I was so down I needed a hand to pull me up, and the poets did that for me time and time again,” he said. “Beyond that, I love words with a deep and intense passion, and making them ‘sing’ in a line that also has real content is my intellectual and emotional lifeblood.”
Cope will be reading excerpts from “The Invisible Keys: New and Selected Poems” at two local poetry readings this week:
- Wednesday, April 11 at the Wealthy Theater as part of Our Children’s Future from 5:30 p.m. – 9:45 p.m.
- Thursday, April 12 at the Grand Rapids Community College Library from 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.