"What Thou Lovest Well":  Introduction to Moonlight Rose in Blue


by David Cope


The muse has been kind to me, even in the initial stages of this journey when my parents' marriage crashed, friends died horribly in Vietnam or were gassed & beaten by police.  I quit school, married and slaved for three years at a local spray paint factory, a period that led to snapshot poems, neo-objectivist pieces that became their subjects—the Quiet Lives Allen Ginsberg would later take to China and teach to student poets there.  That initial approach matured in my second book, On the Bridge, which won the American Academy/Institute prize, and even as I was working as a night shift custodian in ghetto and barrio schools, I was also racing  to New York, Boulder, Detroit, Rochester, and Brooklyn, meeting my peers and the wild daddies of the beat generation—a strange schizophrenic existence, moving between readings, parties, late night singing of John Dowland's greatest hits and cleaning rows of gang toilets in the silent restrooms of the late-night school building where every sound was a lost voice. 


Yet I persisted, and the poems found music in their voices—all my nights reciting Old English & Chaucer, Villon and Dante, Whitman and Williams, Federico Garcia Lorca and the great Pablo Neruda grew in the syllables of the poems that followed.  It was also the period of my children's births, nuclear plant disasters, union busting, the malaise that lay over the Reagan years even as we sought to find calm and vision.  Here it was, in the moonlight, "Finally Naked," learning at last that "the breath / is a wind that / stirs up all the world."  I saw Suzy's and my love become legendary, mourned the loss of Allen and so many others & turned at last to the ghazals, funky sonnets and knitted tercets of my later years, returning to the objectivist center with the elegies for my mother even as I found a visionary strain in my "Dream of Jerusalem."


I think my poems have been in large part out of step with the shifting vogues of post-modern poetry, but I believe it has been more a matter of the individual journey and idiosyncrasy of vision than any fundamental disagreements about how the art should develop.  My work is acutely tuned to the lives of plain blue-collar folk, it is a decades-long love story with Suzy, a pleasure in not repeating the modes of my earlier incarnations, and it is the graph of a passage with many friends in the art.  I should in memory thank Allen Ginsberg for his twenty-two year friendship and belief in my poems, my former publisher Tom Lanigan, who believed in my work through six volumes and returned the rights to me as he was dying, Jim Cohn for his endless brotherly love and kindness, Kathryn Beam, friend and curator of my archive at the University of Michigan Special Collections Library, and Suzy herself, for her companionship, forthrightness, and for sticking by me.  I wanted plain speech because plain folk want it clear and to-the-point even when wrapped in complexities, yet I also wanted to play the vernacular margins in the blue room of dreams and vision.  Some poets and editors have found virtue in it, and that is enough for me.


February 2009