David Cope


"This is where I walked away many years"

—Charles Reznikoff


David Cope was born in Detroit on 13 January 1948, and grew up on the banks of the Thornapple River in Western Michigan .  A descendent of the quaker paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, David had a childhood marked by adventures along the river and a mania for writing until his parents' bitter divorce in 1961.  During his teenage years, Cope lived a life of contradictions—gang activities, Kerouacian hitch-hiking, wild partying and a manic desire to know all the poetry ever written.  Later, he studied under Robert Hayden at the University of Michigan, where he mourned the deaths of childhood friends in Vietnam, became involved with the anti-war movement, witnessed Allen Ginsberg's 1969 Moratorium Day reading at Hill Auditorium and the massive police bludgeoning of demonstrators on the night of the Chicago Seven conviction. 

Enraged at what was happening to the nation, Cope quit school short of graduation in 1970, married his wife Suzanne, and moved back to Grand Rapids, where he worked three years at Miller Metals Products, following that with seventeen years as a  custodian in ghetto and barrio schools, at Lincoln School for the retarded, and finally as dock manager at Grand Rapids Junior College.  During this period, he tried to live deliberately as an anonymous workingman, following Whitman's plain-speech example.  Cope attended the 1973 National Poetry Festival in Allendale, Michigan, where Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan, and recently-reunited objectivist masters Charles Reznikoff, Carl Rakosi, and George Oppen gave him deeper lessons in poetic lineage and craft, and taught him to let go of his anger, to make peace with his family, to come to terms with the world as best as one may. 

            By 1974, seeking greater autonomy, he moved from the factory job to his first custodial job and founded  Nada Press and Big Scream magazine, a homemade poetry journal which has published over 200 poets and which Allen Ginsberg described as his favorite small-press mag.  Scream has, as of 2007, been in continuous publication for 33 years, with 45 issues including Nada Poems (an anthology of seventeen poets in Cope's generation) and Sunflowers and Locomotives: Songs for Allen, tributes for America 's greatest 20th cy. bard. Allen had first introduced Cope to other Whitmanic wild boy poets of his generation—Andy Clausen, Antler, Jim Cohn, James Ruggia, and a host of others.  Clausen and Cope read together at Naropa Institute (now University) in 1980, and by 1983 David's Quiet Lives was published, with a foreword by Ginsberg.  In 1987, David read at Naropa with Carl Rakosi, a pairing he still considers his greatest honor as a poet.  In 1988, he received an award in literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters for On The Bridge. 

After ripping a calf muscle in the late 80s, Cope moved from custodial work to teaching full-time, finishing up post-graduate work while developing one of the first multicultural literature classes in the state.  Cope currently teaches Women’s Studies, Shakespeare, drama and creative writing at Grand Rapids Community College ; he also taught Shakespeare at Western Michigan University for seven years.  David and his wife Sue have sponsored refugees, led anti-nuclear teach-ins, and he was instrumental in organizing the 1990 environmental conference at Naropa, where he oversaw the writing of “The Declaration of Interdependence,” a key ecopoetics statement later published in Disembodied Poetics: Annals of the Jack Kerouac School (ed. Waldman and Schelling) and naming crucial environmental issues facing the nation and the world.  Later, he participated in the 1994 Beats and Rebel Angels Conference at the school, and after Allen’s death in 1997, read with Anne Waldman, Bob Rosenthal, and others at Allen's "closing the bardo" ceremony held by the Jewel Heart Community in Ann Arbor . 

David also participated in the 2003 symposium welcoming Anne Waldman’s papers to the University of Michigan Special Collections Library . Since 2005, Cope has been involved in an effort to bring Women’s Studies courses and greater gender awareness to his college community in Grand Rapids , designing the introductory course and website for the fledgling program.  As of 2007, David has been married 37 years, has three grown children, and has published six books of poems:  Quiet Lives (1983, foreword by Allen Ginsberg); On The Bridge (1986); Fragments from the Stars (1990); Coming Home (1993); Silences for Love (1998), and Turn the Wheel (2003).  He is currently working on his seventh volume, Moonlight Rose in Blue.  David’s manuscripts, correspondence, and other papers are permanently archived at the Special Collections Library at the University of Michigan .