David Cope – Letters from Allen Ginsberg

David Cope and Allen Ginsberg at the 67th Street YMCA, NYC, March 15, 1983, photo. c. Sharon Guynup

The new issue of Napalm Health Spa , Jim Cohn’s annual web-zine for the Museum of American Poetics is now up and on line. As always, plenty of interest here for readers of the Allen Ginsberg Project. As a matter of fact, the Museum itself is a pretty rich and pretty extraordinary resource.

Here’s the basic site map . The highlights for us of Napalm Health Spa 2011 are… well, there are plenty of highlights – a memorial feature on Janine Pommy Vega; translations of Latin American writers by Ron Rodriguez; new work by Antler, Jeff Poniewaz, Marc Olmsted, Peter Marti (to cite just four of the contributers); selections from Randy Roark’s “African Notebooks”, and An Interview with David Cope by Becky Spaulding… and, “Allen Ginsberg – Letters to David Cope. It is the latter that we wanted to focus on.
Allen’s admiration for Cope’s work (one of the “younger writers” (sic) he consistently championed) is evident throughout. The correspondence begins in March 1976, and continues, sporadically, through to March of 1990 (after which – as Cope himself notes, “no longer any need on my part to voice enthusiasms and excitements or query for connections, nor on Allen’s part to promote my work and drive himself crazy doing it: now the pleasure is just sitting”). Allen begins with fulsome praise, recognizing immediately a poet in the William Carlos Williams and Objectivist tradition – “clear observation, humble or straightforward attitude toward ordinary reality, spaciousness of view from asphalt under yr feet up to the sky turning blue and good humored appreciation of your own sanity”. His March 1980 “recommendation letter” (his enthusiasm never waned) became the basis of the forward to Cope’s 1983 Humana book, Quiet Lives , (Cope’s first book):
“I have been much absorbed in David Cope’s poetry as necessary continuation of tradition of lucid grounded sane objectivism in poetry following the visually solid practice of Charles Reznikoff & William Carlos Williams. Though the notions of “objectivism” were common for many decades among U.S. poets, there is not a great body of direct-sighted “close to the nose” examples of poems that hit a certain ideal objectivist mark—”No ideas but in things” consisting of “minute particulars” in which the “natural object is always the adequate symbol”, works of language wherein “the mind is clamped down on objects”. and where these “Things are symbols of themselves.” The poets I named above specialized in this refined experiment, and (Ezra) Pound touched on the subject as did (Louis) Zukofsky and (Basil) Bunting, and lesser but interesting figures such as Marsden Hartley in his little known poetry, and more romantic writers such as D.H. Lawrence. In this area of phanapoeiac “focus,” the sketching of particulars by which a motif is recognizably significant, David Cope has made, by the beginning of his third decade, the largest body of such work that I know of among poets of his own generation.”

Since Quiet Lives, Cope has published six more volumes (most recently, Masks of Six Decades (2010), selections from which can be read here, and has become a widely-respected teacher. In April 2011 (as we have previously reported) he was appointed Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Museum of American Poetics hosts a helpful and comprehensive ” David Cope Sampler ” and more on his work and his energies and his activities may be found there.

Allen’s letters to Cope are found in The David Cope Papers at the University of Michigan Special Collections Library .

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