New Exhibit | David Cope: Player of Invisible Keys

Pale blue cover of The Invisible Keys, with a multicolored abstract artwork covering most of the upper half.

David Cope, Invisible Keys: New and Selected Poems (Madison, WI: Ghost Pony Press, 2018). University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Research Center).

The Special Collections Research Center is pleased to announce a new exhibit celebrating the work of Michigan poet David Cope. Drawing on drafts, proofs, and other documents from Cope's archive, this exhibit offers a glimpse into his poetic and editorial process.

Cover of On the Bridge, showing a sepia-toned close-up of running water
Cover of David Cope's second collection of poetry, On the Bridge (1986), for which he received an Award for Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1988. University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Research Center). 

David Cope was born in Detroit and raised on the Thornapple River in Western Michigan; married 48 years, he has three grown children and is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker.  Cope worked 18 years as a school custodian while educating himself in the poetries and traditions not then a part of his college curriculum, and began publishing his Nada Press/Big Scream magazine during those years.  He is a graduate of the University of Michigan (August, 1974), and earned his MA plus 30 credits in Shakespeare, English Renaissance Drama, and Dante Studies at Western Michigan Unversity (1994).  He eventually taught full time at Grand Rapids Community College, where he developed courses in Multicultural Literature, Shakespeare, and as part of a feminist group, an Introduction to Women’s Studies, also helping colleagues develop their own courses:  Women’s Literature and LGBTQ Literature. During his tenure as a professor, he also developed extensive web pages in Shakespeare and Women’s Studies as resources for students.

Forward by Allen Ginsberg to David Cope's first poetry collection. He describes Cope's work as a "necessary continuation of [the] tradition of lucid grounded sane objectivism in poetry following the visually solid practice of Charles Reznikoff & William Carlos Williams.” Ginsberg continues: “In this area of phanopoeiac ‘focus’ the sketching of particulars by which a motif is recognizably significant, Cope has made...the largest body of such work that I know among poets of his own generation.”
Forward by Allen Ginsberg to David Cope's first poetry collection: Quiet Lives (Clifton, NJ: Humana Press, 1983). University of Michigan Library
(Special Collections Research Center). 

David is author of seven books of poetry, including The Invisible Keys:  New and Selected Poems.  He has received a Pushcart Prize (1977), an award in literature from the American Academy/Institute of Arts and Letters (1988), and was Grand Rapids Poet Laureate (2011-2014).  He is editor of three anthologies: Nada Poems (1988), Sunflowers & Locomotives:  Songs for Allen (1998), and Song of the Owashtanong:  Grand Rapids Poetry in the 21st Century (2013).  David has continuously edited and published Big Scream for over four decades, putting over 200 poets in print.  He has been a visiting poet at Naropa University on several occasions, working with Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman in developing lineups for the 1990 Ecopoetics Conference and the 1994 Beats and Rebel Angels Conference (1994).  He has read his poems in the summer sessions with Carl Rakosi, Jack Micheline, Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnell, and Ed Sanders, shared lectures with Allen Ginsberg, and was primary author of the 1990 Declaration of Independence, a document co-edited with other conference presenters and published in Disembodied Poetics: Annals of the Jack Kerouac School, ed. Waldman and Schelling ( U of New Mexico, 1994).   

First and last page of the Declaration of Interdependence (1990), with the last page showing signatures of participants, including David Cope, Anne Waldman, Gary Snyder, and others.
Cope, David et al. "A Declaration of Interdependence" (Boulder, CO: The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, July, 1990). David Cope Papers, Box 7, University of Michigan Library
(Special Collections Research Center).

Over the past several years, David’s work has been translated into Chinese by Zhang Ziqing, and the translations have appeared in the Journal of Jianghan University (Wuhan), Poetry (Beijing), and Houston Garden of Verses.  His “River Rouge” is being published this  fall in I Just Wanna Testify:  Poems About Detroit Music, ed. M. L. Liebler (Michigan State U P, 2018).  He has recently completed editing The Correspondence of David Cope and Allen Ginsberg (1976-1996), but has not yet had time to begin seeking a publisher for it.

David Cope began donating his archive to the Special Collections Research Center in 1987 and for many years has made a biannual journey from Grand Rapids to Ann Arbor to deposit new accessions.  The archive includes correspondence, manuscripts, printed material, photographs, and videotapes documenting Cope’s writing, editing, and teaching. An online finding aid for materials donated prior to 2013 may be found here. For information about materials donated after this date, please contact

Honoring the publication of Invisible Keys: New and Selected Poems (2018) from Ghost Pony Press, the exhibit David Cope: Player of Invisible Keys is on display in our gallery space on the 6th floor of Hatcher Graduate Library (South), adjacent to the Reading Room. It will remain on view through November 30, 2018.

Prologue to poem "Howl in Chicago"
David Cope's "The Train: Howl in Chicago" in Invisible Keys (2018). University of Michigan Library
(Special Collections Research Center).