Michael Cope
(South Africa, 1952)   
Michael Cope

Michael Cope was born in Cape Town in 1952. His father was the distinguished novelist Jack Cope. In addition to being a poet, he works as a writer, designer and goldsmith. He has published a novel, Spiral of Fire (David Philip, 1986), a volume of poems, Scenes and Visions (Snailpress, 1990), several chapbooks of poetry, and extensively on the World Wide Web. Ghaap, Sonnets from the Northern Cape is forthcoming from Kwela Books. He is a veteran performer of poetry, and has made a CD of jazz & poetry with Chris Wildman, Everybody Needs.

Michael Cope’s poetry celebrates the particularity of image, person and story, while evoking a recognition of how each minute particular simultaneously resonates into the wider living system. Implicit in this approach is a critique of the globalising systems of business, money and power which obscure this way of seeing. While attempting to articulate the ecological, social and spiritual cost of such development, the poems suggest, through a variety of voices and genres, the possibility of an other view.

This is explicit in ‘Tea Ceremony’ (from Scenes and Visions, 1991). Here the speaker’s reflection in the act of drinking a cup of tea brings into awareness not only the complex patterns of social and ecological relations which have given rise to this ordinary experience, but even the “great cycles” of the biosphere which make it possible. By contrast ‘The Soda Drink in South Africa’ (Rain, 1998) offers an ironic picture of another drink and the economic relations by which it is sustained.

In other poems, as in the performative ‘Bilharzia Boogie’, a similar recognition of interconnectedness is achieved through narrative. Here a humorous story of a small child’s fear of the bilharzia injection turns into a ballad about poverty, disease and maladministration in rural South Africa.

In ‘The Violin Maker’ and ‘Max Raysman’ the speaker turns to finely observed portraits of particular people: two men, old men, whose work recalls them each day to the discipline of care and attention in the skilfull practice of their craft. In such poems, Michael Cope (who is himself a jeweller of many years’ standing) suggests a radical understanding of manual craftsmanship in which the old master’s daily practice of care becomes an attitude of compassion. Elsewhere in this imaginative world, “the precious” is in the hands of children, as in the poem ‘The child has it’.

The poems ‘Engravings on a glacial floor’ and ‘Ancestors at Wonderwerk’ from Ghaap similarly recall the value of practices which modern industrial culture has tended to ignore. In this case the subject is place or places: two specific archaeological sites in which the presence of past generations is inscribed from deep time.

Finally, if the poems evoke in such ways a multiplicity of voices in time and space, their gesture is also towards silence. ‘Some Examples of Silence’ speaks of the silence “wherein all things stir and combine”, a silence which inheres in each and all.

© Julia Martin

With additional information from Michael Cope.

Website of Michael Cope
With images of jewellery, prose (including a cyber-novel and several short stories), several volumes of poetry and some information relating to karate.


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