Nationality: British. Born: Erith, Kent, 21 July 1945. Education: Farringtons School, Chislehurst, Kent, 1957–62; St. Hilda's College Oxford, B.A. in history 1966, M.A. 1970; Westminster College of Education, Oxford, Dip Ed. 1967. Career: Teacher, Portway Junior School, London, 1967–69, Keyworth Junior School, London 1969–73, Cobourg Primary School, 1973–81, and Brindishe Primary School, 1984–86; arts editor, ILEA Contact teachers' newspaper, 1982–84. Since 1986 freelance writer. Awards: Cholmondeley award, 1987; Michael Braude award for light verse, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1995. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1993. D.Litt.: University of Southampton, 1999. Agent: Pat Kavanagh, Peters Fraser and Dunlop, Drury House, 34–43 Russell Street, London WC2B 5HA, England.
Across the City. Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, Priapus, 1980.
Hope and the 42. Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, Other Branch Readings, 1984.
Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis. London and Boston, Faber, 1986.
Poem from a Colour Chart of Housepaints. Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, Priapus, 1986.
Men and Their Boring Arguments. Winchester, Hampshire, Wykeham Press, 1988.
Does She Like Word-Games? London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1988.
Twiddling Your Thumbs (for children). London, Faber, 1988.
The River Girl. London and Boston, Faber, 1990.
Serious Concerns. London and Boston, Faber, 1992.
Editor, Is That the New Moon?: Poems by Women Poets. London Collins, 1989.
Editor, The Orchard Book of Funny Poems. London, Orchard, 1993.
Editor, The Funny Side: 101 Humorous Poems. London, Faber, 1998.
Editor, The Faber Book of Bedtime Stories. London, Faber, 2000.*
Critical Studies: "Dana Gioia on Wendy Cope" by Dana Gioia, in Poetry Review, 82(4), winter 1993; "Wendy Cope's Use of Parody in Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis" by Marta Perez Novales, in Miscelanea (Saragossa, Spain), 15, 1994; "Poetic Assessment" by Gerry Cambridge, in Acumen (Brixham, England), 26, September 1996.
Wendy Cope comments:
(1990) I began writing poems in the early 1970s when I was twenty-seven. My earliest poems were short, lyrical, and intense. Many of them were in free verse; some were haiku. None of them rhymed. There were no jokes in them. After about six years I began to allow my sense of humor into my poems. I invented an unpleasant South London poet called Jason Strugnell who wrote Shakespearean sonnets about the trials and tribulations of a middle-aged man of letters. He was also influenced by some of his contemporaries, and a series of parodies of living poets was published under his name.
At around the same time I became interested in using rhyme and traditional rhyming forms. At first the subject matter of these poems was mostly literary. Then I began to use rhyming forms to write more personal poems, many of them about love affairs.
(1995) My second full-length collection, Serious Concerns, is a bleaker book than my first, Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis. Although it includes quite a few humorous poems, those who perceive it as a volume of comic verse are overlooking a fair proportion of the contents.* * *
Wendy Cope's Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis was greeted with acclaim, and, skillfully marketed, it became a best-seller. "The most accomplished parodist since Beerbohm," wrote an enthusiastic blurb writer. This is not without truth, for Cope is a brilliant parodist. There are, for example, the splendidly Shakespearean sonnets:
Not only marble, but the plastic toys
From cornflake packets will outlive this rhyme …
With "Budgie His Voice" (Hughes), the "Wasteland Limericks" (Eliot), and "The Strugnell Rubaiyat," Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis is replete with parodies.
I would maintain, however, that Cope is more than a parodist. She is an original, needle-sharp satirist. Jason Strugnell, the "author" of so many of the parodies and an honorable member of a long line of fictional poets, together with Enoch Soames and Sebastian Arrurruz, is a brilliant invention. He epitomizes a particular type of suburbanite with certain attitudes toward poetry and art. He is a cousin of Ann Whickham's "Croydon Man" and is Matthew Arnold's philistine writ large. He is delightfully funny as he reveals a whole vista of the British spiritual malaise. We can sense which way he would vote, the newspaper he reads, his attitude to life in general, all linked to the enterprise culture as expressed in
I need a woman, honest and sincere,
Who'll come across on half a pint of beer.
Cope's Strugnell is a razorlike dissection of certain British attitudes, and through him she sends up beautifully the convention of British anti-intellectualism. It is good to see such subversive stuff attracting such acclaim.
After Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis Cope published two booklets of verse, besides one for children, Twiddling Your Thumbs. One booklet, Does She Like Word-Games?, was nicely produced by Anvil Press; the other, Men and Their Boring Arguments, was rather badly designed and printed by Wykenham Press. (Cope's work deserves better.) Both contain acidly sharp and neatly crafted verses. Those concerned with the attitudes of men are specially keen edged and perceptive—
Bloody men are like bloody buses—
You wait for about a year
And as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear
If you want to be one who's irresistibly appealing,
Don't change the subject when she tells you how she's feeling.
Good as they are of their kind, however, there is a worrying aspect. Is Cope in danger of being typecast by publishers' marketing departments as a witty squib writer, as a sort of comedienne, an intellectual Pam Ayres? I hope not, for long before the publication of Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis Cope published a small Priapus Press booklet, Across the City, in which she explored her own feelings and concerns. They were the tentative poems of a new writer feeling her way, but they expressed a truth of feeling that I hope does not get lost or neglected. For instance, consider these lines from "From Your High Window":
Alone in your room
I have abandoned
this day's plans, attempts
to regulate the
tide, it carries me.
And you are warm stones
on a shore, my palms
curve of bone, I taste
traces of sea spray.
Not that there are no hints of such feelings in Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis. "Tich Miller," for example, in spite of its jaunty-jokey style and seemingly offhand ending, is a poem deep with concern and feeling. Further, the title of Cope's second major collection, Serious Concerns, suggests a shift in emphasis. This book contains a fair proportion of squibs and jokes even while it rebuts the criticism that she "writes to amuse":
Write to amuse? What an appalling suggestion!
I write to make people anxious and miserable and to
worsen their indigestion.
In the fourth section of Serious Concerns there are several deeply felt, if sometimes not quite achieved, love poems and poems of even more profound feelings, as seen in "Leaving":
Next summer? The summer after?
With luck we've a few more years
Of sunshine and drinking and laughter
And airports and goodbyes and tears.
Since then Craig Raine's new literary journal, Arete, has published a group of Cope's poems in which her "serious concerns" are extended. In these poems there are some finely expressed close observations—
At first I'm startled by the sound of bicycles
Above my head. And then I see then, two swans
Flying in to their runway behind the reeds.
—that provoke reflections about the Christmas just passed and the emotions that were stirred:
If only this could be Christmas now—
These shining meadows,
The hum of huge wings in the sky.
Cope rightly reminds me that her beautifully constructed and incisively witty poems, for which she is probably best known, are not without their serious concerns. Nevertheless, it is good to see this other facet of her poetry develop.