Cope, Wendy (Mary) 1945-

views updated

COPE, Wendy (Mary) 1945-

PERSONAL: Born July 21, 1945, in Erith, Kent, England; daughter of Fred Stanley (a company director) and Alice Mary (a company director; maiden name, Hand) Cope; partner of Lachlan Mackinnon (a poet and writer) since 1993. Education: St. Hilda's College, Oxford, B.A., 1966; Westminster College of Education, Oxford, Dip.Ed. (diploma in education), 1967. Hobbies and other interests: Music, playing piano and guitar.

ADDRESSES: Home—London, England. Office—c/o Faber & Faber, 3 Queen Sq., London WC1N 3AU, England. Agent—Pat Kavanagh, Peters, Fraser and Dunlop, Drury House, 34-43 Russell Street, London WC2B 5HA, England.

CAREER: Portway Junior School, London, England, teacher, 1967-69; Keyworth Junior School, London, teacher, 1969-73; Cobourg Junior School, London, teacher, 1973-81, deputy headmaster, 1980-81; Contact (a newspaper), arts and reviews editor, 1982-84; Brindishe Primary School, London, music teacher, 1984-86; freelance writer, 1986—; Spectator, London, television columnist, 1986-90. Conducted readings in Amman, Jordan, at the invitation of the British Council, 2000.

AWARDS, HONORS: Cholmondeley Award for poetry, 1987; fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, 1992; Michael Braude Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1995; shortlisted for Whitbread Poetry Award, 2002, for If I Don't Know.


Across the City, Priapus Press (Berkhamsted, England), 1980.

Shall I Call Thee Bard? A Portrait of Jason Strugnell (radio drama), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Radio 3 (London, England), 1982.

Hope and the Forty-two, Other Branch Readings (Leamington Spa, England), 1984.

Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis (poems), Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1986.

Poem from a Colour Chart of House Paints, Priapus Press (Berkhamsted, England), 1987.

Does She Like Word-Games? (poems), Anvil Press Poetry (London, England), 1988.

Men and Their Boring Arguments (poems), Wykeham Press (Winchester, England), 1988.

Twiddling Your Thumbs: Hand Rhymes (for children), illustrated by Sally Kindberg, Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1988.

The River Girl (poem), illustrations by Nicholas Garland, Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1991.

Serious Concerns (poems), Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1992.

The Squirrel and the Crow, illustrated by John Vernon Lord, Clarion Publishing (Alton, England), 1994.

Being Boring, Aralia Press (West Chester, PA), 1998.

If I Don't Know, Faber (Boston, MA), 2001.


Is That the New Moon?: Poems by Women Poets, illustrations by Christine Roche, Lions (London, England), 1989.

The Orchard Book of Funny Poems (anthology for children), illustrated by Amanda Vesey, Orchard Books (London, England), 1993.

The Funny Side: 101 Humorous Poems, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1998.

The Faber Book of Bedtime Stories, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1999.

Heaven on Earth: 101 Happy Poems, Faber & Faber (London, England), 2001.


(With Colin Matthews) Strugnell's Haiku: For Voice and Piano, Faber Music (London, England), 1990.

(With Roderik de Man) 5 Songs on Poems by Wendy Cope: For Mezzo-Soprano and Piano, Donemus (Amsterdam, Holland), 1990.

(With Martin Read) The Christmas Life, Banks Music (York, England), 1999, reprinted with coauthor Roxanne Panufnik, Universal Edition (Vienna), 2002.

Has recorded several audiocassette versions of her work, including Two Cures for Love: A Collection of Poems Introduced and Read by the Poet, Faber & Faber Audio Poetry (London, England), 1994; (with Samantha Bond and Tim Pigott-Smith) The Funny Side: 101 Humorous Poems, Penguin Audiobooks (London, England), 1998.

Contributor to anthologies, including Spring Offensive, Star Wheel Press (Hitchin, England), 1981; Poetry Introduction 5, Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1982; Making for the Open, Chatto & Windus (London, England); The Faber Book of Twentieth Century Women's Poetry, edited by Fleur Adcock, Faber & Faber (Boston, MA); Faber Book of Parodies (Boston, MA), and The Penguin Book of Limericks, Penguin (New York, NY). Contributor of poems and book reviews to periodicals, including Times Literary Supplement, Observer, New Statesman, and London Review of Books; contributor of poems to radio programs, including Poetry Now, BBC Radio 3, Rollercoaster, BBC Radio 4, and Pick of the Week, BBC Radio 4.

SIDELIGHTS: British poet Wendy Cope is the author of Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, a collection of poems that includes several parodies and other literary jokes. The title is explained in the first poem, which reads: "It was a dream I had last week / And some kind of record seemed vital. I knew it wouldn't be much of a poem, / But I loved the title." In other pieces, Cope parodies such poets as T.S. Eliot, Philip Larkin, and Ted Hughes. Cope's imitations reveal an irreverent attitude toward modernist poetry, lightly veiled beneath the guise of good clean fun. The parodies are attributed to Jason Strugnell, a character created by Cope and introduced in a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio program in 1982. An ambitious but inferior poet, Strugnell continually finds himself imitating major contemporary voices, and the results are always entertaining. Other selections in the volume use traditional poetic forms, such as the sonnet and the villanelle, to express a view of love that is both sincere and satirical.

Critical response to Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis was generally favorable. Robert Nye, writing in the London Times, referred to Cope as "a writer of very stylish and clever light verse which is a great pleasure to read." Although Times Literary Supplement contributor Bernard O'Donoghue found the quality of the writing somewhat lacking, he referred to the work as an "amusing book, which you can read from cover to cover, tum-ti-tum, in a very pleasant hour."

In 1991 Cope published The River Girl, a single long narrative poem that had been commissioned by a marionette company, which eventually performed it on a theater barge. The tale explores a love affair between a mortal and an immortal being. John Didde, a young poet who spends his time gazing out at the river, encounters Isis, the daughter of the river king, Father Thames. Isis serves as John's muse; he immediately begins to spout glorious poetry, and he and Isis fall in love at first sight. Father Thames is distressed that his daughter has fallen in love with a poet, but he does not forbid her to associate with John. John and Isis marry, and John's book is accepted by a major publisher, Tite and Snobbo. He begins to attract a following, and his fans shower him with praise, which goes straight to his head. His egotism causes him to neglect his wife, who changes first into a bird and then into a fish as she leaves him to return to her father. George Szirtes, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, lauded the poem's "delicate balance between the affairs of this world and the world of under the river," and called The River Girl "a well-written, entertaining story with a great deal of charm."

Cope's 1992 work, Serious Concerns, is a volume of poetry similar to Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, prompting Times Saturday Review contributor Robert Nye to predict that it is "likely to please the same audience all over again." The book includes parodies by Jason Strugnell as well as poems that play directly on the lives of literary figures. Cope also includes a number of romantic pieces that mingle humor with the sadness of loss and rejection. Although the subject of Serious Concerns is men, Nye noted that the poet herself is usually the butt of the jokes.

Cope told CA: "I dislike the term 'light verse' because it is used as a way of dismissing poets who allow humor into their work. I believe that a humorous poem can also be 'serious'—i.e., deeply felt and saying something that matters.

"Although it includes a few happy poems, I think my second full-length collection, Serious Concerns, is a bleak book. A key poem is 'Some More Light Verse.' I see this as a poem about feeling suicidal, but managing to see the funny side, and therefore being able to carry on. I would like this poem, and the whole book, to be seen in the context of the high suicide rate of an earlier generation of poets. If we don't want to go down that road, poets of my generation have to find a different approach."

"Cope's life has not been easy," wrote Emma Brockes in the Guardian, "running on loneliness and depression and an anxiety which, although she is more content these days, reveals itself in a certain over-scrupulous primness of manner." Yet Cope was unquestionably happier, as revealed in If I Didn't Know, her first collection in nine years. The book showed a different side of her, reflective of changes in her personal life: having found fulfillment in a relationship with poet and writer Lachlan Mackinnon, she experienced what Siân Hughes in the Times Literary Supplement characterized as "a shift of subject matter from the vicissitudes of the pursuit of love, to the vulnerability of happiness."

Adam Newey in the New Statesman called If I Didn't Know "a patchy book," but Diana Hendry in the Spectator wrote that "I'm happy that Wendy's found happiness and gardens and possibly the man of her dreams; that the exceedingly witty despair that fueled the poems of Serious Concerns has gone and that, as she writes in 'Being Boring,' 'A happier cabbage you never did see.'" Hendry cited as her favorite poem from the collection "Present," in which Cope remembers the inscription "Psalm 98" on a confirmation present given to her by her grandmother or "Nanna" when she was a little girl. Thirty-five years later, she hears the psalm, and apostrophizes her grandmother: "At last I pay attention. // to the words she chose. / O sing unto the Lord / a new song. Nanna, / it is just what I wanted." Concluded Hendry, "Lots of new songs here. And for Cope fans, still plenty of funny poems—some of them even about men."

Hughes referred to "the central question of the collection—where to find a poetic language with which to chart slow growth." Her celebration of joy "is a territory not so thoroughly mapped in verse as that of heartbreak and confusion," Hughes noted. Cope herself has expressed the opinion that there is something deeply meaningful, and far from frivolous, at the heart of humor: "It annoys me that funny poems are not expected to be serious," she told the Star, a Jordanian paper, while in that country for a series of readings. "I believe that a humorous poem can also be serious, deeply felt, and [say] something that matters."



Books for Keeps, March, 1996, review of The Orchard Book of Funny Poems, p. 28; January, 1997, review of The Orchard Book of Funny Poems, p. 20.

Guardian (Manchester), May 26, 2001, Emma Brockes, "Laughter in the Dark" (profile of Cope), pp. R6-R7.

Independent, June 7, 2001, Thomas Sutcliffe, "The Unromantic Poet of Love," p. S-7.

Junior Bookshelf, December, 1993, review of The Orchard Book of Funny Poems, p. 230.

London Review of Books, April 17, 1986, pp. 20-22.

New Statesman, May 2, 1986, pp. 24-25; June 25, 2001, Adam Newey, review of If I Don't Know, p. 53; December 17, 2001, Adam Newey, "Lesbians Are Us: 101 Reasons to Read Poetry," pp. 113-14.

New Yorker, May 24, 1993, review of Serious Concerns, p. 105.

Observer (London), February 16, 1997, review of Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, p. 18.

Spectator, August 23, 1997, review of Serious Concerns, p. 37; June 16, 2001, Diana Hendry, review of If I Don't Know, p. 39.

Times (London), March 13, 1986, Robert Nye, review of Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis.

Times Educational Supplement, November 12, 1993, review of The Orchard Book of Funny Poems, p. R-4; October 2, 1998, review of The Funny Side: 101 Humorous Poems, p. 11.

Times Literary Supplement, June 6, 1986, p. 616; July 12, 1991, p. 21; September 7, 2001, Siân Hughes, review of If I Don't Know, p. 22.

Times Saturday Review, March 14, 1992, Robert Nye, review of Serious Concerns, p. 37.


Guardian Unlimited Observer, (May 18, 2002), Rachel Redford, review of If I Don't Know.

The Star: Jordan's Political, Economic, and Cultural Weekly, (May 18, 2002), Paula Weik, "British Humor Poet Wendy Cope: I Don't Mean to Be Funny" (June 8, 2000, issue).