Witty, self-assured Wendy Cope seems to be the Jane Austen of verse, writing about love, domesticity and a woman’s life, till her playfulness reminds you of Oscar Wilde.
Warm-hearted, often funny, and always engaging, Two Cures for Love is a pleasure to read. Published in 2008, it’s a collection of Cope’s selected poems from 1979 to 2006. The collection is named after a playful poem only two lines long. Here it is:
Two Cures for Love
1. Don't see him. Don't phone or write a letter. 2. The easy way: get to know him better.
It’s unusual for a book to be named after such a short poem. But that’s not unusual for Cope. Her first collection of verse was named after a poem only four lines long. Here is the amusing title poem from her first book, Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis.
Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis
It was a dream I had last week And some sort of record seemed vital. I knew it wouldn't be much of a poem But I love the title.
That poem, Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, is also included in Two Cures for Love, Wendy Cope’s fourth book. As she says in her preface: “Some teachers and other readers suggested that a wider selection of my work in one volume would be useful, so I have chosen poems from all three of my collections, together with a few new ones. I’ve also included a small number of poems that, for one reason or another, were omitted from earlier books but now seem to me worth publishing here.”
“Anyone who wants to know which book a poem first appeared in can find that information in the notes,” she adds.
Wendy Cope’s short poems are delightful. Here is one with a surprise ending that made me laugh.
The day he moved out was terrible -- That evening she went through hell. His absence wasn't a problem But the corkscrew had gone as well.
Here is another just as funny:
Another Unfortunate Choice
I think I am in love with A.E. Houseman, Which puts me in a worse-than-usual fix. No woman ever stood a chance with Houseman And he's been dead since 1936.
Wendy Cope writes about women looking for men with feeling, mixing humour and sympathy. This poem comparing men with buses is both funny and touching.
Bloody Men Bloody men are like bloody buses -- You wait for about a year And as soon as one approaches your stops Two of three others appear. You look at them flashing their indicators, Offering you a ride. You're trying to read their destinations, You haven't much time to decide. If you make a mistake, there's no turning back. Jump off, and you'll stand there and gaze While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by And the minutes, the hours, the days.
Now for one of my favourite poems by Wendy Cope. This love poem is funny and upbeat.
My heart has made its mind up And I'm afraid it's you. Whatever you've got lined up, My heart has made its mind up And if you can't be signed up This year, next year will do. My heart has made its mind up And I'm afraid it's you.
Wendy Cope can be tender, too, as in this wise love poem.
Some men never think of it. You did. You’d come along And say you’d nearly brought me flowers But something had gone wrong. The shop was closed. Or you had doubts — The sort that minds like ours Dream up incessantly. You thought I might not want your flowers. It made me smile and hug you then. Now I can only smile. But, look, the flowers you nearly bought Have lasted all this while.
Wendy Cope writes with feeling. She has a gift for packing a world of meaning in a few simple words. The following poem will make anyone growing old wistful:
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.
Wendy Cope reminds me of Jane Austen because she is witty and writes about women and everyday life. In the following poem about a day in the life of a woman, she makes you feel her happiness.
At lunchtime I bought a huge orange -- The size of it made us all laugh. I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave -- They got quarters and I had a half. And that orange, it made me so happy, As ordinary things often do Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park. This is peace and contentment. It's new. The rest of the day was quite easy. I did all the jobs on my list And enjoyed them and had some time over. I love you. I'm glad I exist.
Preferring the quotidian like most poets, she was nevertheless moved to write about the tragedy of September 11, 2001, when terrorist attacks by al Qaeda in America killed nearly 3,000 people, most of them in New York when two planes hijacked by suicide bombers hit the World Trade Center, bringing down the twin towers. Prefacing the poem with a quote from Emily Dickinson, she speaks for those whose lives have been spared and who can go on living and loving.
“That love is all there is,
Is all we know of Love…”
— Emly Dickinson
It wasn’t you, it wasn’t me, Up there, two thousand feet above The New York street. Were safe and free, A little while, to live and love, Imagining what might have been — The phone call from the blazing tower, A last farewell on the machine, While someone sleeps another hour, Or worse, perhaps, to say goodbye And listen to each other’s pain, Send helpless love across the sky, Knowing we’ll never meet again, Or jump together, hand in hand, To certain death. Spared all of this For now, how well I understand That love is all, is all there is.
Now let’s turn to what looks like one of Wendy Cope’s longer poems. But, in her notes, she says these are excerpts from a series of 10 poems she wrote in 1984. For some reason, she decided to include only these excerpts in Two Cures for Love under the following title in the following order. Candid and sensual, this is about a woman in love:
From June to December
1. Prelude It wouldn't be a good idea To let him stay. When they knew each other better -- Not today. But she put on her new black knickers Anyway. 3. Summer Villanelle You know exactly what to do -- Your kiss, your fingers on my thigh -- I think of little else but you. It's bliss to have a lover who, Touching one shoulder, makes me sigh -- You know exactly what to do. You make me happy through and through. The way the sun lghts up the sky -- I think of little else but you. I hardly sleepp -- an hour or two; I can't eat much -- and this is why -- You know exactly what to do. The movie in my mind is blue -- As June runs into wild July I think of little else but you. But is it love? And is it true? Who cares? This much I can't deny: You know exactly what to do: I think of little else but you. 5. Some People Some people like sex more than others -- You seem to like it a lot. There's nothing wrong with being innocent or high-minded But I'm glad you're not. 6. Going Too Far Cuddling the new telephone directory After I found your name in it Was going too far. It's a safe bet you're not hugging a phone book, Wherever you are.
Here is another funny poem by Wendy Cope, this one making fun of the Church of England. In her notes, she explains it was commissioned by a woman canon of St Paul’s Cathedral to be read at a service to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the ordination of the first women priests. But she adds: “It wasn’t used because, although the women at “St Paul’s enjoyed it, it was felt the humour was ‘too robust’. ”
An Anniversary Poem
10th anniversary of the ordination of the first women priests in the Church of England in February 1994
Good Christian men and women, let us raise a joyful shout: The C of E is treating us as equals. Just about. Sister, fetch the fatted calf, and we'll prepare a feast: You can't become a bishop but you can become a priest. The mountains skip like rams, the little hills like sheep. And why? Our problem-solving miracle: a bishop who can fly. Sing, dance, clap your hands, make merry and be glad: Some men behave atrociously, but most are not too bad. Bring out the tambourines, and let the trumpet sound: These years have not been easy but, praise God, you're still around, Brave, forgiving pioneers. May this be your reward: To grow in strength and beauty in the service of the Lord. But should there be a woman Primate while I'm still alive, Oh, then we'll hear the valleys sing, and see the mountains jive.
The book, Two Cures for Love, ends with another funny poem. Short and witty, it makes you close the book with a smile. Note the lines below the title:
Kindness to Animals
This poem was commissioned by the editor of the Orange Dove of Fiji, an anthology for the benefit of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature. It was rejected as unsuitable.
If I went vegetarian And didn't eat lambs for dinner, I think I'd be a better person And also thinner. But the lamb is not endangered And at least I can truthfully say I've never, ever eaten a barn owl, So perhaps I'm OK.
I am tempted to end with another funny but longer poem by Wendy Cope because it is unlike anything I have read before. Clever and ingenious, it is unique.
Exchange of Letters
“Man who is a serious novel would like to hear from a woman is a poem” — classified advertisement, New York Review of Books
Dear Serious Novel, I am a terse assured lyric with impeccable rhythmic flow, some apt and original metaphors, and a music that is all my own. Some people say I am beautiful. My vital statistics are eighteen lines, divided into three-line stanzas, with an average of four words per line. My first husband was a cheap romance; the second was Wisden's Cricketers' Almanac. Most of the men I meet nowadays are autobiographies, but a substantial minority are books about photography or trains. I have always hoped for a relationship with an upmarket work of fiction. Please write and tell me more about yourself. Yours intensely Song of the First Snowdrop Dear Song of the First Snowdrop, Many thanks for your letter. You sound like just the kind of poem I am hoping to find. I've always preferred short, lyrical women to the kind who go on for page after page. I am an important 150,000-word comment on the dreams and dilemmas of twentieth-century Man. It took six years to attain my present weight and stature but all the twenty-seven publishers I have so far approached have failed to understand me. I have my share of sex and violence and a very joke in chapter nine, but to no avail. I am sustained by the belief that I am ahead of my time. Let's meet as soon as possible. I am longing for you to read me from cover to cover and get to know my every word. Yours impatiently, Death of the Zeitgeist