4 November 2015
Wendy Cope is an English poet and freelance writer. She makes her living through her writing, so she is very concerned about her work being used without permission. If her poems and other pieces of writing are viewed on the Internet or photocopied for distribution in a class or workshop, she gets no income from them despite owning the copyright. She quotes William Cash who said that poetry is “absurdly cheap”. She feels that good poems ought not to be cheap because poets have to live.
I recently read Life, Love and the Archers (Two Roads, 2015). In light of Wendy Cope’s copyright concerns, I am pleased that I bought it from a bookshop where I paid the full price and she will get some royalties. This is a collection of her prose, with delightful illustrations by Jon McNaught.
Some pieces are memoir – about Wendy’s home and upbringing, her school and university days and her long teaching career, as well as her difficult relationship with her family, which resulted in years of analysis. This is the subject of the collection of writings titled “A Nice, Polite Patient”. There are her views on the process of writing poetry and why poetry is important – it has to do with telling the truth, and distinguishing between what one feels and what one would like to feel.
Some of Wendy Cope’s reviews are included in this book and we find out how she feels about other poets, like Philip Larkin, George Herbert, Gavin Ewart and Christina Rossetti. Her favourite fictional character is Molesworth and her book of the century is Down with Skool! She was also a television reviewer for a while and some of her comments made me laugh out loud.
An example was her review of Match of the Day Live, for which she had prepared by getting some information from a friend.
“Tottenham Hotspur are the best team. Arsenal, on the other hand, are terrible. In the last few months this boring bunch of no-hopers has somehow reached first place in the league table, thereby depriving Spurs of their rightful position at the top of everything.” She wasn’t impressed by the commentators who didn’t have time to explain the rules, so she was confused about offside and “whether a professional foul is better or worse than an unprofessional one”. And she reports that Bobby Charlton said “Tottenham have impressed me today because they haven’t thrown in the towel even though they’ve been under the gun”.
Her review of Tell Us the Good News is equally delightful. She describes an encounter between John Whale, head of religious television at the BBC, and Jim Woolsey, marketing manager for American evangelist Jimmy Swaggart.
“As he spun his smooth line in Christian sales talk, John Whale’s face was a picture, polite but sublimely unworried about the suggestion that the BBC, in refusing to buy Swaggart’s telecast, is saying to God that the Gospel isn’t very important”.
Whether it’s memoir, a comment on the value of poetry, a book or television review, Wendy Cope’s prose is spare and beautifully to the point. It is no wonder that she is a poet. Her views make me want to read more poetry. And when I do, I will buy it!