Image by Caroline Forbes

Wendy Cope

b. 1945

A jet-age Tennyson - London Review of Books

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About Wendy Cope

Wendy Cope (b. 1945) is a poet whose witty lyrics and pitch-perfect parodies have gained her a readership far beyond most of her peers. Born in Erith, Kent, she read History at St. Hilda's College, Oxford. She then taught in primary schools in London before becoming a freelance writer in 1986. Her debut collection, Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, struck a chord with its lampooning of literary pretensions and its wry look at contemporary relationships, and has sold over 180,000 copies to date. Her subsequent collections - Serious Concerns in 1992 and If I Don't Know in 2001 (shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Award) - both confirmed her reputation as a classic English humorist whilst also allowing room for poems of a more meditative tone. She has edited several poetry anthologies, including Heaven on Earth: 101 happy poems>, and her poems for children are widely anthologised. She was made an O.B.E. in the Queen's Birthday honours 2010. She currently lives in Winchester.

Cope's rueful wisdom connects her to the tradition of Betjeman and Larkin, but she brings a fresh female perspective to bear on social and literary foibles. She has said of her parodies that they were a way "of coming to terms with what was fashionable in poetry" and in their unerring accuracy and mastery of form she showed she could match any of her male contemporaries. Men in general are often the target of her barbed wit, none more so than Strugnell, the hapless and rather unpleasant male poet she invented for her first collection. Long before Bridget Jones sipped her first Chardonnay, Cope was casting a satirical eye over the minefield of contemporary sexual politics: "Bloody men are like bloody buses/You wait for about a year/And as soon as one approaches your stop/Two or three others appear." Whilst Cope has little time for bleeding hearts, her poems can be poignant as well as humorous. A new mood of contentment infuses her most recent collection with poems of domestic celebration like 'Being Boring' or the unabashed tenderness of 'On a Train': "Long, radiant minutes,/your hand in my hand."

Cope keeps her explanations droll and to the point, wisely allowing the poems their own voice. Containing a generous selection from her three books this recording is a wonderful showcase for the emotional and technical deftness that's made her work so widely cherished.

Her recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 8 December 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Wendy Cope's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life or better to endure it." - Samuel Johnson

"His chief desire was to express himself and his own truth - and therefore life and humanity." - Walter de la Mare on Edward Thomas

"Those who write clearly have readers; those who write obscurely have commentators." - Albert Camus

"I give to the world what I have in my heart, and that is the end of it. " - Franz Schubert

Interviews and other readings

Wendy Cope interview

Wendy Cope muses on the lines that keep coming back, the challenges of formal verse and how a poem can be seriously funny.

Additional material and useful links

BBC Cope Interview

Wendy Cope talks to English File in 1989 about humour, the women's movement and how poetry can help to boil eggs.

Selected bibliography

Family Values, Faber and Faber, 2011

Two Cures for Love: Selected Poems 1979-2006, Faber 2009


George Herbert: Verse and Prose (editor), SPCK, 2003


Heaven on Earth: 101 Happy Poems (editor), Faber...


Big Orchard Book of Funny Poems (editor), Orchard, 2000


The Faber Book of Bedtime Stories (editor), Faber...

The Funny Side: 101 Humorous Poems (editor), Faber...


If I Don't Know, Faber & Faber, 2001


The Orchard Book of Funny Poems (editor), Orchard, 1993


Serious Concerns, Faber & Faber, 1992


The River Girl (for children), Faber & Faber, 1991


Is That the New Moon (editor), Harper Collins, 1989 (new...


Twiddling Your Thumbs (for children), Faber & Faber, 1988


Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, Faber & Faber, 1986


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