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Happy Birthday Wendy Cope

July 21, 2015

cope

I take the view that anybody who can make fun of Ted Hughes in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan goes straight to heaven.

No questions asked.

(Re)read this and you’ll be smiling all day.

A policeman’s lot
Wendy Cope 

‘The progress of any writer is marked by those moments when he manages to outwit his own inner police system.’ – Ted Hughes

Oh, once I was a policeman young and merry (young and merry),
Controlling crowds and fighting petty crime (petty crime),
But now I work on matters literary (litererry)
And I am growing old before my time (‘fore my time).
No, the imagination of a writer (of a writer)
Is not the sort of beat a chap would choose (chap would choose)
And they’ve assigned me a prolific blighter (‘lific blighter) –
I’m patrolling the unconscious of Ted Hughes.

It’s not the sort of beat a chap would choose (chap would choose) –
Patrolling the unconscious of Ted Hughes.

All our leave was cancelled in the lambing season (lambing season),
When bitter winter froze the drinking trough (drinking trough),
For our commander stated, with good reason (with good reason),
That that’s the kind of thing that starts him off (starts him off).
But anything with four legs causes trouble (causes trouble) –
It’s worse than organizing several zoos (several zoos),
Not to mention mythic creatures in the rubble (in the rubble),
Patrolling the unconscious of Ted Hughes.

It’s not the sort of beat a chap would choose (chap would choose) –
Patrolling the unconscious of Ted Hughes.

Although it’s disagreeable and stressful (bull and stressful)
Attempting to avert poetic thought (‘etic thought),
I could boast of times when I have been successful (been successful)
And conspiring compound epithets were caughts (‘thets were caught).
But the poetry statistics in this sector (in this sector)
Are enough to make a copper turn to booze (turn to booze)
And I do not think I’ll make it to inspector (to inspector)
Patrolling the unconscious of Ted Hughes.

It’s not the sort of beat a chap would choose (chap would choose) –
Patrolling the unconscious of Ted Hughes.

When I was a student, Wendy Cope was this delicious shared after-class treat.  A guiltless pleasure.   A way of exposing certain nervous ticks employed by the Great and the Good of capitalised Literature that raised a smile rather than a sneer.  Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin, the big guns of late twentieth century enforced poetry, were de-fanged by Wendy Cope in a way that was never reductive or shallow.  And then there was Wendy Cope’s take on T.S. Eliot.  The Waste Land done in limericks.  Or “Hickory Dickory Dock” as rewritten by T.S. Eliot.

Cope can do both burlesque AND mock heroic.  She can deflate and inflate.  She can parody both substance and form.  When you can do both of these things, then parody is no longer some sort of second-order or parasitic endeavour, but rather an extended meditation on the relationship between form and content.  Wendy Cope necessarily writes poetry about poetry which risk sounding annoying or pretentious, but as an eighteenth-centuryist I can find it wholly admirable.  A world that is too intolerant of poetry that’s about poetry would lose the ability to appreciate much of Dryden and Pope.

Today is Wendy Cope’s birthday.  If a fraction of the pleasure she was conferred upon her readers rebounds in her general direction today then it will be a lovely lovely day for her.

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2 Comments
  1. Very nice. Thank you for this.

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