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This review is taken from PN Review 264, Volume 48 Number 4, March - April 2022.

Cover of Wendy Cope
N.S. Thompson'If humour is allowed into a poem'
Rory Waterman, Wendy Cope (Liverpool University Press) £30
Although having paid her dues with magazine appearances, several pamphlets and appearing in Faber’s Poetry Introduction 5, Wendy Cope’s first collection Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis (Faber, 1986) was greeted as if it had sprung from nowhere and several reviewers wished it back there. The reason? Perhaps there were several: she was writing funny (comic) poems, she was using rhyme and metre and she was lampooning or parodying hallowed voices. But she had wit at the end of her pitchfork and the targets were grand enough – or dead enough – not to be affected, or else were tickled by the backhanded compliment in the case of Craig Raine, her editor at Faber; Ted Hughes, the poet laureate; the ever gregarious Peter Porter and the less gregarious Geoffrey Hill. And as these poems would suggest, she fought back at the humourless responses of reviewers in later volumes, especially in the witty ‘A Poem on the Theme of Humour’ about a poetry contest that excluded it:
… if humour is allowed into a poem,
People may laugh and enjoy it,
Which gives the poet an unfair advantage.
When one sits through such poetry events as described in ‘A Reading’, one can see her point. One only has to witness a roomful of listeners doubled up with laughter at one of her readings, to see the advantage is clear. But the flip side of this was depression and anxiety, some of which stemmed from failed relationships. This gave rise to the famous diatribes ‘Bloody Men’ ...


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