John Horder on

Wendy Cope
Two Cures for Love – Selected Poems 1979-2006
(Faber, £12.99)

In the past nine months, Wendy Cope has ruled herself out from being the first woman Poet Laureate by declaring the position archaic, and publishing her fourth book, Two Cures for Love, her Selected. (Ted Hughes and Michael Morpurgo made it archaic when they dreamt up the post Harry Potter position of Children's Laureate, but that is another story).

God protect us from Wendy's Collected if this incessant re-cycling of the poems that make up Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis (1986) Serious Concerns (1992) and If I Don't Know (2001) is anything to go by.

The timing of the two events couldn't have been more blatantly calculated from the point-of-view of Wendy and Fabers' more pressing needs for instant oral gratification and media coverage: she got some in The Times, The Guardian and The Independent - the photograph that accompanied the latter made her look as tight-lipped & tearful as Mrs Thatcher after stepping out of the false persona she so heavily identified with as first woman prime minister.

No matter. Two Cures for Love is still on the way to bestselling at Sainsbury’s even if it does far less well at Daunts, and the rest of the independents up and down the country.

The story from literary rags to riches is one of the oldest in existence. Wendy the trickster, who is forever tricking herself in reality, fell for the role of Celebrity Poet ever since she first started making cocoa and butties for the emotionally illiterate novelist/poet Kingsley Amis in the mid-eighties. This was at a cafe in Covent Garden, not far from his usual watering hole, The Garrick Club, where he used to meet his chums to gossip and get blind drunk two or three times a week.

Making Cocoa, when published by Faber in 1986, contained six anthologisable poems - a very large number for a first or any volume of poems. My favourite is ‘Lonely Hearts’. I quote the first two and last two stanzas to give you some of its unique flavour. Notice the refrains. Wendy is as addicted to refraining as Coleridge was to opium:

Can someone make my simple wish come true?
Male biker seeks female for touring fun.
Do you live in North London? Is it you?
 
Gay vegetarian whose friends are few,
I'm into music, Shakespeare and the sun.
Can someone make my simple wish come true?.........
 
I'm Libran, inexperienced and blue -
Need slim non-smoker, under twenty-one.
Do you live in North London? Is it you?

Please write (with photo) to Box 152.
Who knows where it may lead once we've begun?
Can someone make my simple wish come true?
Do you live in North London? Is it you?

Two Cures for Love, no doubt due to the never-ending re-cycling of poems from her first three books, contains six more memorable poems.

They are: ‘The Uncertainty of the Poet’, ripe to be made into a film about bananas by me for U Tube, ‘Rondeau Redouble’, which begins ‘There are so many kinds of awful men’, ‘Bloody Men’, which begins ‘Bloody men are like bloody buses’, ‘Being Boring’, ‘Budgie Finds His Voice’, which is a parody of the work of Ted Hughes in his demented Crow phase, and ‘Faint Praise’.

Despite Wendy's addiction to triolets and villanelles, which insulates her from some of the pain of horribly unhugged men in all four books, this is the poem that for me lingers the longest:
 
Size isn't everything. It's what you do
That matters, darling, and you do quite well
In some respects. Credit where credit's due -
You work, you're literate, you rarely smell.
Small men can be aggressive, people say,
But you are often genial and kind,
As long as you can have things all your way
And I comply, and do not speak my mind.
You look all right. I've never been disgusted
By paunchiness. Who wants some skinny youth?
My friends have warned me that you can't be trusted.
But I protest I've heard you tell the truth.
Nobody's perfect. Now and then, my pet,
You're almost human. You could make it yet.

Wendy Cope

John Horder