As I attended the kind of school where you call teachers by their first name, it should be of no surprise to you that there are printed-out poems in the staff loos, for reflection during excretion. This was where I came across Cope’s most famous poem, the Orange:
At lunchtime I bought a huge orange—
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.
And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.
The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.
— Wendy Cope
It’s such a cheerful and simple poem that I won’t go into much analysis – it’s written to be read straight off, as easy as peeling an orange; it’s a poem to be shared, just as the narrator gives out the segments to her friends. This is not a cryptic text, full of complex allusions and challenging syntax, but a poetry of openness and generosity with the reader. My favourite two lines were ‘As ordinary things often do / Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.’ I like the full stops which break up the narrator’s thoughts into short phrases, in combination with the enjambement between the 5th and 6th lines; together, it creates a dreamy feel, as if she is so relaxed she does not even try to string full sentences together.
My other favourite line was ‘And enjoyed them and had some time over.’ It stands at one syllable longer than the other three lines in the stanza, luxuriating in the slow, peaceful day the narrator describes.
I was thinking of a message I could extract from the poem, but it all ended up sounded a bit cheesy on paper: you should enjoy small moments, love makes the world a happier place, we can transcend the mundanity of everyday living (the jobs on the list) and try to see the beauty of friendship and peaceful contentment. It is all of these, but it’s just as pleasant as a reader to copy the narrator, and simply enjoy the present offered to us: the poem itself.
The second poem is ‘Two Cures for Love’.
Two Cures for Love
1. Don’t see him. Don’t phone or write a letter.
2. The easy way: get to know him better.
This takes the form of a list, like you might find in a women’s mag, where the same generic advice is printed and reprinted every day (break all contact with your ex, play hard to get, buy lingerie), or like you might jot down in a personal diary à la Bridget Jones. No.1 seems like the standard dogma (don’t see him), and No.2 the more emotional path: get to know him better. It sounds as though the narrator is deciding what to do, and so has written out this list : see him or not? Noted down on paper, the list also becomes a short narrative, the transition between ignoring him and giving in to the stronger feelings of developing intimacy.
The title, ‘Two Cures for Love’ references an ages old poetic interpretation of love as a sickness, for which there can be cures both practical and symbolic – take this herb, or free yourself of your chains, as in the popular medieval allegory The Prison of Love. Even though on first reading the poem might appear postmodern, it is still part of an ancient tradition of love poetry.
As a love poem, it is pleasingly pragmatic, while still capturing the agonies of emotion: there is no going on and on about the stars of his eyes or the civil war of your heart (though of course that’s all great too). ‘Don’t see him’ implies an uncomfortable, self-imposed rejection; ‘Get to know him better’
It can also be read as an instruction to the reader – follow your own instincts, and don’t overcomplicate the situation, as much other poetry (and pieces of advice, often unsolicited) would have you do. Its brevity and syntactical simplicity mirrors this suggestion. Sometimes love really is that simple.
I asked for an anthology of Cope’s poems for my 21st birthday, and it was Making Cocoa For Kingsley Amis that sparked my interest in reading poetry for pleasure. As much as I enjoy reading and analysing poetry for weekly essays at Cambridge, where I study French and Spanish, I found it hard to just read poetry for the sake of reading poetry. In such an intense academic environment, it’s difficult to zoom out and appreciate literary texts for what they truly are – an attempt to communicate something with an imagined reader. Cope is highly skilled in being able to really talk with the reader, in a language that anybody can understand.
The second moment of Poetic Epiphany was that: poetry doesn’t have to be difficult to understand. I really enjoy the process of untangling meaning from this or that reference, of working out poetry in another language, of slotting together potential interpretations from the web of rhythm, vocabulary, and structure, but sometimes you also want to just play with poetry, to enjoy it like a sitcom or piece of cake. There’s no reason why not – it’s a form of entertainment, like TV, another way to lighten up the often challenging passage of our lives. The linguistic freedom of poetry, particularly in English, lets writers bring out this lightness, as the strictures of Plot and Character need not be quite so heavy as in fiction or theatre.
This isn’t to imply it’s easy to write such entertaining and direct pieces – have you ever tried stand-up comedy? Cope rhymes perfectly, which is a serious challenge in unrelenting anglo-saxon, and conjures up clean, self-contained narratives within just a couple of lines of detail. Not only does she construct the nuts and bolts of poetry with ease, she understands and entertains the reader. It’s not Dante, but it’s home.