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analysis of wendy cope's poetry, THIS IS A MESS!

kimcas1509 1 / -  
Jan 8, 2009   #1
"Poetry is about telling the truth. The poet and the psychoanalyst are both seekers after truth (Cope par. 8). The ability to write genuine feelings on paper is hard to come by, the truth can be masked because of the inability for an author to express themselves or the inability to trust themselves enough to write how they feel. Well written poetry is often eye opening, it invites the reader into the author's life, after a well written poem is written, and the reader may feel like they know the writer. Not only is well written poetry truthful, but it can also explain deeper feelings and motifs. An insignificant object can be turned into a metaphor representing the deepest and most thought provoking subjects. An incident in a person's life can be written on paper, and perceived differently by each reader.

Well written poetry is relatable, if a poem is well written, often times the reader can relate to the subject and apply it to his or her own life. When a poem is able to be related to everyday life, it is easily understood and therefore intriguing. Poetry should be a grouping of words that have a deeper meaning to the writer and often times to the reader. The ideal poem presents and idea, and has the reader interpret it as they will. Most of the time the writer tries to present their idea in their own state of mind, describing how they feel about a certain event, person, or place.

Another element to a well written poem is the poems ability to draw the reader in. No one reading a poem wants to be lectured at or told what to think. A good poem presents the idea and lets the reader decide whether or not he or she agrees with the idea presented. It is also important for the poem to be witty and sometimes funny.

Wendy Cope, a British contemporary writer fits the description of a good poet. She is not only witty, but each of her poems has a deeper meaning. The words she writes have a story behind them. She is usually sending a message to someone that she does not particularly like. It is not hard for the reader to comprehend what is going on in her poem. Instead of confusing language and depressing hidden meanings, she makes her poems quick, witty and interesting. In an interview Cope stated the biggest mistakes writers make, "Preaching. Adolescents need to be on their guard against this. Stating the obvious - e.g. pollution is a bad thing - in an unoriginal way. Failing to distinguish between what you really feel and what you would like to feel, or think you ought to feel. A poem won't work if the poet isn't telling the truth (Ohi par. 3)."

Wendy Cope was born on July 21 1945 in Erith, Kent. She was the daughter of Fred Stanely Cope and Alice Mary Cope. Cope's parents were poor as they grew up witch prompted them to raise their children to be intelligent and wealthy. Cope's parents were not educated and because of that, Cope was sent to a private school to pursue a successful education. Cope's childhood was strained and very rigid, Alice Mary Cope's father died of tuberculosis which prompted her to keep her house impeccably clean. (Parini 3)

Cope went to Farringingtons School for Girls at Chiselhurst, Kent at the age of twelve; she left Farringtons in December 1962 to go to Oxford to study history. Cope had a fond interest in music; she played the piano and violin. She continued playing these instruments throughout her adult life and ended up conducting music with her students ( Parini 2). Cope was miserable in Oxford; the school was demanding and harsh. Her second year at Oxford, Cope became severely depressed; being privately schooled for most of her life, Cope was not accustomed to the bold attitudes of her working class peers. Not only was she shy around peers, but she was intimidated by her teachers. Cope, who was once interested in the studies of history became discouraged by her teachers. Cope graduated without becoming a history teacher in 1966; instead she became a teacher at Portway Junior School. She moved to Keyworth Primary school in 1969 where she taught until 1973 (Parini 2). During her teachings at Keyworth, her father died. Cope became depressed and sought help from professionals. She underwent psychoanalysis. During this period she had a "nervous breakdown." During this time period she started writing poetry. Her psychoanalysis, her new experience living alone, and music, prompted her to start writing (Parini 2). She was a television critic for "Spectator Magazine" until 1990. In 1979 Cope's work began to be accepted into magazines and began writing freelance. "It seemed a relatively happy and creative time for Cope; as she later observed, she felt part of a community of poets (Parini 3)." Three books of her poetry have been published and two of which have won awards. Her three books were, Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, Serious Concerns, and If I Don't Know (Forbes par. 1).

In 1979 Cope began feeling comfortable with other poets and her own work. She developed a character, a man named Jason Strugnell that showed up in a lot of her poetry. Strugnell was the narrarator, he was a character from Tulse Hill, where Cope resided (Dutton par. 5). Cope designs this character almost mimicking her own life, she presents new ideas and questions by hiding under her disguise of Strugnell. In an interview with BBC Cope commented on her fictional character Strugnell, she stated, "He's not a very nice person, no I don't know that I do like him. But there are bits of, there are bits of me in him (Belief)." Strugnell's character is a stuggling poet who is sexually frustrated and quite self centered, his name was chosen by Cope simply by picking out a name in a phone book (Parini 4). Assuming that Cope utilizes her wit in the choosing of her characters name, Strugnell sounds a lot like, "struggle." The struggle of this man can be tied into many aspects of life, the struggle for money, the struggle for sex, and the struggle for fame, or in Strugnell's case, the lack there of. Literally speaking, Cope used Strugnell to speak for her, but through someone else's character she is finally able to find her own voice.

At the time of Cope's new found confidence in writing, she became accepted by other poets and appreciated as well. Cope's first publication, Making Cocoa for Kinglsey Amis, severely changed her outlook. People who were once a fan of her writing turned against her. She was criticized by writers and critiqued by friends; although she was severely criticized for her writing, she became very successful in free-lance writing. The negativity she received from her first book almost deterred her from writing a second one. She admitted that the only reason she wrote the second book, Serious Concerns, was for money. The writing of her second book proved her success, it sold 60,000 copies. By 1995 she had become stable and was married to Lachlan Mackinnon, a poet critic (Parini 5).

Is there a reason for Cope's satirical, open-minded, and sometimes rude way of writing? Of course anything that she has written that has offended her "victims" is all in good fun. She is brazen enough to reply to criticisms in a poem titled, Serious Concerns (Detroit par. 4), and she is audacious enough to show her true, and sometimes callous views of men. In Cope's early adulthood, it was the first time that she was living alone, the independence of living alone gave her the time and space needed to develop her thoughts. Cope's childhood and death of her father caused her severe depression which, in turn, caused her to seek psychoanalysis (Belief). Cope believed that the pressure from her parents to be a rigid Catholic somehow left her incomplete. Cope stated in an interview on BBC radio, "I was trying to be the person my mother wanted to be, me to be, and y'know, I was trying not to have bad feelings, because I was, y'know, because I was trying to be a good Christian then (Belief)." Cope underwent psychoanalysis after her father had died although she wishes she got help earlier. Cope firmly believes that psychoanalysis helped her become in touch with her feelings. She learned a new way of expressing herself through psychoanalysis. Cope stated, "And I began to get in touch with my feelings, and that was very powerful. And that really was part of my beginning to write poems because...it was, I needed to do something with these feelings (Belief)." Cope also found enlightenment in teaching and music, two things that she feels provided her life with a fulfilling love and affection. Her love for teaching children could relate to the fact that she had an unhappy childhood (Belief). Her interest in music brought out her creative side, but it could also explain the ease in which she rhymes and creates her perfectly sound poetry (Parini 2).

The lack of a happy childhood could somehow relate to the cynical and often times brazen style of Cope's poetry. She is outspoken and honest but adds humor to subjects often serious such as love and religion. Her resentment towards men and cynical yet witty attitude is shown through the poem Bloody Men.

The poem entitled Bloody Men consists of three stanzas. The title which could be confused with actual blood is only an adjective to describe men. Cope utilizes the word "bloody" as awful or unpleasant. The poem is written in Cope's point of view whereas she clearly explains her own feelings towards men. In the first stanza, Cope compares men to buses in a slightly exaggerated way stating that you wait for men just like you wait for bus stops, when one approaches your stop, others appear. Cope emphasizes how irritating it is to wait for bus stops by saying you wait for about a year for a bus. Of course no one in their right mind would wait for a bus for a year, but she exaggerates the time span to exemplify the irritating and monotonous wait for a man to come into your life.

Cope adds her wit in the second stanza where she writes, "You look at them flashing their indicators, offering you a ride (line 5)." Cope realizes her sexual innuendoes that she adds to her poems. "Indicators" can be looked at in many ways but it is no mistake that she is thinking of indicators sexually. Lines seven through twelve lose their humor when the poem is taken to a deeper more metaphorical level. The end of the poem expresses the hurt that has been inflicted on Cope by men. "You're trying to read the destinations; you haven't much time to decide (lines 7-8)." The poem intensifies, Cope makes the reader feel as if he/she is at the bus stop, frantically trying to read the destination in the green letters at the top of the bus, if the commuter chooses the wrong bus there is no turning back. The words can almost inflict a stress or panic on the reader because it is easy to relate to. Often times humans find themselves in situations where they must make a decision quickly without much time to think about it. Knowing that every human goes through this, Cope makes it relatable by comparing the subject of men, to bus stops, a common and relatable subject. As the poem intensifies in the third stanza, the metaphorical meaning erupts. The line, "If you make a mistake, there is no turning back (line 9)," relates to getting on the wrong bus, but it actually is a metaphor for men. If you choose the wrong man you can't turn back, "While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by and the minutes, the hours, the days (line 11-12)." The minutes, the hours, and the days that go by are symbolic of Cope's life. As she grows older she begins to worry about who she will end up with. Being alone is a fear that almost every woman has, which makes the poem even more relatable for woman readers. The allusions to time represent her biological clock. She is growing older and cannot waste years with the wrong men. She must choose a man to marry and stay with him forever, the hasty race towards marriage could determine a successful marriage over a failed one.

Although Cope often uses satire and comedy in her poetry, there is a slightly more serious and reflective tone in this poem. Cope uses intense detail and imagery throughout this poem. She uses imagery by painting a picture of a bus stop, the reader can imagine the hasty and chaotic organization of the crowded bus stop, and she then brings up the idea of missing the bus stop. She makes the reader ask themselves, "what if?" What if you get on the wrong bus, there are two choices, keep going to the wrong destination, or leave the bus and be left alone as the cars and taxis zoom by. "The cars and the taxis and lorries (line 11)," are a literal representation of what will happen if you step off of the bus whereas looking at it metaphorically, they represent the people and opportunities that pass by her. The last three lines of the poem are quite envious because the cars and taxis represent the success of others, possibly the jealousy she holds for other couples in a relationship.

Cope uses the experience at the bus stop as a way to emphasize the hurt and loneliness she feels while she waits for a man to love her. She adds a bit of humor in this poem, but it could possibly be a way to mask her true and completely unhappy persona. When asked why Cope always uses humor she stated, "I don't know. I've sometimes, people have sometimes suggested that it's kind of a stepping aside from facing painful truth (Belief)."
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Jan 9, 2009   #2
A good place to start would be to eliminate all of the biographical information you include on Cope. Then, get rid of most the generalizations you make about poetry. This will give you a lot more space to do what you are supposed to be doing in this essay -- analyzing the work of a specific poet. Remember that poetry is essentially different from prose in that its form in some way reflects or modifies the message. So, select some of Cope's poems, and start thinking about how the form of the poems and the various poetic devices within them contribute to the theme of the poems. Then look for patterns that recur throughout most of the works you have chosen, both in terms of theme and form, as well as the connections between them. That will then form the backbone of your essay. Good luck.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Jan 9, 2009   #3
I agree with Sean that you should definitely let go of most of the biological information, as it detracts from this great analysis of a very interesting poet. You could sum up a few of the parts of her life that are reflected in the work she analyzed, her father dying, psychoanalysis, etc. in just a couple sentences.

Copes parents were poor as they grew up which prompted them to raise their children to be intelligent and wealthy.

She is usually sending a message to someone that she does not particularly like. It is not hard for the reader to comprehend what is going on in her poems.


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