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Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis by Wendy Cope

31 March 2009

This book jumped my review queue when I wasn’t looking, but I’m in relatively little position to complain about what gets written up and posted as long as something is.

Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis by Wendy Cope

British poet Wendy Cope has quite strong feelings about finding her poems reproduced on the Internet. Whether or not this reviewer agrees with her is of little importance, but this particular review is not about to contradict her wishes on this matter. It’s something of a pity, though, because it is very difficult to explain why her poems are so enjoyable without being able to reproduce them for others to read. Nonetheless, enjoyable they are, so a brief review is certainly in order.

Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis is one of Cope’s early poetry books, published in 1986, and takes its title from a dream that she once had — and short poem in which she mentions the dream, and adds that the dream itself didn’t make very good material for a poem but provided too good of a title to pass up. Many of the book’s poems are in a similarly irreverent vein, frequently parodying the style of other poets or making sly comments about contemporary attitudes toward poets and poetry. She turns T.S. Eliot inside out by reducing his erudite The Waste Land to a set of dry limericks and showing what ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’ would have looked like under his pen, and uses her fictional poet Jason Strugnell (the underappreciated bard of Tulse Hill) to affectionately mock contemporary male poets like Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes. Those who are familiar with these authors’ styles will particularly enjoy the send-up, but the poems themselves are cleverly done even without the additional context.

Her non-parody poems tend to focus on mundane matters, with the same level of sharp wit when it comes to the foibles of friendships and relationships. In one example, the poem ‘Giving Up Smoking’, the speaker states that the depth of his or her love for the audience is stronger than the desire to have a cigarette — clearly, a bold declaration of passion. Cope’s recently released Two Cures for Love: Selected Poems somewhat supplants the initial Faber & Faber edition of Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, but as an introduction to Cope’s verse this slim volume may still be worth acquiring in its own right.

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