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Serious Concerns by Wendy Cope

26 January 2010

This review ended up being more brief than I was expecting it to be, but rather than attempt to pad it out for length I think it makes sense to leave it short.

Serious Concerns by Wendy Cope

In my review of British poet Wendy Cope’s 1986 collection Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, I mentioned that she has previously expressed a strong dislike of seeing her poems reproduced in full (or in significant part) on the Internet. Once again, I have no problem respecting those wishes, though it does make writing a full review a bit more difficult.

Serious Concerns, published in 1992, is in one sense a direct response to the reviewers and critics of her first poetry collection. Several of the poems address comments that were made about her work. The title poem, ‘Serious Concerns’, skewers a rather banal description of her poetry as being ‘witty’ and ‘unpretentious’ — Cope briefly ponders whether the most appropriate course of action is to try to compose poems that are less witty or more pretentious or both. Jason Strugnell, her literary creation who stands in for any number of contemporary male poets (from T.S. Eliot to Philip Larkin), makes a few appearances with examples of his latest works. But most of Cope’s poems in this collection are not so metafictional; most of them tend to look at relationships, exploring the initial heady feelings of falling in love or being in love, the struggles of trying to keep a difficult relationship going, and even the periods of desperation when it seems like loneliness and solitude are all that is left.

The poems in Serious Concerns usually end up being classified as ‘light verse’, a nebulous description that (as others have said) tends to raise more questions than it answers. Most of the subjects have a deep personal resonance, ranging from the frustrations often felt by the single person at Christmas-time to the uncertainty of what to do with the possessions of a recently deceased elderly loved one. They are indeed serious concerns, described with a seriousness that happens to be hidden or at least partially concealed by the verse. This kind of thought-provoking poetry is what Cope does best — which is what makes Serious Concerns both an excellent continuation of her first collection of poems and a fine selection of verse in its own right.

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