‘Bones without connective tissue’ – Life, Love and The Archers by Wendy Cope

wcllandtaLet’s start by putting our cards on the table. Wendy Cope is one of my favourite poets and I asked to review this book so I could save myself seventeen quid. I make no apology for this. I have a two year old daughter and that money bought her a cuddly Neep. Neep is her favourite. She is going to have the best Christmas ever. I get a free book. You get a review. This is a victimless crime.

Or it would have been if I had unreservedly loved the book, which, in my defence, I fully believed I would. I’m afraid my best laid plans went a bit tits up. Life, Love and The Archers, Cope’s first collection of prose is a mixed bag; by no means a bad book, but one that fails to reach the heights of her poetry. Very roughly one third autobiography, one third writing about writing and one third television criticism, it is too loose a collection, bones without connective tissue. The overall feel of reading Life, Love and The Archers is a little like listening to a posthumous Tupac album: there is nothing wrong with it but you get the impression that there is a lot of stuff included for no other reason than it exists and someone has decided that it may as well go somewhere.

I should make it clear at this point that Wendy Cope is still alive.

I should make it clear at this point that I have no opinion one way or another on the possibility of Tupac still being alive. No opinion at all.

The autobiographical pieces in the book were, according to Cope’s own introduction, never intended for publication. The only problem with them I can see is that they focus almost exclusively on Cope’s childhood and that one person’s childhood is very much like another. I just can’t get excited about what happened to other people when they were children. Can you? The writing on writing is occasionally illuminating but, because it is often taken from introductions to other people’s work, too often overly polite or deferential. They are interesting, but Cope gives little away. You never get the sense of seeing behind-the-scenes at the poetry factory, if you know what I mean. It is the television criticism that sings.

The last hundred pages or so of the book (with pieces on The West Wing, X Factor, Dallas, Championship Darts, Match of the Day, Neighbours and, in a brief excursion to radio, The Archers) is truly great. The articles reveal far more about Cope, the person and the writer, than either the newspaper articles on poetry or the autobiographical sketches. Here, and here alone, Cope lets down her defences and reveals her true self. In an earlier part of the book, Cope observes that if “a poem is to work, the voice in it has to sound like the real voice of a real person” and it is in the television criticism that Cope’s “real voice” becomes clearest. I would have liked much more of this and a little less childhood.

Any Cop?: Life, Love and The Archers is more Better Dayz than All Eyez On Me but it has still got enough going for it to be worth a look, especially the television criticism, which is brilliant.

 

Benjamin Judge


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