Bloody Men

March 12, 2019

Bloody men are like bloody buses –
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.

You look at them flashing their indicators,
Offering you a ride.
You’re trying to read the destination,
You haven’t much time to decide.

If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
Jump off, and you’ll stand there and gaze
While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
And the minutes, the hours, the days.

Wendy Cope

Reading Scheme

January 20, 2019

Here is Peter. Here is Jane. They like fun.
Jane has a big doll. Peter has a ball.
Look, Jane, look! Look at the dog! See him run!

Here is Mummy. She has baked a bun.
Here is the milkman. He has come to call.
Here is Peter. Here is Jane. They like fun.

Go Peter! Go Jane! Come, milkman, come!
The milkman likes Mummy. She likes them all.
Look, Jane, look! Look at the dog! See him run!

Here are the curtains. They shut out the sun.
Let us peep! On tiptoe Jane! You are small!
Here is Peter. Here is Jane. They like fun.

I hear a car, Jane. The milkman looks glum.
Here is Daddy in his car. Daddy is tall.
Look, Jane, look! Look at the dog! See him run!

Daddy looks very cross. Has he a gun?
Up milkman! Up milkman! Over the wall!
Here is Peter. Here is Jane. They like fun.
Look, Jane, look! Look at the dog! See him run!

Wendy Cope

Poetry can help us to get in touch with our feelings. It can help us come to terms with the grim reality of life on earth. It can also make us laugh. It can help us celebrate how beautiful the world is. It’s memorable if it’s any good and lines sink into our consciousness and come back to us – like this weekend – we were driving along a country road and I suddenly said “In full grown thickness every May” which is a line from Larkin’s poem ‘The Trees’. When my mother was very old and had dementia and could hardly remember anything and could hardly enjoy anything I used to read to her from an anthology of poems she’d won as a school prize – and I knew which ones she liked because she used to read them to me when I was little. And what happened was when I read her these poems she’d known when she was young she would join in – she would remember them and join in, though she could hardly remember anything else, and she would laugh at the funny ones. It was wonderful.

Wendy Cope
Interview Poetry Achieve

Baubo

You’ve got to have something to say, but you don’t always know what it is. It’s often just some words in your head that you think could be a line of a poem, so you write them down and see where it goes. One of the major misconceptions about poetry is that the poet has some kind of agenda and intentions, not just that some words come into their head and then they start playing with them and seeing where they go. Because sometimes I will try to write a poem and it just comes out dead because there isn’t really anything that’s deeply felt or worth saying. One thing that makes poems work is strong emotion, and I remember hearing James Berry, I think it was, saying that one characteristic of a good poet is that they feel things intensely, and he said: “Of course poets are not the only people who feel things intensely, but it is one of the qualities,” and I think that’s true.

Wendy Cope
On writing: authors reveal the secrets of their craft
The Guardian, 26th March 2011

KIYOICHI SAITO - Mannequin

He was an elderly man and he had queued up with the people who were waiting for me to sign their books. When his turn came, he announced unapologetically, “I don’t read poetry. I write it. I’ve brought you a copy of my book.”

If he had been younger, I might not have been so polite. I smiled, took the book and thanked him. Later on a quick glance through the self-published volume confirmed what I already knew: the poems were no good. People who never read poetry don’t write poems that are worth reading.

It’s a free country, of course, and anyone can write whatever they like. However, if you are interested in writing well, in working at being a better poet, then the most important piece of advice that anyone can give you is that you have to read both recent poetry and the poetry of past centuries. That’s how you learn.

Wendy Cope
How to write poetry
The Guardian, 21st September 2008

Bloody Men

March 11, 2017

Bloody men are like bloody buses –
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.
You look at them flashing their indicators,
Offering you a ride.
You’re trying to read the destinations,
You haven’t much time to decide.
If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
Jump off, and you’ll stand there and gaze
While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
And the minutes, the hours, the days.

Wendy Cope
(from: Two Cures for Love)

How to write Poetry

September 29, 2016

invisible-things-5-emerson-schreiner

He was an elderly man and he had queued up with the people who were waiting for me to sign their books. When his turn came, he announced unapologetically, “I don’t read poetry. I write it. I’ve brought you a copy of my book.”

If he had been younger, I might not have been so polite. I smiled, took the book and thanked him. Later on a quick glance through the self-published volume confirmed what I already knew: the poems were no good. People who never read poetry don’t write poems that are worth reading.

It’s a free country, of course, and anyone can write whatever they like. However, if you are interested in writing well, in working at being a better poet, then the most important piece of advice that anyone can give you is that you have to read both recent poetry and the poetry of past centuries. That’s how you learn. The elderly gentleman must have come across some poems at some point in order to have a concept of what a poem is. But vague memories of a few things you read at school are not enough.

It seems odd to me that anyone who hates reading poetry should want to write it at all. Are there amateur painters who never go to an art gallery? Or amateur musicians who never listen to music? Sometimes non-reading poets explain that they are afraid of being influenced. They don’t understand that being influenced is part of the learning process. Some of my earliest (and unpublished) poems read like poor imitations of Sylvia Plath. Others read like poor imitations of TS Eliot. I was unaware of this at the time. Gradually I worked my way through these and many other influences towards finding my own voice. Nowadays I hope I sound like myself in my poems but I am still influenced by what I read, still learning.

Judging poetry competitions has reinforced my understanding of the crucial importance of authenticity of tone. If a poem is to work, the voice in it has to sound like the real voice of a real person. This applies to dramatic monologues (where the poet puts words into the mouth of another character) as well as to first-person lyrics.

Some insecure people use a special voice on the telephone that sounds quite different from the way they usually speak. Inexperienced writers sometimes do something similar in their poems – using “poetic” language that they would never employ in ordinary speech or reaching for clichés because they lack the confidence or the energy to find their own, unique way of expressing themselves.

I find that the most important and helpful question to ask myself when I’m working on a poem is “Am I telling the truth?” TS Eliot said that the greatest difficulty for a poet is to distinguish between “what one really feels and what one would like to feel”.

Knowing what one really feels is not always such a simple matter as it may sound. Whether we are writing about our own lives, or our response to the world around us, or public events, Eliot’s dictum still holds. If the poet is, knowingly or unknowingly, being dishonest, the poem will fail. We need to search for the words and images that accurately convey the truth of the matter.

We also need to acquire some technical skills. A few years ago I spent a month teaching aspiring poets in Colorado Springs. They all wrote free verse and knew very little about traditional forms. By the time I had finished with them they could write iambic pentameters. “If you want to be a poet,” I insisted, “you have to know this stuff. You don’t have to go on writing like this but you should understand how to do it.” They responded very well. I especially remember the fiery young Hispanic-American and his excellent revolutionary villanelles.

They were a talented bunch and I hope that some of them are beginning to get published. They won’t all be famous poets – quite possibly none of them will. I hope they won’t feel the time they spent on learning to write was wasted.

I’ve spent a lot of time learning and practising the piano, even though there was never the slightest possibility of my becoming a professional pianist. It is something I want to do for its own sake. So is writing poetry. It has to be. I’ve observed that people who are too focused on being published tend not to get anywhere. If you have the urge to write poems, and to work at doing it better, good luck to you. I hope you will find the journey rewarding.

Wendy Cope
How to write Poetry