Family Values – Wendy Cope

Poetry? On Savidge Reads? Yes, you well might be shocked. I have to admit I am often left utterly bemused by poetry. I have never really got it. I’ve always found it a little pretentious. (Did I just hear someone shout ‘heathen’ somewhere in the blogosphere? Ha.) This has all changed thanks to Wendy Cope and her latest collection ‘Family Values’. I think I have finally found a poet that I get the gist of and one who, in this collection alone, has made me laugh out loud and also made me want to cry. Yes, I seem to have found some poetry I connect with.

Faber & Faber; 2011; hardback; poetry; sent by publisher

It’s very difficult to review a collection of poems without wanting to simply include every single one of them to make it easier on yourself, it’s even harder if a) you have never done it before and b) until recently you weren’t really a big fan of the form. Wendy Cope’s latest collection of 56 poems ‘Family Values’ is one that really runs the spectrum of the everyday things that happen in human life. From the turbulence of childhood to both the fear and acceptance of death this collection spans a whole host of human emotions.

The start of the collection focuses on Christmas, one of the more delightful yet equally trying times of year. In the four poems that cover this period Cope manages to completely convey the joy and the annoyance that come with that time period. I found myself thinking ‘phew, someone else has that feeling of happiness and slight nostalgic melancholy at that time of year too’. From the start I felt I was on the same page (no pun intended) as Cope and this was before we had even started on the poems of love and loss, some of which I found so beautiful and touching I admit I got a little teary. Try reading the below and not feeling something.


The birds are singing loudly overhead,
As if to celebrate the April weather.
I want to stay in this lovely world forever
And be with, my love, and share your bed.

I don’t believe I will see you when we’re dead.
I don’t believe we’ll meet and be together.
The birds are singing loudly overhead.
I want to stay in this lovely world forever.

What I really loved about Cope’s collection, apart from the fact it ‘got me’ so much, was the sense of humour in it. As a child my Mum (the English teacher) read me Brian Pattern’s ‘Gargling With Jelly’ which would reduced me to hysterics. Almost two decades on Wendy Cope is doing the same on a whole host of things from love to debating whatever happened to the tomato shaped ketchup dispensers in motorway service station fast food restaurants as she does in ‘At Stafford Services’. I even found myself laughing bizarrely at subjects such as death and even the thoughts of our own funerals.

My Funeral

I hope I can trust you, friends, not to use our relationship
As an excuse for an unsolicited ego trip.
I have seen enough of them at funerals and they make
       me cross.
At this one, though deceased, I aim to be the boss.
If you are asked to talk about me for five minutes, please
       do not go on for eight.
There is a strict timetable at the crematorium and nobody
       wants to be late.
If invited to read a poem, just read the bloody poem.
       If requested
To sing a song, just sing it, as suggested,
And don’t say anything. Though I will not be there,
Glancing pointedly at my watch and fixing the speaker
      with a malevolent stare,
Remember that this was how I always reacted
When I felt that anybody’s speech, sermon or poetry reading
      was becoming to protracted.
Yes, I was impatient and intolerant, and not always polite
And if there aren’t many people at my funeral, it will probably
      serve me right.

I really loved this collection. I should say at this juncture that it was actually seeing Wendy Cope reading her own poems in Cambridge that made it all so accessible and finally broke me into poetry again. I could here her voice and see her arched eyebrow and wry smile as I read through so that added a certain something. Regardless of that though, she didn’t read the whole book, I can genuinely say that these poems would have touched me anyway if I had seen them. A collection of poems that can make you laugh, cry and resonate with you just so is a hard thing to find, but find one I have. Thank you Wendy Cope! 9/10

So there you are, I am somewhat converted. I have to admit that after the success with Wendy Cope (and I have another of her collections I am going to save for the future) I have since read a whole novel written in poetry. I will be reporting back on that soon. Which poet really resonates with you and why? Who would you recommend I go and try next?



Filed under Books of 2011, Faber & Faber, Poetry, Review, Wendy Cope

21 responses to “Family Values – Wendy Cope

  1. novelinsights

    This is a lovely review. Glad that these poems had such an emotional effect on you. I don’t pick up poetry very often either but my mum bought me a copy of ‘The World’s Wife’ by Carol Anne Duffy and I loved that.

  2. novelinsights

    P.S. Dove Grey Reader’s post here features the poem that is the reason my mum bought me the book:

  3. I really like Wendy Cope: I got into her stuff when she edited that anthology ‘A poem a day’. Have never seen her read though.

    I don’t have a favourite poet, per se; but currently, the one I keep going back to is the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. There’s an excellent translation of his work called ‘Ahead of all Parting’, which I can’t recommend enough. The majority of his poetry is very formal (sonnets, lyrics, etc.) and highly visual and emotive. You should check him out! The Duino Elegies are a particular favourite.

    Excellent review btw.

    • Tom, she is brilliant live, if you ever get the chance then do see her because she is great. I dont think poets really tour though do they? A shame if not.

      I have never heard of Rilke, one to watch out for, thanks Tom.

  4. cath

    Please do more posts about Poetry. It makes me so happy 🙂
    I didn’t know Wendy Cope but certainly will try to find her over here.
    I would suggest Jane Kenyon to you. I had ‘a poem a day months’ with her that took me through her Collected Poems. This month reread her translations: Twenty Poems by Anna Akhmatova. (also in her Collected Poems) Maybe start there or with From Room to Room or …

  5. Thanks to this review I’ve pulled e.e. cummings off the shelf and been reading 73 poems. Thanks for the push 😀

  6. Try some of Marge Piercy’s poetry. You can read an excerpt here on my weblog

  7. I love Wendy Cope too:) She’s one of the first poets who showed me that poetry could be about everyday things and didn’t seem so scary. I also liked a number of Frieda Hughes poems I read in the papers several years back.

  8. Carol Ann Duffy either ‘The World’s Wife’ or ‘Mean Time’, or Luke Kennard ‘The Migraine Hotel’

  9. I really like poetry, though I don’t read it as much as I should. This book sounds great and I love the poems that you chose.

  10. I don’t have favourite poets as such, mainly because I don’t read all that much poetry. I tend to like individual pieces instead, like Stop All the Clocks (W.H. Auden), High Flight (John Gillespie Magee) and Ducks (F.W. Harvey) amongst others.

  11. Pingback: Two Cures for Love (Selected Poems) – Wendy Cope | Savidge Reads

  12. Robin Ollington

    Having now reached the age where one not only considers your own mortality but also spends quite a lot of time either going to funerals or else penning letters of condolence.Wendy Copes poem “My Funeral” summed it up wonderfully for me so much so that I will have it read at the beginning of my own farewell when the time comes…..brilliant.

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