Lent 7: Wendy Cope, and, for comic effect, Ted Hughes

I’m going to share another Wendy Cope poem, simply because I want to share her anecdote about why schools are crap at poetry. In 2008 she released a “new & selected” book called Two Cures for Love. About this book, she says:

“This book had its origins in visits to a few schools where they were doing my first collection, Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, for A level. It didn’t seem to me a particularly good choice for school pupils because a substantial part of the book consists of literary jokes that you won’t get unless you’ve read a whole lot of other stuff. My fears were confirmed when I was asked to discuss what the poem ‘Budgie Finds His Voice’ says about the poet’s attitude to environmental issues. I explained that the poem is a parody of Ted Hughes in his ‘Crow’ phase – nobody had told them this – and that it says precisely nothing about Wendy Cope’s views on pollution or global warming. They were disappointed.”

I find this little story immensely satisfying.

Now, I fucking love Wendy Cope. I could just share some fantastic little gems, like An Unusual Cat-Poem (“My cat is dead / But I have decided not to make a big / tragedy out of it.”) or Loss (“The day he moved out was terrible – / That evening she went though hell. / His absence wasn’t a problem / But the corkscrew had gone as well.”), or I could go into way too much detail about how and why the Budgie poem is such an excellent parody of silly old Hughes in his silly old Crow phase. Or I could do both.

First, consider the title “Budgie Finds His Voice” next to titles such as Crow’s First Lesson, Crow Hears Fate Knock on the Door, Crow on the Beach, Crow Tries The Media, Crow Goes Hunting and Crow Paints Himself into a Chinese Mural – all from the table of contents in Hughes’ collection.

Next, observe the subtitle:


Now, read these two poems.

     Budgie Finds His Voice

     From The Life and Songs of the Budgie
               by Jake Strugnell

     God decided he was tired
     Of his spinning toys.
     They wobbled and grew still.

     When the sun was lifted away
     Like an orange lifted from a fruit-bowl

     And darkness, blacker
     Than an oil-slick,
     Covered everything forever

     And the last ear left on earth
     Lay on the beach,
     Deaf as a shell

     And the land froze
     And the seas froze

     ‘Who’s a pretty boy then?’ Budgie cried.

     That Moment

     When the pistol muzzle oozing blue vapour
     Was lifted away
     Like a cigarette lifted from an ashtray

     And the only face left in the world
     Lay broken
     Between hands that relaxed, being too late

     And the trees closed forever
     And the streets closed forever

     And the body lay on the gravel
     Of the abandoned world
     Among abandoned utilities
     Exposed to infinity forever

     Crow had to start searching for something to eat.

Now. Tell me which of these is the comedy poem. Because it’s bloody hard to tell!

See the intro/roundup.

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3 Responses to Lent 7: Wendy Cope, and, for comic effect, Ted Hughes

  1. Pingback: 40 Poems of Lent: an introduction & roundup | impeus.com

  2. Pingback: Lent 12: Winter’s Tale | impeus.com

  3. Pingback: Lent 36: Four Women Poets – on schools and poetry | impeus.com

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