Anedcotal Evidence by Wendy Cope

Sometimes, often when you least expect it, a book you pick up on a whim turns out to be one of those which whacks you in the emotions and has a profound effect on you; at least, that’s happened to me in the past, and did so recently when I yielded to an impulse purchase and sent off for Wendy Cope’s most recent collection of poetry, “Anecdotal Evidence”. If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen me reacting to it…

Cope is a poet I first encountered when her debut collection, “Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis” appeared in 1986. It was an instant hit at the time, and I absolutely loved it; but I confess that I had drifted out of contact with her poetry since then, though I *had* gathered some unread volumes which are sitting on the TBR at the moment. I can’t recall now what impelled me to send off for this in May – perhaps a glimpse of one of the poems somewhere – but I’m really glad I did.

Cope’s poetry is very immediate, but that doesn’t make it trivial or light. Personally, I feel her work communicates brilliantly, perhaps in the same way that Larkin’s does; and maybe your response to it depends on who you are and when you read it. And that might be why I reacted so strongly to “Anecdotal Evidence”. This is her fifth collection of adult poetry, released in 2018, and trumpeted as her first since 2011. It contains the mature work of a mature woman (and I speak as one myself) and the poems are evocative, elegiac and often very moving.

The subjects Cope writes about are often seemingly simple, everyday concerns: the point of poetry; memories of old friends; reminiscences of visits to Shakepeare plays; going to boarding school for the first time; dreams; and nature. Yet these are filtered through a poetic sensibility that renders the event or memory or musing deeply moving and deeply profound. Cope is older than me, at a point of life where she’s looking back at her life and memories, her friends no longer here, her parents and her Nanna, the passions of her youth; and also reflecting on the love she has for her husband and what their future holds. This resonates strongly, as I think it will with anyone experiencing growing older and having more of your life behind you than in front of you; and many of the poems hit me powerfully, almost like a blow to the stomach. I was so moved at times, as I tweeted, that I had to stop between poems to recover.

I realise I’m not going into specifics, so I’ll mention a few favourites from the collection. “A Wreath for George Herbert” is a wonderfully clever tribute to a fellow poet; “An Afternoon” remembers Cope’s parents most movingly at a time of sadness; “Christmas Cards” takes a poignant look at the annual ritual of sending cards that may no longer be delivered; “A Little Tribute to John Cage” very cleverly captures that composer’s experimental nature; and “Que Sera” contains the wonderful lines:

….Always keen to organise
the future, though the enterprise
is sculpting water.

And I couldn’t write about this collection without mentioning “A Statue”, a moving meditation on one of my comedy heroes, Eric Morecambe – just wonderful.

It’s obviously quite impossible for me to do a sensible review of this book; instead, you’ll have to make do with a very personal response! All I can say, really, is that I found these to be beautiful, powerful and affecting works which looked at all manner of life’s vagaries and what it is to be human. The forms vary from free verse to very structured and clever works with repeating patterns (if I was cleverer, I’d know the name for these); it’s an eminently readable collection, yet one with hidden power. Basically, I was moved, and I still am, thinking back to the experience of reading it.

My Wendy Cope collection

Poetry does, I think, have the power to move in ways that prose sometimes doesn’t, and that was certainly the case here. I don’t know that I can really say anything more, or more sensible, about this collection except that it had me in tears in places (easier, I think, in these strange times, but nevertheless not a state I always get into over poetry). Whoever or whatever made me pick this up right now, thank you – I think Wendy Cope is an amazingly wonderful poet and I do recommend you read her if you can.