Booker Prize Judging Panel includes Wendy Cope

The Booker Prize works in mysterious ways. Why hasn’t Rohinton Mistry won yet? And Vernon God Little– I mean, what were you thinking, panel? So when I heard that 2007’s Booker Prize judging panel was headed by an economist, I filed it under the category of things that make you go hmm…

The economist, however, turns out to be a Big Man in literary reviewing circles. Furthermore: the panel includes British poet Wendy Cope, who is possibly my favorite poet (given the impossibility of having one favorite poet or author; might as well ask what your favorite body cell is).

 What’s not to love about Cope’s work? It’s accessible, witty, rueful, and always large-hearted.  Here’s a sampler of her poems. 


Wendy Cope

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.

 So many engineers, so few poems for them… till now.


Why isn’t there an Engineers’ Corner in Westminster Abbey? In Britain we’ve always made more fuss of a ballad than a blueprint … How many schoolchildren dream of becoming great engineers? — advertisement placed in The Times by the Engineering Council

We make more fuss of ballads than of blueprints —
That’s why so many poets end up rich,
While engineers scrape by in cheerless garrets.
Who needs a bridge or dam? Who needs a ditch?
Whereas the person who can write a sonnet
Has got it made. It’s always been the way,
For everybody knows that we need poems
And everybody reads them every day.
Yes, life is hard if you choose engineering —
You’re sure to need another job as well;
You’ll have to plan your projects in the evenings
Instead of going out. It must be hell.
While well-heeled poets ride around in Daimlers,
You’ll burn the midnight oil to earn a crust,
With no hope of a statue in the Abbey,
With no hope, even, of a modest bust.
No wonder small boys dream of writing couplets
And spurn the bike, the lorry and the train.
There’s far too much encouragement for poets —
That’s why this country’s going down the drain.

I first came across The Orange while searching for a poem to read at a wedding.


At lunchtime I bought a huge orange-
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave-
They got quarters and I had a half. 

And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.

Engineer’s Corner is from her 1986 collection “Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis“, and the others from 1992’s “Serious Concerns“; you can read more about her at the Contemporary Writers site.   


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