Interview with Wendy Cope, November 2015 by Barbara O’Donnell

Wendy Cope is one of the UK’s best loved poets, with a keen eye and sharp wit for the human condition and relationships, particularly from a woman’s point of view.  She has published several collections of poetry, two for children and edited numerous anthologies. She was awarded OBE in 2010 for services to Literature. Her latest book, “Life, Love and The Archers” is a collection of career spanning prose, published and unpublished, on a wide range of topics. The Independent described it as “entertaining and moving, with appeal far beyond stalwart Cope fans”. She describes her diaries as being like “Bridget Jones on speed”.

You started writing as a child and have had a couple of gaps in your writing life. Did you have a sense of missing it when you weren’t writing?

I suppose there was a sense of something missing but I don’t think I knew what it was.

Do you prefer form over free verse? Do you have a favourite form? 

I enjoy traditional forms, as a reader and as a writer. I think my favourite is the Shakespearean sonnet – I’ve been writing a lot of those recently. But I don’t believe that all poems have to rhyme and scan – I want to be able to write good poems in free verse as well.

You are a firm believer that children need to read more poetry. Can you tell us why?

I’m not sure where I said this. I’m not very well informed about how much they are reading already. But, yes, I think it’s a good thing if children read poems. Because reading poems is one of life’s pleasures and young children can certainly enjoy it, if they are presented with suitable books.

You are also a musician, and used this when you were teaching, before going freelance as a writer. What instruments do you play?

Piano, guitar and several kinds of recorder. But not particularly well. I also learned the violin at school but haven’t played one for years.

You have said you didn’t get married for a long time to your long term partner, Lachlan Mackinnon, due to feminist reservations. Did you participate in feminist activism at any point?

I was part of a women’s group for a while in the late 1970s. We got together on Sunday afternoons and discussed various topics. I wouldn’t call that activism.

What advice would you have for younger feminists today?

A feminist is someone who believes that men and women are equal. It’s that simple. I gather from younger people that there are some silly, extreme feminists around nowadays who are putting sensible people off. That’s a great pity.

You have been widely supported as a candidate for Poet Laureate. Why do you think the post of Poet Laureate should be discontinued?

I’m not sure that I do. I said that because I was fed up with being asked about it. I loathe the press coverage when a new appointment is imminent. It turns poetry into a competition and it shouldn’t be that. Journalists fail to understand that many poets – probably most of them – don’t want to be Poet Laureate. They would rather get on quietly with their work. I do think, though, that both Andrew Motion and Carol Ann Duffy have done some good things while in post.

At one time, you expressed an intense dislike of the internet. Is this entirely due to the issues of copyright, particularly in poetry, that it throws up?

Yes, mainly. I use the internet all the time for email, shopping and looking things up. I don’t do Facebook or Twitter and I’m upset by stories of bullying on those media.

You have also expressed some reluctance about appearing on the radio? Is this any particular reason for this?

No. I’m mostly happy to be on the radio and often enjoy it, although I do grumble about BBC fees. I rarely agree to do anything on television. Can’t be bothered with worrying about what to wear, bad hair day etc. And recording anything for TV takes much longer.

What do you make of Jeremy Corbyn’s recent action of turning down the invitation to be made a member of the Privy Council, in person, by the Queen?

He didn’t turn it down. He just didn’t go at the first opportunity because he had other plans for that day. David Cameron didn’t go at the first opportunity either. I would never vote for Corbyn but I think the press coverage of him has been very unfair.