Wendy Cope

A.Harvey emailableWendy Cope was born in Erith and went on to study History at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She has published several books of poetry (including “Serious Concerns” which contains the poem “Flowers” mentioned below). She was a primary school teacher for fifteen years before taking up writing professionally.  (Photo courtesy of Adrian Harvey.)

What kind of pupil were you like at school?
I was fairly well-behaved but not especially hard-working.

What was your favourite subject?
English.

What's the best school lesson you remember being in and why was it good?
I remember a class music lesson when the teacher played us a record of Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik". I thought "This is bliss. I really do like classical music."  I also remember English lessons in which Miss Hall taught us how to read Shakespeare plays, paying proper attention to the text.

Is there anything you wish you'd done differently in your time at school?
I sometimes wish I'd done a modern language for A level, instead of Latin. I gave up French and German after O level. I have never properly mastered either.

Did you enjoy reading poetry when you were at school? What poets did you like?
At junior school all the poems seemed to be about nature or fairies or both and I wasn't impressed. When we began working on the O level syllabus, there were some poems I liked - Hardy, Yeats etc. - and even more at A level. We did Keats, who is a good poet for teenagers. Also Wordsworth, who isn't.

What is your favourite poem?
I think my favourite poet is A.E.Housman. My favourite poem is by him. It begins "From far, from eve and morning". And there are some Shakespeare sonnets I like just as much.

Did you enjoy being a teacher?
In many ways yes. In some ways no. I taught in primary schools in poor areas of East and South London. My colleagues and I were usually tired and/or ill. But I did enjoy the children and some of the teaching. I was particularly keen on doing class music with them and I miss that.

How does being a freelance writer compare with having a "regular" job?
It's SO much better. No boss, for a start. If work comes up that you really don't want to do, you don't have to do it, and you don't have to begin at a particular time in the morning.  There are disadvantages of course - no paid holidays, no sick pay, no paid compassionate leave. Financially it has worked out OK - about the same as if I'd gone on teaching, although I'd have a bigger pension, if I'd stayed in the job.

What is the most important lesson you've learned since leaving school?
1. Finding out what you want to do with your life is more than half the battle. If you're lucky enough to know what you want, there is a good chance you can get it. 
2. That in most jobs, being a nice, easy person, who people like to have around is a valuable asset -at least as valuable as ability or qualifications. When I was a young teacher I was quite difficult and aggressive. When I became a deputy head I understood why I hadn't been promoted as quickly as I would have liked.

If you could give one piece of advice to your sixteen-year old self what would it be?
Get yourself to a good psychotherapist as quickly as you can. I went into analysis when I was 27 and it made a big difference. Earlier would have been better.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to write poetry?
Read the poetry of the past and the poetry of the present day. You can't learn to write poems without reading them. Don't think of poetry as a way of earning a living or getting famous - you've got to want to do it for its own sake. It's good for a poet to have a job and write poems in his or her spare time, at least for a few years when young. Some people get lucky and give up the day job but you can't bank on it.

What is your greatest regret?
I wish I'd asked my parents and grandmother more about their lives, and the history of our family, before they died.

Which of your own poems pleases you the most?
"Flowers".

If you had a catchphrase what would it be?
A quotation from George Herbert : " Dare to be true".

Do you have any ambitions left to achieve? If so, what would they be?
I sometimes wish I could write a novel but I seem to be stuck with being a poet. I want to write more poems and make them better than the ones I've already written. And to save up enough money to be reasonably comfortable in my old age.