June Poem to Inspire - Chosen by Ellen Clayton

This June, our Mum Poet Club "Poem to Inspire" is chosen by Ellen Clayton

Words by Ellen Clayton

Wendy Cope will be a familiar name to many of you; known for wry humour and witty rhymes, her poetry is an accessible and enjoyable gateway for many of us. Serious Concerns is, as the tongue-in-cheek title may suggest, a humorous collection. Cope touches on themes of love, heartbreak, criticism and the essence of being a poet - all using her trademark easy rhymes and accessible poetry style. These are eminently readable poems; a collection you can pick up, no matter how exhausted you are and it’ll always bring a smile to your face! 

This collection includes The Orange, which is probably my favourite poem, ever. It’s a reflection on a simple and ordinary day but I think it’s an exquisite, uplifting exploration of life and family. The Orange, to me, gets to the essence of being happy. I read it regularly, and it’s definitely inspired the way I hope to write, too.

“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.”

extract from Wendy Cope’s The Orange.

As it’s such a favourite of mine, I wrote an after of this poem, which I had published on the Reasons to be Cheerful blog https://www.reasonstobecheerful.co.uk/blog/sunny-side-up. Although the poem linked to many of the themes in my chapbook, Home Baked, ultimately we decided not to include it. I wrote this as an homage and essentially tried to emulate The Orange and, as such, it didn’t feel like an authentic fit within the book; my own poetic voice wasn’t strong enough.

Despite not including that particular poem in my book, I think you can see Cope’s influence in many of my poems. While we write in a fundamentally different way, (I generally do not use rhyme in my poetry) I do try to capture the magic in ordinary moments and there’s definitely a hint of humour in some of my work. I like to think I don’t take myself, or my poetry, too seriously!

An interesting topic that Wendy Cope explores in Serious Concerns is how she is acutely aware of her critics and is able to use poetry to poke fun at herself and the publishing industry; the title is inspired by reviews of her first collection stating that she does not write about serious concerns. In the title poem of the collection, Cope’s wry humour is at its best:

“Write to amuse? What an appalling suggestion!

I write to make people anxious and miserable and to

   worsen their indigestion.”

I love the way she’s subverted something that could be seen as a criticism, and used her trademark humour – the very reason she is so beloved – to create a response.

There is a simplicity to Wendy Cope’s poetry which makes it perfect for those sleep deprived, chaotic days with young children; these are not poems which will leave you confused and wondering what the hidden meaning is. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of poetry, it’s not what I personally want to reach for when I’m already feeling overwhelmed by life!

The ending of An Argument with Wordsworth feels like an apt note to close with: Wordsworth claimed “Poetry…takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility”. Cope responds:

“So this is my contribution to the theoretical debate:

Sometimes poetry is emotion recollected in a highly emotional state.”

Definitely relatable!

Ellen Clayton's debut chapbook Homebaked is out now with BentKey Publishing: https://www.bentkeypublishing.co.uk/product-page/home-baked-ellen-clayton  

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