In 1986, my friend Amy Clampitt went to England and brought me back a copy of Wendy Cope's first book, Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis. We read it together, and soon we were pealing with laughter at Cope's hilarious send-ups and parodies of other writers. I think my favorite is still her group of "Waste Land Limericks," which follows the five-part structure of Eliot's poem. There's something wickedly clever about the way Cope takes the great despairing poem of high modernism and summarizes it by way of Edward Lear, using an English stanza form whose exclusive purpose is light verse.
Waste Land Limericks I
In April one seldom feels cheerful;
Dry stones, sun and dust make me fearful;
Clairvoyantes distress me,
Commuters depress me --
Met Stetson and gave him an earful.
She sat on a mighty fine chair,
Sparks flew as she tidied her hair;
She asks many questions,
I make few suggestions --
Bad as Albert and Lil -- what a pair!
The Thames runs, bones rattle, rats creep;
Tiresias fancies a peep --
A typist is laid,
A record is played --
Wei la la. After this it gets deep.
A Phoenician called Phlebas forgot
About birds and his business -- the lot.
Which is no surprise,
Since he'd met his demise
And been left in the ocean to rot.
No water. Dry rocks and dry throats,
Then thunder, a shower of quotes
From the Sanskrit and Dante.
Da. Damyata. Shantih.
I hope you'll make sense of the notes.
Among other things, Cope invents a poet named Jason Strugnell, the subject of a BBC program, "Shall I Call Thee Bard?" I especially like Strugnell's Shakespearean sonnets, such as #1 ("The expense of spirits is a crying shame,/ So is the cost of wine"), #4 ("Not only marble, but the plastic toys/ From cornflake packets will outlive this rhyme") and #6 ("Let me not to the marriage of true swine/ Admit impediments. With his big car/ He's won your heart, and you have punctured mine").
Here is the triple proof that Strugnell also has an English feeling for Japanese haiku:
The cherry blossom
In my neighbor's garden -- Oh!
It looks really nice.
The leaves have fallen
And the snow has fallen and
Soon my hair also. . . .
The moon is up, rooks settle,
The pubs are open.
(All quotations are from Wendy Cope, "Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis." Faber and Faber Limited. © 1986 by Wendy Cope.)