Some Couples, Jennifer Copley
HappenStance, 2017 £5.00
Happiness and Unhappiness
The happiest couples in Jennifer Copley’s very enjoyable Some Couples, are dead. The living are often coercive or obsessive. Dave makes Debbie lie with him all night under the dropping fruit of a pear tree with the rats; Carmelita rules Jeff and gives him bruises; the woman in ‘Leeds City Station, 1918’, sits waiting twenty years for her man who doesn’t come home. How happy they’d be if they were Mr and Mrs Angel whose warmth still pervades their house after their demise, or the deceased parents of the narrator in the pamphlet’s final poem who now ‘eat cake mostly’ and have ‘no more worrying about dinner’!
Notable exceptions to the rule are Mr and Mrs Andrews in ‘At Furness General’. Admittedly they ‘died last Tuesday/ at opposite ends of the hospital’, but they’d lived harmoniously, even agreeing on when to die. The poet speculates in wonderfully physical detail about how they managed this:
whispering to each other
through the walls, their spitty breath,
going up and down the corridors
She doesn’t think her considerate couple would want to die ‘on a Sunday when their daughter visited / or a Thursday when their neighbour came’ and she suggests, in a tender, relaxed concluding image, that:
they must have longed to lie
just one more time together, back to back,
warm buttocks touching.
Reading ‘Mr and Mrs Andrews’ as the opening words of this poem, I can’t help thinking of Gainsborough’s famous painting of that title, depicting a miserable pair who clearly didn’t agree on anything and never had family or friends who’d want to visit them. Paul Durcan, in his ekphrastic collection, Give Me Your Hand, has Mrs A murder her ‘Bobsie’ with his own gun. Melodramatic perhaps, but she looks a hard woman under her finery. It’s difficult to believe this couple had buttocks, let alone the warm kind with which Jennifer Copley endows ‘Bob and Nora’. She rehabilitates their surname. I expect to meet some happy Mr and Mrs Andrewses from now on.