Suede’s debut single, ‘The Drowners’, enacts a war between Butler’s masculine, strident rhythm guitar and the androgyny of Anderson’s lyrics and vocal delivery: ‘We kiss in his room to a popular tune / Oh real drowners // Slow down slow down you’re taking me over’. There are undertones of violence in the song and the desires of the dominant lover threaten to overwhelm.
Jennifer Copley’s pamphlet, ‘Some Couples’, opens with ‘The Drowners’. The river serves as an aggressive, abusive metaphor for love as it ‘pushed you’, ‘punched her’ and ‘dragged her’. The first stanza addresses the reader in the second person, acknowledging that, whether we want to, or not, this is one river that we all dive into. The second stanza switches to the third person, confirming that the abuse it metes out to us it metes out to everyone.
The pamphlet’s title sequence, ‘Some Couples’, comprises four dreamlike poems. ‘Emma and Albert’ opens: ‘To keep her tall / he hung her on the washing line.’ The active verbs are performed by the man and revolve around his maintenance of his partner’s appearance. The poem closes in bed, where she lets him ‘kiss away the peg marks’. The remorse of the domestic abuser? The next poem, ‘Tracy and Shayne’ stays in the bedroom, where the same pattern of active verbs point to the universality of male dominance: ‘He made her grow her hair / so it would spread across his pillow. / She couldn’t move; the weight / of his head pinned her down’. At least in the final poem, ‘Jeff and Carmelita’, it’s Carmelita who rules the roost: ‘His bruises couldn’t be seen / by the naked eye. // At night, in dreams, / he sawed her in two. / Then she sawed him in three.’ Copley suggests that equilibrium is impossible, that all relationships have their masters, or their master-mistresses.
There’s a disarming levity to the pamphlet despite this. In ‘The Nightingales’, ‘Last night the nightingales brought gin instead of song’ and ‘The noise was too much for Alison and Frank, the fallow deer’. The river referred to in ‘The Drowners’ feels less like love and more like animal instinct. Copley’s ridiculous anthropomorphization of the deer with first names invites us to reappraise the titular couples from the sequence, ‘Some Couples’ as biological reproductive units, and as nothing more. Copley’s final lines, ‘The lovers speared themselves on thorns / and didn’t feel a thing’ reference Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’, where the Nightingale’s Christ-like loving self-sacrifice is all for nought as the student concludes ‘What a silly thing love is’.
‘Some Couples’ takes simpler pleasures. ‘The Best Places’ ranks ten places for sexual intercourse, eschewing the locales thrust upon us by romantic ideology, preferring instead ‘the park, / the struggle with my top’ and ‘the sofa in Chepstow Road, / slugs in the kitchen, mice on the stairs’. Unadorned with metaphor, the poem encourages us to recognize the pleasures already present in our own lives and to reject the capitalism of dissatisfaction that would have us grafting for white sands and turquoise waters as a suitable mise-en-scène for our sex – the marram grass at Seascale will serve us just as well.
Kim Moore describes Copley’s pamphlet, ‘Vinegar and Brown Paper’ as ‘completely bonkers in a good way’. Kim featured Copley as the Sunday Poem here