Image by Caroline Forbes

U A Fanthorpe

b. 1929 d. 2009

The really basic thing as far as I'm concerned is the pens. I have three pens; I keep them in my left hand pocket, and they're always there because if I haven't got a pen I'm really lost... - U. A. Fanthorpe

The Master of the Cast Shadow - an extract from the sequence Consequences

U A Fanthorpe

Seven Types of Shadow - an extract

U A Fanthorpe

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About U A Fanthorpe

U. A. Fanthorpe (1929 - 2009) spent her earliest years in Kent. She attended St Anne's College Oxford afterwards becoming a teacher and ultimately Head of English at Cheltenham Ladies' College. However, she only began writing when she turned her back on her teaching career to become a receptionist at a psychiatric hospital where her observation of the "strange specialness" of the patients provided the inspiration for her first book, Side Effects. Since that relatively late start, Fanthorpe was prolific, producing 9 full-length collections, including the Forward Prize-nominated Safe as Houses and the Poetry Book Society Recommendation Consequences. She was awarded a CBE in 2001 and the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2003.

Talking of her war-time childhood Fanthorpe said, "I think it's important not to run away" and on the surface her poetry seems to encapsulate those traditional, stoic English values we associate with the period. Certainly England and Englishness are central themes in her work but such a reading misses the wit and sly debunking of national myth which mark Fanthorpe's sensibility. A typical expression of this can be found in 'Earthed' and its wry celebration of her homeland with its "gardens,/Loved more than children". This has Larkinesque overtones, but Fanthorpe's work is also deeply humane as exemplified in her exploration of the lifelong aftermath of war in 'The Constant Tin Soldier'. These themes come together in her sequence 'Consequences' which is rooted in her native soil and steeped in the blood of its battlefields. This is an England that has more in common with Rwanda or Bosnia than the cosy Albion of the heritage industry.

Even at her darkest Fanthorpe's diction remains admirably understated and proverbial. She regarded a poem "as a conversation between the poet and the reader" and this is evident in her characterful and engaging delivery. Many of the poems are for two or more voices and she is joined in these instances by Dr Rosie Bailey. Clear-eyed but refusing pessimism, the hard-won balance of Fanthorpe's poems is well expressed by the closing lines of 'Consequences': "the best things/ye worst times/callamitous/hope."

U. A. Fanthorpe's reading was the first recording made for The Poetry Archive. It was recorded on 16 May 2000 with Dr Rosie Bailey at their home in Gloucestershire, England and was produced by Richard Carrington.

U A Fanthorpe's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"I should define a good poem as one that makes complete sense; and says all it has to say memorably and economically. " - Robert Graves

"Nine-tenths of English poetic literature is the result of . . . a poet trying to keep his hand in. " - Robert Graves

"To be a poet is a condition rather than a profession." - Robert Graves

"The lyf so short, the craft so long to learne,/Th'assay so hard, so sharp the conquering." - Geoffrey Chaucer

"Vain was the chief's, the sage's pride!/ They had no poet, and they died." - Alexander Pope

Interviews and other readings

U A Fanthorpe interview

One of the UK's most popular poets, U A Fanthorpe talks about the history of English, "the experienced language", and gives her tips for overcoming writer's block. Find out why she would like to be...

Selected bibliography

New and Collected Poems Enitharmon Press, 2010

From Me to You: Love Poems, Peterloo Poets 2007


Homing In: Selected Local Poems (illustrated by R. V....

Collected Poems 1978-2003, Peterloo Poets, 2005


Queuing for the Sun, Peterloo Poets, 2003


Dymock: the time and the place (Laurie Lee Memorial...


Christmas Poems, Peterloo Poets, 2002


Consequences, Peterloo Poets, 2000


Safe as Houses, Peterloo Poets, 1995


Neck Verse, Peterloo Poets, 1992


A Watching Brief, Peterloo Poets, 1987


Selected Poems, London, Penguin, 1986 - out of print

Voices Off, Peterloo Poets, 1984 - out of print

Standing To, Peterloo Poets, 1982 - out of print

Side Effects, Liskegard, Calstock, Cornwall, Peterloo...

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