U.A. Fanthorpe’s death in 2009 was felt as a genuine loss by the many fans of her clear- eyed, humane poems, including Carol Ann Duffy who described her as ‘an unofficial, deeply loved laureate’.
U.A. Fanthorpe (b. 1929) 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 (Peterloo Poets, 1978).
Following that relatively late start, Fanthorpe was prolific, producing nine full-length collections, including the Forward Prize-nominated Safe as Houses (Peterloo Poets, 1995) and the Poetry Book Society Recommendation Consequences (Peterloo Poets, 2000). 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.