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 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

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.

Poems by 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
U A Fanthorpe in the Poetry Store

The free tracks you can enjoy in the Poetry Archive are a selection of a poet’s work. Our catalogue store includes many more recordings which you can download to your device.

Books by U A Fanthorpe



Arvon International Poetry Competition (2nd Prize), 'Rising Damp'


Travelling Fellowship from The Society of Authors

1987 & 1997

1987 & 1997 Hawthornden Fellowships


Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature


Poetry Book Society Recommendation, Neck Verse


Arts Council Writers' Award


First woman to be nominated for Professor of Poetry at Oxford


Poetry Book Soceity Recommendation, Safe as Houses


Cholmondeley Award


Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection - shortlist), Safe as Houses


Poetry Book Society Recommendation, Consequences


The Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry


Poetry Book Society Special Commendation, Collected Poems 1978-2003

Related Links