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A Woman of Consequence: U.A. Fanthorpe
by Anna M. Evans, Poet & Independent Scholar


n 1994 Ursula Askham Fanthorpe, known to her friends as UA, was the first woman to be nominated for the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry. Five years later, upon the death of Ted Hughes, she was a strong contender to become the first female poet laureate. Although neither honor ultimately fell to her (the professorship went to James Fenton and the laureateship to Andrew Motion), in 2001 she was appointed Commander of the British Empire for her services to poetry, and in 2003 she received the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry.

She had a remarkable career indeed for someone whose first collection, Side Effects, was not published until she was approaching fifty. But then she started late. As her surviving life partner Rosie Bailey put it to me, with endearing precision, "UA began writing poems at 1.20pm on 18 April 1974, in the caravan where she used to eat her lunch, during her 40-minute lunch-break, in the grounds of the Burden Hospital, (the neuro-psychiatric hospital in Bristol, where she worked as clerk/receptionist). The poem in question was ‘For St Peter’."

I have a good deal of sympathy for you, mate,
Because I reckon that, like me, you deal with the outpatients. (31)

The journey that brought Fanthorpe to that caravan and that lunch-break had begun conventionally enough. The daughter of a judge, she was born in Kent on July 22, 1929, and attended a typical Surrey boarding school before going up to St. Anne's College, Oxford to read English. Afterwards she chose to become a teacher rather than pursue a postgraduate degree, and for sixteen years taught English at Cheltenham Ladies College, where, incidentally, around 1956, one of the "girls at the impressionable stage where they were terribly keen to work hard" ("Fanthorpe Wins Queens Medal") was my own mother, who remembers "doing Chaucer" with the young Miss Fanthorpe. At Cheltenham Fanthorpe also met her lifelong partner, Rosemarie (Rosie) Bailey, who was another member of the English department staff.

However, despite earning a promotion to Head of English, Fanthorpe became disillusioned with teaching for reasons she describes in her autobiographical essay, "Slow Learner."

Sixteen years later I awoke from academic slumber and realized that sixteen years' growth of pupils had gone on to find experience, lived among people and generally done things that I'd wanted to, while I had contented myself with working to free them (35).

Resigning from Cheltenham Ladies College, Fanthorpe took the clerk/receptionist position at Burden Hospital. She had been fascinated with hospitals since an accident at Oxford—a lorry knocked her off her bicycle—had left her laid up in a ward for three months with a crushed foot, and had even considered changing to nursing as a career—a notion which was quickly squashed by her parents and tutors for being insufficiently academic.

At Burden, though, she quickly became appalled by the hospital's bureaucracy and by the way that doctors treated the out-patients. She began writing poems to give these people a voice.

As the hospital poems accumulated into a substantial section of the manuscript that would become Side Effects, it was a poem on an entirely different subject that first brought her public recognition. The poem, "Not My Best Side," which has gone on to become one of Fanthorpe's best-loved works, won second prize in an ekphrastic poetry contest run by Phoenix magazine in 1975. The painting in question is Uccello's "St. George and the Dragon," and the tripartite poem gives witty voice to the three characters in the poem, beginning with the dragon, who is unhappy at his unflattering portrait:

Why, I said to myself, should my conqueror
Be so ostentatiously beardless, and ride,
A horse with a deformed neck and square hoofs?
Why should my victim be so
Unattractive as to be inedible (48)

Harry Chambers, the founder of Phoenix magazine, was on the verge of founding his own poetry imprint, Peterloo Poets. After the contest, he asked Fanthorpe for a manuscript, and Peterloo Poets published Side Effects in 1978. As her career developed Fanthorpe could easily have moved to one of the larger publishing houses, such as Faber & Faber, but with typical loyalty and concern for the smaller over the larger company, she remained with Peterloo Poets for the rest of her publishing career.

And it was a prolific career, with Fanthorpe producing nine full-length collections over the next thirty years. As her popularity grew, she won various Arts fellowships, which, on top of invitations to appear at literary festivals, gave her the means to give up her job at the hospital in 1989, and thereby also the impetus to branch out into subject matters that may appear disparate but have at their core the same compassion and humanity that engendered her hospital pieces—what she called "the strangeness of other people…and how it felt to be them and to use their words." Or, as Elizabeth Sandie puts it, in her critical study Acts of Resistance, Fanthorpe is:

drawn to people of exceptional though often unsung or under-acknowledged achievement, who live on the edge or in extreme situations; people who, despite the odds stacked against them, have followed their vocation, climbed their mountains, written their poems (21).

Some of these subjects, of course, were so intrinsic to Fanthorpe's nature and values that she had already staked a large claim on them in Side Effects. Another perennial popular favorite is "Earthed," which Fanthorpe called "a love poem to the various places I have lived in England," and which demonstrates a deep and abiding love that encompassed England's geography, wildlife, quirks and flaws:

But earthed for all that, in the chalky
Kent mud, thin sharp ridges between wheel-tracks, in
Surrey's wild gravel,

In serious Cotswold uplands, where
Limestone confines the verges like yellow teeth,
And trees look sideways (37).

Fanthorpe's involvement with England was by no means limited to the contemporary—archaeological finds and disappeared past landscapes crop up often in her work in addition to events from her own past. As Sandie puts it, "All sorts of closely observed detail of everyday lives creep unobtrusively into her work: details of language use, fashion, routines and habits, predominant concerns, social predicaments, which provide a record of history in the making." (67).

It is also hardly surprising that literary figures, characters and allusions pepper Fanthorpe's work: Shakespeare, the Brontës, the Wordsworths, Robert Frost, Laurie Lee, Doctor Jekyll, Jane Eyre, Raskolnikov and Beowulf, to name but a few. But Fanthorpe's natural tendency was to look at any pillar of the canon somewhat on the slant: "Three Women Wordsworths" wryly examines the female Wordsworths' contribution to that dynasty, for example, while in "Seminar: Felicity and Mr. Frost", an analysis of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is interrupted by the needs of a three-year-old.

Another pre-occupation of Fanthorpe, who was brought up in the Church of England but found her home in Quakerism in the mid 1980s, was the futility of war and the destruction it causes. As she stated in a 2002 interview with Lidia Vianu, "I was a child in the 1939-45 war, living—during the school holidays—in a dangerous part of Kent. There was nowhere to escape to, so I suppose I learnt to follow my mother’s example: she knew the danger (of bombs etc.) was there all the time, but went on behaving as if things were quite normal." It is a recurring theme particularly of the 1995 volume, Safe as Houses, in such poems as "Sirensong":

We were precocious experts on shrapnel and blast.
Things broken weren't replaced. What was the point?
Friends were lost, too. You didn't talk of it (304).

But even in the most poignant of her war poems one thing is rarely entirely missing from Fanthorpe's work, a subtle, occasionally dark, and always very British, humor. She liked to make people laugh: "People don't necessarily associate it with poetry, but you can say such important things with humour. Humour is one of the seven virtues. I would really have liked to be a cartoonist" ("Fanthorpe Wins Queens Medal").

After several years of ill-health, UA Fanthorpe died on April 28, 2009, aged seventy-nine. She is survived by her partner, Rosie Bailey, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for her invaluable help with this essay.


Rosie also suggested that as a representation of Fanthorpe's work I might like to examine the one poem, or rather poem sequence, since it consists of thirteen linked but disparate sections, that encapsulates her themes more than any other: "Consequences", the title sequence of Fanthorpe's 2000 collection.

Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie called the poem "nothing short of a State of the Nation address" ("Late-Flowering Poet"), and Fanthorpe herself prefaces it with a note that begins "This poem is about, among other things, England and Leicestershire and Richard III and hope, courage and gypsies. It also touches upon war and peace, second sight, and the arms trade, and the uses of language and architecture" and concludes, "The title (the name of an old party-game) suggests that nothing happens in isolation from the past or future" (344).

The genre of poetry both celebrating and mourning a disappearing cultural landscape is not new to British poetry. Examples exist in the work of such poets as Roy Fisher ("Birmingham River") although perhaps the most famous example of it is Philip Larkin's "Going, Going",

And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs. (Larkin, 133)

The opening poem in the series, "Found on the Battlefield", establishes the temporal envelope of the sequence, which weaves between the present day and the events of 1485, stopping at several other historical milestones in-between. The battlefield site in question is that of the Battle of Bosworth, the penultimate battle in the Wars of the Roses, a bloody civil war that divided England from 1455 to 1487. Richard III, the last king of the house of York, was killed in the battle, and subsequently Henry Tudor, leader of the Lancastrians, became the first Tudor monarch, King Henry VII.

The poem also introduces several of the themes of the sequence—the palimpsest nature of the British landscape ("This landscape is not given to forgetting"), the horror of war and the irrevocability of choices, which are, anyway, often made for us. The heiress (Elizabeth of York) has no say in which of the alternatives she considers, and it is arguable that neither did the common people of England, with whom Fanthorpe is, as always, very much concerned. Nor do those people have much influence in the contemporary part of the poem:

The canal has invaded this landscape,
But it speaks the same idiom: will it be
King Dick or King Harry? Theme park or business centre?
Choose, England.

Sandie interprets this as "a Hobson's choice of a dilemma over which contemporary planning battles are fought" (Sandie, 71) but I would go further and suggest that this choice is one facing England as a whole: is the country to use its past and monarchy to become an economy based largely on international tourism, a kind of "History and the Royal Family" theme park, as envisaged by Julian Barnes in his 1999 novel England, England, or is it to attempt to compete as a business/commercial entity?

The poem is written with Fanthorpe's typical clarity, unrestricted by formal designs on stanza or line conformity, although many of the lines do fall into loose blank verse, foreshadowing the importance of Shakespeare to later poems in the sequence, including the second poem "Lost and Lost," which uses several disparaging epithets to describe King Richard, taken from Shakespeare's second longest play, "Richard III."

Here lies the bunch-back'd toad, the bottled spider,
The hellhound, the abortive rooting hog,
God's enemy and England's bloody scourge (346).

Richard's body and his reputation are both lost, the former buried "under the weight of Leicester city center," and the latter destroyed by Shakespeare partly to make a better play, and partly in an attempt to curry favor with the Tudor monarch of his time, Henry VII's granddaughter, Elizabeth I. From the ironic last two lines of the poem it is clear, however, that Fanthorpe's sympathies lie with the unfairly maligned Richard.

Fine language is one way of being remembered.
This is the best we have. This is Shakespeare.

The third poem, "The Master of Cast Shadow," juxtaposes portraits of nobles, painted in the popular fifteenth century style, with how those individuals appeared after the slaughter:

They killed and killed and killed. Thirty thousand
In a morning. Where did they find the people?
So few around, so many of them butchered.
But some live on as the Master saw them,
Praying, or holding a naked broken sword (347).

"The Young Person's Guide to Arms" follows, beginning with the crucial and perennially relevant observation that "Enemies come in pairs, like socks. There is no such thing as a single enemy" and continuing with a macabre list of familiar euphemisms such as "ethnic cleansing" and "collateral damage" written in a style reminiscent of World War II poet Henry Reed.

The fifth poem, the shortest in the series, is "Homily of the Hassocks" and takes place in St. James Church, Sutton Cheney, which is where Richard III supposedly heard Mass for the last time before the battle. A plaque in the church reads "Remember before God Richard III King of England and those who fell at Bosworth Field having kept faith 22 August 1485 loyaltie me lie" and Fanthorpe appropriates this motto as a more general imprecation against the futility of war:

Remember before God all the obliterated,
in Sutton Cheney, in Leicestershire,
all the world over, ever (349).

If England is to be a theme park, by this stage in the poem the reader is aware that it is one built over the fields of blood more regularly associated with contemporary massacres overseas.

The sixth and seventh poems, "Hats Off, Gentlemen, a Genius!" and "The Uses of Architecture," contrast the creation of Henry VII's tomb effigy by Pietro Torrigiano, with its status as a less than stellar attraction in today's Westminster Abbey. (The statue, which was begun before Henry's death in 1509 and took eight years to complete, was widely admired at the time.) The poem implies that England already borders on theme park, while underlining the fact that dead is dead, whether immortalized in stone like Henry by an effigy that has little resemblance to reality, or un-commemorated like Richard except as a character in a play also bearing little resemblance to the original. How fitting that the poem ends by bringing back the homily, "Remember before God all the obliterated."

"Master Shakespeare: His Maggot" is Richard Burbage, Shakespeare's actor-manager, to whom much of the eighth poem is addressed, albeit in absentia, by a voice, presumably Shakespeare himself, talking about the difficulties of creating the character of Richard III. It is a fine example of Fanthorpe's signature re-engineering of literature, with Shakespeare unwillingly sacrificing artistic integrity for commercialism:

Crook back, frozen arm, unfinished look.
Hard to refuse the future. Not much choice,
Either, with Burbage at me, moaning about the takings (352).

In the ninth poem, "Ask a Silly Question", the repeated invocation of the opening poem—to "choose, England"— is answered by a first person narrative voice here appearing in the sequence for the first time—Fanthorpe herself, or an alter-ego:

I choose peace. I never get it.
Takeovers and overtakers, de-militarized zones,
Kings dead in ditches, displaced persons,
Class war, sex war, civil war, war. Tortures,
And other irregularities.

As Sandie says, "so simple, so direct, so unequivocal, 'I choose peace', must be speaking for hundreds and thousands of her readers. Such a strong line in the poem; so impotent in real life" (72).

Another motif that returns here from the opening poem is the image of the dog "finding something beastly to eat/ Under a hawthorn," which brings to mind Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts:, and knowing Fanthorpe's literary background as we do, we must assume the allusion is both deliberate and telling.

That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree (87)

Both poems insist that it is the ordinary people who matter, despite the tragedies that befall individuals in the spolight. In Fanthorpe's poem, though, we have a sense that ordinary people can no longer afford to be oblivious of greater events, but should hold themselves accountable. Fanthorpe then brings back the language of euphemisms from the fourth poem, which enables ordinary people to be blasé about these horrors, and immediately presents us with the text of a note, presumably also "found on the battlefield." The layers of meaning implicit in this stanza are threefold—the beauty now superimposed upon the former battlefield, the risks posed to such beauty by all aspects of human action, and finally the way in which the local and the present permit us to ignore the global and the future.

But Fanthorpe never lets the reader ignore unpleasant realities for long—poem ten, "Hundreds and Thousands", is a litany of death tolls from twentieth century atrocities: Dresden, Hiroshima, Stalingrad and the concentration camps. Yet, as the poem concludes, "One death/ Is enough to convince." Here, again, we have an unavoidable literary echo of the famous last line of Dylan Thomas's "A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London": "After the first death, there is no other." In other words, when the numbers have become so large as to be meaningless, it is time to remember the uniqueness of each individual. In both the ninth and the tenth poems the focus shifts back and forth between the individual and the collective until the boundaries blur and the reader is fully conscious of humanity as a whole.

Next, in an interesting sidestep, comes "Fox Unearthed." The fox of the title is George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, presented here as a symbol of the possibility of peace and of the difference that one man can make, even though Fox himself was often "trapped in the prisons of England" for his faith, and ultimately dies:

After so much cross-country work, in London, telling friends
I am glad I was here.
               The smell of God
In the muddy, the high, the beastly places (356).

Perhaps inevitably for a sequence with a pacifist message, the penultimate poem, "The Fortune-Teller's Funeral", shows us the Holocaust. In classic Fanthorpe style, however, this is presented indirectly, as one of the visions seen by the early twentieth century fortune-teller, Urania Boswell, better known as Gypsy Lee (not to be confused with Gypsy Rose Lee of burlesque fame). Although she has no reluctance to prophesy her own death, she is too terrified to seek further knowledge of "the Devouring."

Black triangles, the gypsy Z
They are marched through. The see-saw rattle
Of goods trains in the night.

Whose death is this? I will not see it.
What country's this? A world turned upside down.
I refuse the seeing (357).

The concluding poem, like the fifth and the seventh, is set in a church, specifically the church at Staunton Harold, founded by Sir Robert Shirley, the unnamed hero of the poem. Fanthorpe's fondness for setting poems in churches is rivaled only by Larkin—other notable titles include "St. James's, Charfield" and "Soothing and Awful." In all three of these poems the churches are old, worthy and at least semi-abandoned, functioning perhaps as a metaphor both for England's dilapidated Church of England faith and indeed for England itself.

Shirley built the church during Oliver Cromwell's regime as Lord Protector after yet another bloody civil war temporarily displaced the British monarchy, and was imprisoned repeatedly for his disobedience in the Tower of London, ultimately dying in incarceration. As Sandie says, Fanthorpe is "moved by narratives of those unwavering in their faith in the face of persecution" (115). We have already seen this in the George Fox poem, but there is also her "Tyndale in Darkness," an earlier long poem sequence, which explores the fate of William Tyndale, the first person to translate the Bible into English against fierce opposition from Catholic authorities.

Still, here, Shirley and his project represent something bigger than his individual struggle. The poem stands for the choices, which, our powerlessness notwithstanding, are open to us all. We may not be able to decide whether England should become a theme park or a business centre; we may not be able to prevent war, although we can draw attention to it; but we can always choose to conduct ourselves as Fox and Shirley did, by doing the best things in the worst times and hoping for them in the most calamitous. This is how U.A. Fanthorpe herself always acted and how her tender and generous poems encourage us to act. Reversing the order of the phrases in the epigraph to provide the last lines of "Consequences," Fanthorpe ends her dark indictment of the last six hundred years of English history, and resolves the paradox of the one versus the many, with a single word: hope.

Talking to Rosie Bailey, Fanthorpe's life partner and co-author with her of a tender collection of love poems, From Me to You, presented without attributions, I asked how Fanthorpe had felt about receiving neither the professorship nor the laureateship. Perhaps it is ironic, given the overall title of her greatest poem sequence, that Rosie said this:

Consequence was never what she was after. Power was what she’d rejected, leaving Cheltenham Ladies College. And when she was asked, once, how she would like to be remembered, she replied ‘I don’t particularly care about being remembered. It’s the poetry that’s important. Remember that.’



The moorhen slips into the water
Like a Neanderthal bird. And water
Spreads out in planes all over England.

The heiress sits in the manor garden
With her high plucked forehead and her noble bones
Thinking, will it be King Dick or King Harry
That fathers my dynasty?

The precious things, the crowns and golden chains,
Are dirtied, and the fine steel basinets
Rot in the caked and scummy ditches.
Toilet-paper standards flutter from the banks.

This landscape is not given to forgetting.

The moorhen, crabwise and odd as a man-at-arms,
Jerks in the water. A horse shouts in the night,
And a dog finds something beastly to eat
Under a hawthorn. Swans cruise, freighted with meaning,
Eloquent and ferocious as heraldry.
Their painted scowls outstare the afternoon.

It is the usual battlefield, with a hill, a wood,
A marsh, phlegmatic cows, visitors' car park,
Disused railway, battle trails. And people,
No doubt with other things on their minds.

The canal has invaded this landscape,
But it speaks the same idiom: will it be
King Dick or King Harry? Theme park or business centre?
Choose, England (345).


Under the great gold saltcellar, the gilded moorhen
Lost for five hundred years. Lost,
Mourn the archivists, the keepers, the metal detectors.

But maybe not. Perhaps in its own time,
It will surface. Return and delight, with its pearls
And precious stones, marvelous rich.

But Richard the King is lost for ever,
Under the weight of Leicester City Centre.
Above him trolleys, buggies, perform

Their daily quickstep. Above him workmen
Pitch and toss crates, mothers hurry and go
With cars full of kids and plastic carrier bags.

What mortal bones could resurrect from here?

Richard is lost and his reputation.
Here lies the bunch-back'd toad, the bottled spider,
The hellhound, the abortive rooting hog,
God's enemy and England's bloody scourge .

Fine language is one way of being remembered.
This is the best we have. This is Shakespeare.


Some painters leave shadow out. The Master hunts it
From the source of light to where the last
Faint filigree fingertip falls,
Unthinking as a sundial.
We each inherit our shadow, our ration of darkness,

That shrivels and spreads as light walks here and there.

They don't see us, these sad mediaeval faces,

With their crosses, their rings, their daggers, their painted eyes.

They're on the watch for various kinds

Of early death.

What they see is the weather,

For the weather warred over England,

As the roses slugged it out: fog at Barnet,

Snow at Towton, three suns at Mortimer's Cross

In the open fighting season. Red Gutters

and Bloody Meadows are sprayed over counties.

They killed and killed and killed. Thirty thousand

In a morning. Where did they find the people?

So few around, so many of them butchered.

But some live on as the Master saw them,

Praying or holding a naked, broken sword.


i Enemies come in pairs, like socks. There is no such thing

as a single enemy.

ii When one enemy kills the other it is called Ethnic Cleansing.

Of course, Cleanliness is next to Godliness;

and much easier.

iii An Eye For An Eye. This is a very old wargame called

Retaliation. However, no one has yet worked out what to

do with someone else's Eye.

iv Collateral Damage. This is when Children and Ordinary

People come between enemies and get killed. It's really

their fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

v Surgical Strike. This is when you hit One Special Thing,

like a surgeon cutting out a cancer. 'Surgical' makes it

clear that killing is a good thing.

vi Concentration Camp. Everyone enjoys camping holidays,

so people don't worry about what will happen. When

you've put the people all together in a Camp, it's much

easier to kill them.

vii Liquidate. Another way of getting rid of people. It

sounds like making soup so no one minds.

viii Friendly Fire. This means killing someone on your own

side by mistake. Since it saves them from being killed by

an enemy, it's quite kind, really.

ix Human Shield. This is when you are very polite, and say

'After you' to women and children and people like that.

Then, if your enemy kills them because they're in front

of you and in the way, this gives you something called

The Moral High Ground.

x Enemies never forget the past, because it justifies what they

are doing. They seldom mention the future, since there

might not be any.


In Leicestershire, in Sutton Cheney,
in the church where he prayed when time ran out,
not the man himself, but woolly whispers:
Remember before God Richard, remember
and those who fell
…The whisper of hassocks
(gift of The Richard Society). This patient cross-stitch
is done for love not money, in a homely idiom,
Remember before God all the obliterated,
in Sutton Cheney, in Leicestershire,
all the world over, ever.


No. I not like the place. I detest.
What I find here to admire? I,
Artist and citizen of Firenze?

The stink of dirty beards, broccoli,
Herring, bad teeth. A celery language,
Language for ape, not man.

They not comprehend me, these idiot workmen,
To whom I am coming like saviour
To world-without-end their little dead English king.

I make the Pope his saints. English Henry? No trouble.
He look like Pope when I finish him,
Though nasty piece of work in life, no doubt.

These English oafs! Cut rope, spill colour,
Crack stone. The usual accidents, signor, they smirk.
I comprehend them. And I have reputation.

Who fight for Borgia? Stuff Michelangelo
Nasty nose down filthy throat like biscuit?
True, I am exile here, among the beasts,

But money, money, lotsa money! And I make
Effigy to move the heart. Prodigioso—
Ma doloroso!
These English they so halfwit,
Too greedy to know to praise me good.


'For Ruskin, the hanging fan vaulting in Henry VII's chapel (1502) was a great sham because it disguised the function of the roof supports.' (Victor Sage)

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes

Distract public attention. A building puts things right.
After the massacre, a hospital
(Sports centre, university),
Anything eye-catching; red herring in stone.

Henry the tax-gatherer, Henry
Reviser of records of all the days before yesterday,
Henry who picked off all heirs but his own,

Lies here in his Henry chapel, named in his name,
In an hysteria of greyhounds and roses,
Portcullises and little red Welsh dragons,
Gilt bronze on black, cherubs at every corner,
Under a ceiling exploding with pendants and putti,
Vaulted like the hand of God. A good buy.

Don't miss that meager, brooding head. Holy,
You'd say. Ascetic. The best buy of the lot.
Florence's best, of the best period. Torrigiano.
(Never saw Henry, of course, but knew what was wanted:
The austere look. The best, if you can afford it.)
He charged a mint. Worth every penny, though.

Here's Henry, in a golden web of grace,
For whom the cherubim continually do cry,
And tourists edge past, wanting to get on
To Mary Queen of Scots and Bloody Mary,
But the guide thinks they oughta see this geezer, and somewhere
Out there Richard, under the trolleys, the buggies,
The lamentation of traffic

Remember before God all the obliterated.


(for Brian Vickers)

'I may do that I shall be sorry for.' (Julius Caesar)

Not really a good beginning. I like
An uneasy scurrying, what country's this? who's there?
With luck, they're hooked.
A solo confident voice
Telling us what he'll do before he does it?
Obvious. Obvious.

All Marlowe's doing. Burbage sees himself
As Jew or Faustus, witty, aspiring, perverse,
Poetic justice waiting in Act Five.

But reconciliation's more my line,
And a decent quota of clothcaps talking prose.

Villains are difficult. I haven't the knack.
Circumscribed citizens, without that other dimension
Of unexpectedness, something irregular.
The fans don't fancy moral cloudiness.
They like to know where they are with the criminal classes.

The future nibbles, too. Not just Burbage,
But unborn ghosts of players, Burbages to be,
Wanting this part. Your hunchback, Will,

They twitter. The monster part. The hog! the hog!

Simplifications of the acting trade:
Crook back, frozen arm, unfinished look.
Hard to refuse the future. Not much choice,
Either, with Burbage at me, moaning about the takings.

I hate predictability. Richard's a Jack-in-the-box
With his Here we are again. Jacks are predictable
In their Jackish way. The best bits are
The sudden, sideways turns—
This is All Souls' day, fellow, is it not?

And They about cockshut time, from troop to troop
Went through the army cheering up the soldiers
Something might come of that.

I must do better. No more truck
With scapegoats, Burbage, Marlowe, groundlings,
Actors to come; and you, poor ghost,
Crippled in memory as maimed in life—
Guilt and responsibility; I know about them.


'The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded.' (Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France)

King Dick or King Harry? Theme Park or business centre?
Choose, England.

I choose peace. I never get it.
Takeovers and overtakers, de-militarized zones,
Kings dead in ditches, displaced persons,
Class war, sex war, civil war, war. Tortures,
And other irregularities.
Somewhere, all the time,
A dog is finding something beastly to eat
Under a hawthorn. Does it matter
Who it is. Harry or Dick?
What matters is that people live
The ordinary all-in-a-day's-work life of peace.

They've thought up a disinfected vocabulary
In Rwanda, Lebanon, Bosnia, Ireland, here.
I know the anodyne lexicon: Ethnic Cleansing,
Military Option, Defence Procurement, Friendly Fire--
Language of arms dealers to shareholders
At a safe distance. With a nice feeling
For euphemisms you can get away with murder.

This was the battlefield. Birds, hedges, sheep,
And long November shadows. Hedge laying
On Saturday. Strong clothes, please,
And bring a packed lunch. Remember,
This is a haven for wildlife with a variety
Of wild flowers and different species
Of butterflies. Please do not pick or harm.

Far off, the inveterate voice of battle:

Who's 'im, Bill?
--A stranger.
'Eave 'alf a brick at 'im.

This is all there is.
No Andes, no Outback. There's no more than this,
And the sea chews away at Suffolk.


(at Brinklow)

The seesaw rattle of goods trains in the night
Watery quiet observations of duck
The moorhen's morning gurgle

This century excels at calculation
Thirty-five hundred thousand at Dresden,
Seventy-eight hundred thousand at Hiroshima,
The first hundred thousand, the second hundred thousand,
Eight hundred thousand starved at Stalingrad,
Six million in the camps. And other,
Less famous headcounts. This is an age
In serious debt to statistics.
One death
Is enough to convince. We don't need crowds
To remind us how precious we all of us are.
Marvellous rich. An offer not to be repeated.


(for Nick Large)

He is eleven. God is after him.
But what's it mean? What's he supposed to do?

Nineteen now. He ditches job and home.
Hears God saying Thou must be
A stranger with all.

Takes to walking,
A Baedeker journey, from Drayton-in-the-Clay
(Which is the beginning) to Bosworth, Barnet,
Lutterworth, Leicester, through
The muddy muddled middle of Middle England,
Through a world turned upside down.

Where's ta going, George?
God knows.

Thrashing it out with any who seem
To know an answer. Sad adolescent dropout
Unable to settle. Marriage? Ah no,
I am but a lad
. Not how God sees him.

Treading the water lanes, mouth stuffed with silence,
Eyes re-reading a not-yet-written book,
His shoes in pieces again.

He hears
What was coming, always. Now it comes:
All things were new, and all the creation
Gave another smell unto me than before.
The smell of God.

Now he can run up the length of England,
To Pendle Hill, the bare unfriendly ridge.

Up wi' thee, George, says God. And being up,
He saw the Lancashire sea, and God's people,
Waiting to be found. So shins up further Firbank,
Drinks water, preaches to a thousand. The beginning
Of the beginning.
The high moments
On the high places. Fox runs free.

But Fox also trapped in the prisons of England,
Carlisle, Derby, Lancaster, Launceston, Leicester,
Nottingham, Scarborough, Worcester,
In the dark, the cold, the wet, alone.

This is where the chase leads, to the stopped earths
As well as the fell tops. And, dying,
After so much cross-country work, in London, telling friends
I am glad I was here.
The smell of God
In the muddy, the high, the beastly places.


The seeing has been my life. Handed down
Like silver. No use here, in Farnborough,
Where they know my proper name. But Easter-time
Sees me off on my way to Margate.
A good place to mystify. Westgate sometimes.
Or Broadstairs. All gainful addresses.

Vardo, curtains, crystal ball—
They draw the people. I'd do better in the sun,
In my big chair, holding damp gorgio hands,
Say just as true a future. But they need hocus-pocus,
The lamp, reflections, shadows, me in pearlies,
Queen Gypsy Rose Lee on the posters.

I find the future. They giggle and stare,
Helpless at belief. I muzzle what I know:
How many young women will marry twice,
How many lads die young, in sand or air.
I speak riddles: Many will love you.
Beware of high places, of fire and steel.
They can unravel it if they like.

My own death's different. I've planned it.
Picked my undertaker, Mister Owen,
Who did so well by Levi. The procession,
He'll see to it: six jet horses
(My Levi's pals should find a proper match),
Outrider, coachman, flowers and flowers and flowers,
great wreath in the shape of my special chair,
Romanies walking, three hundred or so,
Twenty thousand, I say, twenty thousand
Some in mourning, some not

Black triangles, the gypsy Z
They are marched through. The see-saw rattle
Of goods trains in the night.

Whose death is this? I will not see it.
What country's this? A world turned upside down.
I refuse the seeing.

The mourners go
From Willow Walk to Crofton Road,
by the park to Farborough Common.
traffic jams. The Deputy Mayor
of Margate, he'll be there to show respect.
A proper Romany funeral. Like an old queen's.
The ash tree, I say, the birch tree.
Such things need to be thought about before.
And the Devouring.
I refuse the seeing.

My death, I know it well:
The April day in nineteen thirty-three; the weather, rainy,
And cold; the missel-thrush singing all day
By the vardo, till I die. I am Urania,
Friend of the skies, the one who knows the future.

I will not hear the gypsies playing in the lager.
I will not hear it when the music stops.


[He] founded this church
Whose singular praise it is,
to have done the best things in ye worst times,
hoped them in the most calamitous.

(over the west door at Staunton Harold church)

Many churches speak,
But this, in its despair, more eloquent than most.

The craftsmen who built it were looked after:
Shepheard artifex, the mason, who remembered
The tricks of the old trade; Smith the joiner;
Sam and Zachary, brothers, who created
Their own cloudy Creation overhead.

I'll see you safe, lads, he must have said,
No paperwork, no names, no packdrill.
I'll pay in cash. Money can't talk.

The church was unlawful, built doggedly
In the old proscribed fashion. But the founder's name
Runs clear as an indictment inside and out.
He didn't trouble to protect himself. Cromwell
Had him six times in the Tower, for weeks,
For months, suddenly for ever. He was twenty-seven,
And he died,

the best things

ye worst times



Works Cited

Auden, Wystan H. Selected Poems. New York: Vintage Books, 2007. Print.

"Fanthorpe Wins Queen's Medal." London Times 3 May 2003. Print.

Fanthorpe, U. A. New & Collected Poems. London: Enitharmon Press, 2010. Print.

Larkin, Philip. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004. Print.

"Late-Flowering Poet." London Times 2 May 2009. Print.

Sandie, Elizabeth. Acts of Resistance: The Poetry of U.A. Fanthorpe. Calstock: Peterloo Poets, 2009. Print.

Vianu, Lidia. "Poetic Arrogance Is As Bad As Any Other Form of Arrogance: Interview with U.A. Fanthorpe." Desperado Literature. Lidia Vianu. 30 April 2011. Web.

Ursula Fanthorpe
Years: 1929-2009
Birthplace: United Kingdom
Language(s): English
Forms: Free verse, blank verse
Subjects: English landscape, culture & history, pacificism, literature
Firsts: First woman to be in contention for the Poet Laureateship & the Oxford Professorship of Poetry
Entry By: Anna M. Evans
32 Poems
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