Whenever I’m trying a way to articulate an idea about why this or that poem excites me, I find myself re-reading the book that’s always there on my Kindle: Clive James’ Poetry Notebook 2006-2014.  Opinionated, sassy, witty, acerbic, fulsome, and above all enthusiastic, informed and, I think, wise. So when it came to trying to say what U A Fanthorpe does that moves and excites me, I went back to James, and to this bit in particular:

‘Everything’ says James

depended on, and still depends on, the quality of the moment……whatever kind of poem it is, it’s the moment that gets you in.

That moment has to be brought alive  and bright in language. It will often be an image, but it could be a startling turn of phrase, or a beautifully placed rhyme. Trying to explain it is like trying to explain a tree or a table. It’s easier to point at some, and say: there’s a table, and so is that. And that. Here’s a ‘moment’ in a poem that persuaded me to buy a collection. How about Robin Robertson’s At Roane Head

He went along the line / relaxing them /one after another / with a small knife

It’s the shock of that last line that nails you. Well, it does me.

So, I’m looking at my Collected U A Fanthorpe, bristling with Post-it index markers. I thought I’d make a point of highlighting lines and verses that had the wow! factor. The moment that gets you in, that arrests you, that memorises itself as you read it. There are more than 500 pages in this lovely book. I’ve read about 120 pages and I’m running out of jaunty pink, and lemon and lime-green sticker. So, as promised, here’s a selection of those moments that ‘get you in’. More tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that. And, like I said. If you want to know which poems they’re from, you can always ask via the comments box. Ready? Here we go. But be warned. WordPress is bloodyminded and repeatedly overrides the line and stanza breaks. I can’t cure it. So I’ll put all the quotations in italics, just in case.

England is the topic today.


“This narrow island charged with echoes / and whispers snares me”

“Stand inside the circle. Put / your hand on stone. Listen / to the past’s long pulse”


of tools and implements at a national Trust property:

“Ditcher, haytrusser and shepherd have all

stepped into the dark, but these slow, brutal things,

these hammers, bits, castrators, pitchforks,

this table on which dynasties of pigs

have bled into the grain, these tired hats


of camping holidays:

“Here we are just

ourselves forced under glass. You have to pay more

for expensive weather. This is a cheap country.”


of what we still have of the Industrial Revolution..canals, mining museums:

                                         ” Humanity goes out

like a light, like the Roman-candle miners,

shafting their pits on a donkey-winch, astraddle

a powderkeg, light in their teeth, a fuse in each pocket..”

and , like and  unlike Larkin, on church visiting


“There is no room for us

here. The past is too solid.

Too finished. The dead


do not want us, except

as admirers. There are no

cracks in their surface


for us to set root in.”

That’s it for today. I’ve just spent longer than usual, slowly typing, wondering at those line-breaks, that sure-footedness, confident and unemphatic. Rooted. More tomorrow.

4 thoughts on “U A Fanthorpe: a treasure trail (1)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.