Woops. Missed a day. My bad (as my granddaughter has been heard to say). Still, a pleasure deferred, and all that. Thank you for being patiently forbearing. I said that this post’s extracts would be a bit edgier, and they will be. Mind you…best laid plans. The electrician has just emerged from the loft space looking, if not exactly grave, sceptical. That pursed lip, sucking in air look; the one that says: have you been doing this wiring yourself. That one. UAF has a consoling line or two. You all know this bit, but probably forget the title, which should give you pause: Atlas.

“There is a kind of love called maintenance

which stores the WD40, and knows when to use it.”

(I have to say that speaks to me as directly and personally as anything I’ve ever read. Still, I promised you edgy and that’s what you’ll get. The unflinching side of UAF, the one who won’t have inconvenient truths tucked away or a llowed to be forgotten.)

So, at the harvest festival:


“Here in the tent, in the sepia hush,

Persephone’s fruits utter where they have been,

where we are going.”


on one finding what consolation there may be in reading Cowper while dying of cancer:


Was and will are both uneasy ground;

  now is the safest tense


We choke the future back down our throats like

incipient vomit..”


And here’s another National Trust property, (this time, Mount Grace Priory…she’s drawn to churches), where history’s safely gathered in, with the postcards and shortbread tins and calendars and pot pourri


…………………”ten monks from the London house

chained hand and foot to Newgate posts

and left to rot. (Despatched by the hand of God,

said a careful cleric). Daily, a woman bribed her way in

with a bucket of meat, and fed them like fledglings;

(which having done, she afterwards took from them

their natural filth). In the end the gaoler panicked,

in the end (of course0 they died.”


on the consolations of detective stories between the wars:


” No doubt they guessed what was coming……..

………………………………………….the colossal one

on the edge of being true, Auschwitz, the Burma Road,

Hiroshima, all that followed”


” O rare little world,

imagined to gentle the English through war,

and Depression, and war, and peace, and anything else…”


UAF returns again and again to the anonymous battlefields of England, the unremarkable arable and pasture lands of Bosworth, Towton and the rest; insists that what happened, happened.


“The 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 ahawthorn. Swans cruise, freighted with meaning,

eloquent and ferocious as heraldry.

Their painted scowls outstare the afternoon.


It is the usual battlefield………………”


In another unnerving poem, the sound of a train across a neutral landscape in the night, its ‘seesaw rattle’, invokes the ghosts of the multitudinous war dead.


“Thirty-five thousand at Dresden,

seventy-eight 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.”


We think we know our poets, the ones like Ursula Fanthorpe. But maybe not this Ursula Fanthorpe, the one not in the anthologies. Or not often and not obviously.

With a bit of luck, providing I don’t run out of time….I’ve a lot on at the moment….I’ll finish tomorrow with my absolute favourite bits. And possibly a bit more from Tyndale.

Fingers crossed.








2 thoughts on “U.A.Fanthorpe: a treasure trail [3]

  1. Really enjoying these blogs, John, on one of my favourite poets. Can I put in a plea for something from “The Passing of Alfred”, which I use every year in a lecture to psychology students about death, dying and bereavement. Psychology students on the whole are not great readers of poetry, it seems, but there’s always a few who seem to genuinely get what she’s saying about death as both a social event and a personal experience.


    1. I shall look it up, forthwith, Nigel. The only change I’d have made to the Collected poems that I’ve got would have been to provide indexes of firstline and of titles. xxxxxx


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