U.A. Fanthorpe was born in Kent in 1929. After boarding school in Surrey, she read English at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, before training as a teacher. She taught at Cheltenham Ladies' College for sixteen years and was Head of English for eight before deciding to do something radically different. It was while working as a receptionist at a neurological hospital in 1974 that she started writing poetry. Her first volume, Side Effects, was published by Peterloo Poets in 1978.
In 1980 she won third prize in the massive Observer / Arvon / South Bank Show poetry competition judged by Charles Causley, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin. She was awarded one of the two £1,000 Travelling Scholarships for 1983 by The Society of Authors. After various residencies (Lancaster 1983-85, Northern Arts Fellow, 1987) she left the hospital in 1989 to pursue her poetry full-time.
In 1994 U.A. Fanthorpe was the first woman in 315 years to be nominated for the post of Professor of Poetry at Oxford. On the death of Ted Hughes, The Guardian championed her for the Poet Laureateship that was eventually awarded to Andrew Motion. In 2001 she was awarded the CBE for services to literature and awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2003, only the fifth woman in 70 years to get it. In May 2004 she was Sue Lawley’s guest on Desert Island Discs.
U.A. Fanthorpe’s volume Safe as Houses (1995) is featured on the ‘A’ level syllabus. She lives in Wotton-Under-Edge, in an Elizabethan cottage, with her partner Rosie Bailey who is the other voice in audio cassette recordings by U.A. Fanthorpe: Awkward Subject (Peterloo, 1995) and Double Act (Penguin, 1997).
Prizes & Awards
1986 - Travel Scholarship (Society of Authors)
1994 - Arts Council Writers' Award
1995 - Cholmondeley Award
1996 - Forward Poetry Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year) (shortlist) Safe as Houses
2001 - CBE
2003 - Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry
U.A. Fanthorpe & Peterloo
Peterloo Poets has published twelve volumes of poetry by U.A. Fanthorpe, starting with Side Effects in 1978. Her most recently published Peterloo volume is From me to you: Love Poems, with R.V. Bailey (2007). A Selected Poems - chosen from her first three long out-of-print volumes - appeared in 1986 in Peterloo hardback and King Penguin paperback, and is itself out-of-print. Collected Poems 1978-2003 makes available once again the best poems from U.A. Fanthorpe’s first three volumes, includes most of the poems from her subsequent five volumes, and most of the poems from the Christmas Poems anthology co-published by Enitharmon and Peterloo in 2002. There are also several Fanthorpe poems that appeared in OUP’s volume for children, The Crystal Zoo (1985) and one riddle from The New Exeter Book of Riddles (1999).
U.A. Fanthorpe: Foreword, Collected Poems 1978-2003
“On 18th April 1974, I started writing poems. Previously, like most bookish children, I’d viewed poetry as the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings and had let rip whenever I experienced beauty, love, anger, humiliation etc. For sixteen years after that I’d been a teacher, dedicated to the cause of the un-split infinitive and the judicious use of the semi-colon. Then, at the beginning of that particular April, I found myself working as a hospital receptionist in Bristol and fiercely devoted to the cause of the out-patients, who were my business, and against the doctors, who were of course trained to understand and invariably had the last word, usually a medical cliché. At once I’d found myself the subject that I’d been looking for all my life: the strangeness of other people, particularly neurological patients, and how it felt to be them, and to use their words. Inevitably I had to break the rules and stop thinking in terms of correct spelling and punctuation. That was how the first book, Side Effects, came about. Subsequent collections derived their various origins from the death of my mother, my being a writer-in-residence in Lancaster, the distress of returning to the Bristol job I hoped I’d escaped from, responding to the challenge of various commissions, what happens to children after the war is over, obsession with civil war in the Balkans and the past that is still the present. Behind all of them lie preoccupations with the way people speak, birds, the landscape, cats, England, power, powerlessness and words, words, words. I would like to think there is a consistency about the poems, as well as the changes inevitable in widening experience. But that’s for you, dear reader, to say.
I’ve left out poems that have somehow crept into collections and embarrassed me by their presence, and tried to include here poems that may be worth a second look. A few others, on the contrary, have crept in because they were published by other houses: The Crystal Zoo (for children) edited by Michael Harrison, was published by OUP in 1985; The New Exeter Book of Riddles, edited by Kevin Crossley-Holland and Lawrence Sail, was published in 1999. Some Christmas poems, written over the years for friends, are placed here in the collections where they first appeared. Those which were published for the first time in Christmas Poems (illustrated by Nick Wadley, published jointly by Peterloo and Enitharmon in 2002) are printed under the heading Christmas Poems.
One thing I regret losing in a Collected - the beautiful inventive covers that Harry Chambers and his wife Lynn picked for each individual book.”