U.A. Fanthorpe (b.1929) is one of Britain’s best loved poets. Fanthorpe first began writing poetry when working as a receptionist in a neuro-psychiatric unit of a Bristol hospital. She felt a duty to witness lives not normally visible. Her writing became an act of resistance to the way ‘hospitalspeak’ reduced these people to statistics. Her work goes on to resist and disrupt conventional ways of looking and thinking. It reflects her compassionate interest in people, both ordinary and extraordinary. Her greatest concern is for those whose lives are wasted in wars. As a Quaker she speaks out for peace. Fanthorpe’s poetry resists any reductive labels. It addresses a wide constituency of readers, speaking in an accessible way about the human condition.
Since her first volume, Side Effects, (1978) Fanthorpe has received wide critical acclaim. The title sequence of her millennium volume Consequences was seen by Kathleen Jamie as ‘nothing short of a State of the Nation address’. She became a Fellow of the Royal Literary Society (1988), has been studied at ‘A’ level, was honoured with a CBE in 2001 and awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2003.
Elizabeth Sandie suggests that despite these Establishment honours Fanthorpe has never acquired an establishment voice. She defines Fanthorpe’s stance as that of a temperamental outsider who speaks for the voiceless. Drawing on autobiographical pieces, lectures and previously unpublished essays, Sandie investigates the origins of this subversive element, gives perceptive readings of key poems, and identifies themes and patterns which permeate the work in her Collected Poems 1978-2003 (Peterloo Poets 2005).
Acts of Resistance looks at the social and literary contexts of Fanthorpe’s poems. Though Fanthorpe’s concerns are often with marginal lands and marginal people, Sandie argues that this original voice, which was significant in the rise of women’s poetry in the last quarter of the twentieth century, makes a distinctive contribution to the mainstream of an English poetic tradition.
Elizabeth Sandie lives in York and has recently retired from York St John University where she was a Senior Lecturer in Literature Studies. As a CETL Fellow of YSJ she ran projects which brought writers onto campus and to York’s City Screen cinema in the riverlines series (2001-2008) to enhance modules in contemporary literature and creative writing.