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This review is taken from PN Review 109, Volume 22 Number 5, May - June 1996.

TRUSTING THE READER U.A. FANTHORPE, Safe as Houses (Peterloo)

Safe as Houses, U.A. Fanthorpe's new collection, is less a foray into new ground, than a consolidation of old concerns. Ironically, the 'houses' into which her poems are constructed are neither safe nor houselike, they are the shells of the conceits and fantasies with which daily lives are built, and by which we neatly categorise ourselves. This collection is darker than her previous work. The ghosts of the past live on in 'the shadow people/who now and then lean softly from the dark/and stroke on chin or thumb the new generation'. A harmonious image at first sight, but 'mothers fear them and their gifts.' Their gifts are the knowledge that the past is built on myth and fallacy, thus undermining the present.

Fanthorpe's best writing comes when she writes in the third person. Here the evocation of place is extraordinary, rooted in concrete, unhyperbolic language. The past is, ironically, brought to life, as in 'DNA', where the heroics of King Arthur and his knights are subtly compared to 'the high-rise people and the dispossessed/the telly idols' reminding of the past, but also creating an enormous pain in the realisation that the beauty and heroism that seemed to pervade those times is now reduced to flashes 'Sometimes in a foal's crest, you can see/Some long-extinguished breeding.' The realisation of the past, however, is essential for growth within the present. The past betrays us as 'their houses betray them' but this must be realised for the present to be ...


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