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This review is taken from PN Review 167, Volume 32 Number 3, January - February 2006.

EARTHED U. A. FANTHORPE, Collected Poems 1978-2003 (Peterloo Poets) £15.00 pb/£25.00 hb

Some of the most remarkable poetry of recent years has come from writers who begin to publish in middle age. They arrive free from perpetual self-absorption and intermittent bravura. Their work is 'earthed ' (one of Fanthorpe's fine early titles) by experience and compassion. It is also technically poised, as the list of patients she prepares, as a hospital receptionist, 'flawlessly typed and spaced'.

U.A. Fanthorpe's hospital poems shock, move, and enlighten. Most of us avoid suffering, and jobs close to the bottom of the hierarchy, where brain-damaged patients invade the office. Fanthorpe's early poems tersely trap the violence of a disturbed girl: 'her blows caress'; catch, in a wisp of speech, the mental detachment of a woman surveying her own photograph: 'A bright girl she was'. They flower into vision in 'After Visiting Hours', the anxious relatives changed into calling birds, the hospital, too, transformed:

All's well, all's quiet as the great
Ark noses her way into night [...]
And behind, the gulls crying.

It is rare to find such generous and truthful poems about work, although it devours so much of our lives. The scope of this book allows Fanthorpe to resume her post, reluctantly - 'I am older and more frightened' - then to relish jokes about retired colleagues, and their lost casenotes: 'His MG boot? His mistress' bed? We enjoyed guessing.' ('Superannuated Psychiatrist')

Humour, even in hospital, lightens Fanthorpe's solid ground. Her set ...


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