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This review is taken from PN Review 65, Volume 15 Number 3, January - February 1989.

UNAUTHORIZED VERSIONS U.A. Fanthorpe, A Watching Brief (Peterloo Poets) £4.50 pb.
Elma Mitchell, People Etcetera (Peterloo Poets) £4.50 pb.

In their new collections U.A. Fanthorpe and Elma Mitchell powerfully demonstrate how poetry can be used to reassess, in new and often challenging ways, accepted polarities and hierarchies. In 'Downstairs at the Orangerie', for example, Fanthorpe puts a meditation on the otherness of art into the mouth of an officious gallery attendant: 'the still / And permanent things are eloquent / In their own way. I'm deaf to it, / But that is not important. I have my place.' In 'Three Women Wordsworths' she connects artistic endeavour with female/male dichotomies: Wordsworth's ordered public voice ('The National Trust can use a poem like this') is contrasted with his sister's untrammelled spontaneity. Quotations from Dorothy Wordsworth's Journal, inserted at intervals into the general framework of the piece, propose a feminist sub-text. The unspoken suggestion is that Dorothy Wordsworth would have been her brother's poetic equal if she had been freed from domestic responsibility. 'Resignation Letter' gives a modern gloss on gender-dominated roles, the speaker being a female hospital receptionist. Again, Fanthorpe's theme, the low status accorded to 'women's work' in a patriarchal society, is made more telling and resonant through an adherence to poetic values: she uses the unrhymed, irregular couplets to underline the tensions and disparities of women's and men's experience: 'I know how to speak to ambulance men: / Flattery, gratitude, abject femininity. Never cap their jokes'. 'Terminal Feelings' takes Fanthorpe's debate a stage further: the first-time air-traveller, a latter-day Jane Eyre, sees the air-hostesses initially as 'Miss Temples ...


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