Wednesday, 24 June 2009

A Wednesday poem by UA

U A Fanthorpe (1929 - 2009) spent her earliest years in Kent. Detesting her first name Ursula, she insisted on, and was universally referred to as 'UA'.

She attended St Anne's College Oxford afterwards becoming a teacher and ultimately Head of English at Cheltenham Ladies' College. However, she only began writing when she turned her back on her teaching career to become a receptionist at a psychiatric hospital where her observation of the "strange specialness" of the patients provided the inspiration for her first book, 'Side Effects'.

Since that relatively late start, she was prolific, producing 9 full-length collections, including the Forward Prize-nominated 'Safe as Houses' and the Poetry Book Society Recommendation, 'Consequences'. She was awarded a CBE in 2001 and the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2003.

Even at her darkest Fanthorpe's diction remains admirably understated and proverbial and for me is her main attraction. She regarded a poem "as a conversation between the poet and the reader" and for me, nowhere is this better exhibited than in this poem

UA Fanthorpe

There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it

Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;

Which answers letters; which knows the way
The money goes; which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds

The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.


  1. Very nice. Makes me sort of long for an Atlas of my own.

    Btw, I love the name Ursula. Sounds very sultry to me.

  2. My ggg grandmother was named Ursula. Her portrait hangs in WM. She was a Civil War widow from Virginia. I agree, it is a rather sultry name, isn't it?

    WONderful poem. I must look for more UA!

  3. Well, if true love is knowing where the WD40 is then I have never had it. At least living alone I put it where it belongs

    Good poem however

  4. good poem. I also long for an Atlas of my own

  5. Michael I love that poem. I did read the obituary when Fanthorpe died but have not read any of her poetry. It is so true - hopefully for a relationship to work long term - every marriage needs an Atlas (but not two, that would be pretty disastrous).

  6. Hi Michael,

    Knowing where the WD40 is will help everything go more smoothly!