From the study of the ‘tracks’ anthology, I will be reviewing six poems by U A Fanthorpe. Fanthorpe is a modern poet. She does not use the traditional approach when writing her poems. Most of them do not rhyme, nor are they arranged in any particular way. They are mainly free form, and some of them are written in a colloquial manner. As you might expect with poems, all her poems are personal to her. They are memories or recollections from her past. She has captured them in text, and have given them the ‘Fanthorpe treatment’ to make them unusual, gimmicky, and in some cases, humorous.

‘Half Past Two’ is a typical example of the quirky style of Fanthorpe’s poems. This poem seems like a recollection of an event that happened during Fanthorpe’s teaching career. She had given a small boy, around 6 years of age, an after school detention until half past two, hence the title. However she forgot all about this detention, and had let the boy go at a later time, than what was arranged. This problem occurred because the little could not yet tell time, therefore did not know when to leave. The gimmick ‘kicks in’ when the boy describes the phrases of time that he was familiar with: “Gettinguptime, timeyouwereofftime, timetogohometime, Tvtime, timeforemykisstime etc”. He never understood the language of time. He was familiar with the clock face though. He compared the clock to a person with ” the little eyes and two long legs for walking”.

When he enters his detention, he drifts off into his own world:

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“So he waited, beyond onceupona

Out of reach of all timefors

And he’d escape forever”

As soon as the teacher realises that she had offered this boy detention, she tells him to run along and get home. The teacher does not forget this event, probably because it’s quite careless of her to forget something as important as this, especially to a child who is only around 6 years old, quite why this may be a memorable experience for her.

‘Dear Mr Lee’ is a letter written by Fanthorpe to her favourite author, Mr Lee. The gimmick in this poem is the fact that it is in the form of a fan letter. She confesses her academic failure to Mr Lee and apologises for it. She blames this mainly due to Shakespeare:

” I think he’s a national disaster, with all those jokes

that Mr Smart has to explain why they’re jokes

and even no one thinks they’re funny…”

She then states other reasons for failing the English exam. For one, she disliked the poems she had to study from her anthology, especially those by, ‘T. Hughes and P. Larkin’. She made them out to be,

“pretty gloomy” and, “not exactly a laugh a minute”. She went on to say how she detested writing English essays such as, ” social welfare in the rural community and the seasons as perceived by an adolescent”. However, despite her unsuccessful school year, she thanks Mr Lee for writing the books he did, because they were the sort that she loves reading. She claims that his books made up for the ones that she disliked reading in school. We can tell she was really fond of his books, because she states that ‘they have lived with her’:

“…stained with Coke and Kitkat

and when I have a cold, and I often

take you to bed with me to cheer me up…”

This shows how much this book meant to her, it was a part of her life. This poem tells me a lot about Fanthorpe as a teenager. Ironically, she seemed to dislike English, and had failed her exams, but she has become a successful, professional writer. This may also be another memorable, and funny experience for her, as she would be able to look back at her teenage years, and laugh at how she disliked English, and what she had achieved since then.

‘You Will Be Hearing From Us Shortly’ sounds like something said after an interview. This is exactly the case. This poem is structured around an interview. This is the gimmick. There is only one voice to this interview, which is from the person conducting it. This person has a very pessimistic and cynical tone. The person speaking seems to be very superior, which in return makes the interviewee feel as if he/she is looked down upon. This tone has to be reached in order for the poem to sound right. In appearance, the tone does not look so sharp, but this poem would have to be spoken in this manner, to achieve its full affect. The interview starts with a question:

“You feel adequate to the demands of this position?”

Without the question mark, this sentence would appear to be a statement, but the tone of voice used when this is read should clarify the difference. There seems to be a lot of criticism and slight insults inflicted upon the interviewee:

“…might they

Perhaps, find your appearance


This is very insulting, the interviewer is making out that the candidate is ‘off putting’. It can be imagined that he or she is probably wearing the conventional suit, shirt, tie, dress etc, which should make a good impression. Therefore the person’s facial appearance, or actions may be the fault. The person may look unattractive on the whole, or the interviewer may just be racist.

“…We are conscious ourselves

Of the need for a candidate with precisely

The right degree of immaturity.”

This is also another very insulting comment. Some people are very sensitive about their age, but the interviewer has subtly insulted this. This shows discrimination for ageism. Logically, an older person may be better as they may be more qualified and experienced for the job.

This goes on throughout the rest of the poem, where the interviewer makes insults about the martial status of the candidate. The interview conductor is also discriminating against people with children; he/she may think that this factor would interfere with the candidate’s professional life.

This poem ends with a rather disturbing question, ” And you were born-?” for which the interviewer replies, ” Yes. Pity”. It seems that the interviewer is disappointed that the applicant was born!

The candidate is made to feel very insecure and nervous by the context and situation. Fanthorpe has not shown any replies from the candidate; instead, all we get are short responds from the replies of the question asked.

Failing an interview may have a dramatic effect on the mind. This links in with the ‘cross roads’ theme where north is going forward in life, south is when life holds you back and west and south are different parts in life. This may be how Fanthorpe was interviewed when she was applying for her teaching career, or any other career for that matter. Once again, the feeling of anxiety and uneasiness when going for an interview is not something that is easily forgotten. Which may have caused her to write this.

‘Not My Best Side’ was the most entertaining poem I have ever read. As Fanthorpe was wandering through the National Gallery in London, she came across this odd looking painting by Uccello of St George and the dragon. This was her inspiration for this piece of writing. I, too, found the painting quite peculiar. The painting consisted of a “damsel in distress” which was kept prisoner by a two legged dragon, or rather the dragon was kept prisoner by her, which is what it looks likes. However the hero that has come to rescue her looks like a little boy that is half asleep, on a white stallion, that has a rather large hump on his back. Fanthorpe has cleverly found voices “for the characters who are usually seen as the good, the bad, and the helpless”

This poem is typical of Fanthorpe’s quirky style of writing. The poem contains interviews of the three characters. They give their opinions as to what they think of their roll in the picture. This is the gimmick to the poem. The first one up is the dragon. The tone of voice used when these interviews are read out is really important. If the tone is not right, then the gimmick would not have an impact.

The dragon is made to sound very ‘snobby’, ‘sniffy’, almost camp kind. He is moaning about his appearance in the picture, saying that the artist has not captured his “best side”, hence the title. He is upset, and insulted about that fact that a little boy defeats him, and he is also upset about the victim’s appearance, “so unattractive as to be inedible”. He thinks that they are not taking him seriously, as he would have liked to have put up a battle to show off his strength but the fight was not bloody enough.

The second character to take the interview was the ‘damsel in distress’. Funnily enough, she is quite happy to be kept victim by this big dragon that was “so nicely physical, with claws and lovely green skin, and that sexy tail”. However when the boy turned up, she did not fancy him much. She seemed like a girl who admired the tough, rugged and macho look of a man, however, the little teenage boy was quite the opposite, where as with the dragon, “well you could see all his equipment at a glance”. The tone of this girl is very informal, and girly, almost like a ‘bimbo’. She seems to the type that judges people on their appearance and physical strength; a very narrow-minded girl, that only thinks of her self.

The last person interviewed is he boy. He is made out to be quite emotionless, cold, and clinical, like a ‘yuppie’. He takes his roles as being the rescuer quite seriously. He claims he has “diplomas in Dragon Management and Virgin Reclamation”. He seems very proud of this qualification. To match this he says he has the latest equipment to do the job, which he describes in technical jargon, as though he is an expert at the art. He makes out his horse to be a high-tech car, “with automatic transmission and built-in obsolescence. He carries on like this; bragging about his armour. The boy has been made out to have a very formal, and archaic tone.

This poem would probably best describe the quirky, and eccentric style of her writing. The major gimmick to the poem is that fact that she has given ancient and medieval stereotypes, modern personalities. She has observed the painting from a different angle for each of the characters, and has exaggerated on the weird, and funny parts of the picture. The tones used when reading this poem would have to sound right in order to enjoy it.

I will be analysing the following poems in greater detail…

‘Reports’ is a poem structured around the general clich�s used when writing school reports for a child’s academic achievement. In other words, it is like a manual for writing school reports that tells you the ‘do’s and don’ts’. This could very well be Fanthorpe’s experience of writing reports, which has been reflected on this passage. She has written these clich�s in italics, as this is the gimmick to the poem.

The poem commences with the most common clich� of all, “has made a sound beginning”, which “strikes the right note”, but is “dull”. I normally find this written in the beginning of my report too. Fanthorpe explains that this should be used to start the report, as it would not give the parents “anything to take hold of” because this would cause more hassle, and more to the point, more work for the teachers. “Pronouns are dangerous”, as reports normally do not tend to use them. They normally refer to things, of people with the their proper name.

Writing ‘bad’ comments for misbehaved children is quite risky; as they may have a history of this due to a genuine reason, for e.g. a person that cannot stop speaking, may have a speaking disorder. “The good have no history”, this shows that whatever is written for “good” children, it would not affect reasons from the past, because it would only be full of praise, which would not contradict the past, therefore it would seem as though they have no history, whereas with ‘bad’ children, whatever criticism or remark is given, there may be a genuine reason from the past, therefore to these children, “satisfactory” would be a suitable replacement. Basically, Fanthorpe is saying that a ‘safe’ way to describe a misbehaved child is by classing their achievement and behaviour as satisfactory. This is not arguable, as it is rather vague. The word does not mean much, yet, should satisfy the parents.

“Fair” and “good” are the next lot of clich�s mentioned. Theses are ‘multi-purpose’ words that once again, do not mean much. It is a polite way of disguising a bad comment that would prevent any hassle. Parents would be satisfied with this comment, as it does not mean anything bad. “Feel free to deploy them”, Fanthorpe is saying that these are the sorts of comments that should be used and it does not matter how many times you use them as they cannot come to harm.

“Be on your guard”, in other words, do not go saying anything controversial such as, “unmanageable oaf.” This may upset parents to hear a teacher insulting their child like that. To prevent this, Fanthorpe advised using euphemism, which is when a mid-term is substituted for a strong one, such as, “finds the subject difficult.” This diplomatic approach is not entirely honest, but is a subtle way of letting the parents down, thus “acquitting you”. In other words, these sort of remarks would get you off the hook, i.e. converting “oaf into idiot, usher into master” – ‘stroppy’ kid into disabled.

“Parent, child, head” she is comparing a school report to a piece of religious and biblical text. This metaphor is quite effective because, when reading this ‘manual’ there are many precautions and actions that the teachers take to ensure that they do not cause a ‘negative vibe’ between the them and the parents.

As a result of this, it would make their jobs easier as they would not receive any complaints from angry parents. It almost seems as though teachers regard parents as Gods, because they would go to any lengths to ensure that parents, students, and themselves are kept happy, the “unholy trinity”. “Set them no riddles, just echo the common room clich�”, since Fanthorpe is comparing parents to Gods, she wants to make it that every bit easy for them to read and understand the reports, therefore, she is advising teachers to use as many clich�s as possible, as they are very easily understood, and are also satisfying to the reader.

I think that there are two meanings to this poem, the first one is the obvious one, which I have just explained, but the other is a pessimistic view of life. If all the clich�s are put together, they sort of describe a dull tendency to life. This may not seem apparent during the first five paragraphs, but it can be seen from the last two.

As mentioned before, the first clich� mentioned, is, “has made a sound beginning”. This is the resemblance of birth; this means that life is nearly always off to a good start, as birth is normally given successfully to most parents. This clich� then turns to, “fair”, and ” quite good” which translates to, a reasonable childhood, as most childhoods are. This then leads to “unmanageable oaf” which reflects the trauma of going through puberty, and turning into an adult. The next stage is represented by, “must make more effort” this sums up all the stress when it comes to bringing up a family, and all the problems that follow it.

“Born at a sound beginning

We move from satisfactory

To fair, then find

The subject difficult,

Learning at last we

Could have done better”

This sums up what I have just said. As we get older, we tend to slow down, finding life (the subject) difficult. Finally, when we are at the critical stage of our life, when we tend to look back and say, I “could have done better”.

The poem ends with this:

“Stone only, final instructor,

Modulates from the indicative

With rest in peace”

This punch line is quite alarming. It is a joke that leaves behind a worrying thought. This quote basically means that this is the your final report; engraved onto your tombstone, which is ended with the most common clich� of them all, “rest in peace”

This metaphor of life has a background of schools. Fanthorpe may have related her professional life with her personal one. This may be her pessimistic view of life.

This poem also has a similar crossroads theme to that from ‘You Will Be Hearing From Us Shortly’ where each direction represents different stages of life.

‘Old Man, Old Man’ is a poem dedicated to Fanthorpe’s father. It is full of nostalgic memories during the time when her father was alive. I found this poem to be rather odd. Normally when writing about your dead father, you would write about happy memories and events to remember him by, however, Fanthorpe has written mainly on her father’s helplessness as he approached his old age. She pointed out numerous times, how her father was able to do everything for himself, but soon lost his ability to do so. She felt almost pleased due to this.

Fanthorpe has made her father out to be quite a handy man. He was a practical man “who did-it-himself.” When it came to household repairs etc. He was a keen gardener too:

“Lord once of shed, garage and garden

Each with its proper compliment of tackle.”

As you would expect, he was a ” connoisseur of nuts and bolts”. However, he was, “not good with daughters”. This shows that he was quite macho when it came to doing the ‘manly’ chores. But when it came to raising daughters, he failed.

Fanthorpe has displayed an array of signs of ageism. When her father got older, he was not able to do things he wanted to do:

“Now his hands shamble among clues

He left for himself when he saw better,

And small things distress: I’ve lost the hammer”

This shows how his hands were unsteady, moving awkwardly without control, his eyesight had faded and he had constant distress when he had lost something, which were all signs of ageism.

He was also not able to complete domestic chores properly such as washing up when, “missing crusted streaks of food on plates”. His memory was also weakening; an example of this was when he told jokes that he had already told before.

We get to know quite a lot about Fanthorpe’s personal life from this poem:

“Now television has no power to arouse

Your surliness; your wife would replace on the walls

Those pictures of disinherited children”

This is rather vague, but it can be made out that Fanthorpe is remembering the time her father remarried, hence addressing her step mum, as ” your wife”. She probably did not regard her to be a mother too, because she got rid of the pictures of her childhood. It seemed to Fanthorpe that through the eyes of her father, she and the rest of her family (if she had any) went with her mother’s death.

It appears as though her father was ‘hard hearted’, “So obdurate in your contracted world”. This conveys that he was not easily moved by feelings. He was unemotional and inconsiderate to his former family, by letting her new wife erase the only memories he had of them. The quote portrays his limitations in life. It seems like he was living in a smaller world to the rest of us, where he could not get around, or do the things he wanted

to do.

“When I left, you tried not to cry. I love

Your helplessness, you who hate being helpless.”

Fanthorpe is actually quite pleased that here father has limitations as to what he can and cannot do.

This is quite an emotional poem. It was probably quite painful to write, as it may have brought back some bad memories of her earlier life. It is a great recollection of her father, as it portrayed his habits and his stubborn personality. No one could blame Fanthorpe for being angry with her father.

She may have written this poem to make her self feel better, as she had written quite a fair bit about how ageism had made him suffer, much to her delight.

Due to the seriousness of the poem, Fanthorpe has made it the least gimmicky. It does not have a gadgetry quality to it. I think that Fanthorpe has written this poem as a remembrance of her father, but also as an aid of happiness. Whenever she remembers her painful experiences of being swiped from her father’s mind, she could refer to this poem and laugh at his helplessness, and loss of faculties when dealing with life.

Once again, Fanthorpe has used italics. Before, she had used them to emphasise the gimmicky parts of her poems. However, she has used it quite for a completely different and more serious matter here:

“…I can see you…

You said to me, but only as a cloud.”

Fanthorpe is saying that her father can only see her as a cloud, meaning that he would always be looking up to her. In other words, Fanthorpe is implying that her father has gone to hell for all the pain that he has inflicted on his family. She seems truly upset that her father had shut her out of her life. This can be imagined. She is not willing to forgive him.

“Let me find your hammer” but I am only your daughter. Do you really think I could take on such a challenge, I believe a son would be a much more able substitute.

“Let me walk you to Drury Lane.” But then again, I can’t possibly do that for I am only a girl. Do you really think I could manage to walk you through those big busy streets of London? Only if you had a son, he would be able to do all these things for you, and as for me, well, “I am only a cloud.”

She uses slight sarcasm, “I am only a cloud” this shows that she has ended up, being looked up upon. The fact that her father is in hell may be a reassuring thought to her. At least he did not get away with what he did. A bit like revenge!

This fits into the ‘crossroads’ theme, as this is like the direction south, where life holds you back. Thinking of what had happened to her would only put her down. To overcome this, she has written this poem, so that she can ‘accelerate’ in life, and only move forward, as it would show the things about her father that made her happy.

From the analysis, I get to learn quite a lot about U A Fanthorpe. She seems like a person who enjoys being different and unusual from other poets. I never have taken a shine to poems, but Fanthorpe has shown, in an entertaining way, that poems do not have to be written in the normal and traditional manner. There does not have to be any rhyme, nor do the words have to arranged in any particular way to be classed as a poem. All of Fanthorpe’s poems in the anthology are free form.

‘Half Past Two’, and ‘Old Man, Old Man’ may have been organised into verses of three, but even the sentence length varies. Making the poems free form, are easier to understand, if the words were arranged into verses, and lines, then the general theme of the poem would have to be altered so the words fit into this organisation. Some things may have to be left out, and the words may have to change in size etc, to enable them to be arranged in verses. However making them free form would make it easy to write, and easy to understand.

The usual literary techniques have been used very little; there are few or no alliterations, onomatopoeias, metaphors and similes. Since Fanthorpe is a modern poet, she has used other techniques like the tone of voice. She has written these poems in a way, which would make it easy to distinguish what tone should be used. She has used an eccentric and idiosyncratic style, to add humour and make the poems unique to her. She has also put some words into italics, to emphasise its gimmicky nature, or in the case of ‘Old Man, Old Man’ the seriousness of her feelings.

Using gimmicks, and humour as one of her styles have really made her poems enjoyable to read, and they were probably enjoyable for her to write. U A Fanthorpe seems like a new poet that has thrown away the poem manual, and went ahead to express her self in the way that she enjoys the most. ‘Old Man, Old Man’ may not fully reflect this because it was a serious poem based on a painful experience. But there is still a small amount of gimmicky element to it, in particular, the way she gladly describes how ageism had affected his quality of life.

My favourite poem would have to be ‘Not My Best Side’. I found this poem to be the most amusing so far. The way Fanthorpe turned an odd looking painting into an entertaining piece of text was incredible. It shows that poems do not necessarily have to be personal to you; they can also be thoughts or opinions. Most people would probably look at that painting and take a dim view to it, but Fanthorpe has used this as an inspiration to make it funny. If this was given to someone to describe, they would probably say the same things to what were mentioned in the poem, but Fanthorpe has captured this description, altered it into a different style as though the characters in the picture were saying them, and wrote an imaginative, and funny poem from it.

Fanthorpe has written poems on unusual and odd things, anything that would enable her to practice her individual, and quirky treatment on. They are normally exaggerated events that have taken place during her life.

To someone who is not into poems, like myself, I would definitely recommend poems by Fanthorpe, as they would show that poems do not have to be written in the way that we are all familiar with.


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