The poet U.A. Fanthorpe writes a lot of very unconventional, light-hearted poetry. In this essay, I am going to study what techniques she uses and what effects she tries to achieve.
From her considerable and varied works I have chosen the following four poems:-
Telling the tale of a young schoolboy who is temporarily excluded from the normal school day, with surprising consequences
Dear Mr. Lee
A young reader pouring out troubles to their favorite Author.
You Will Be Hearing From Us Shortly
One side of an extraordinary interview
Not My Best Side
A personal view of proceedings in Uccello’s painting of St. George’s slaying the Dragon as seen from the three parties involved.
Although very different in their content and subject matter, all four poems use common techniques. Each technique is used to great effect.
To create a Persona is to use words to convey a personality, feelings and reactions to another character or fictuous character situation.
The examples where U. A. Fanthorpe uses this technique to good effect are
You Will Be Hearing From Us Shortly.
Without any descriptive introduction the reader easily gets the impression of an interviewer who is probably female, very confident, unfeeling and has taken an instant dislike to the applicant. The interview starts nastily
“You feel adequate to the demands of this position?” and ends with the total degradation of the candidate
We see. The usual dubious
Desire to perpetuate what had better
Not have happened at all. We do not
Ask what domestic disasters shimmer
Behind that vaguely unsuitable address.
And you were born-?
So glad we agree.”
This is further emphasized by the constant use of first person plural, the increasingly aggressive and offensive questions, and the derisory answers to replies.
Not My Best Side
Here there are three distinctively different personas. The Dragon is constantly complaining, is depressed and doesn’t give a damm. I am tempted to read him with the accent of Eeore from A.A Milne’s Character. He says “Why, I said to myself, should my conqueror be so ostentatiously beardless, and ride a horse with a deformed neck and square hooves”
The virgin has a high opinion of herself and appears not to be very bright. The words used and the way they are put together gives the reader a clear feel of “Essex Gal” she even uses modern slang “I mean, I quite took to the dragon. Its nice to be liked if you know what I mean.”
St. George however talks like a stereotypical man using euphemisms and boasting. Fanthorpe cleverly gives us a clear picture of an egotistical megalomaniac “You can’t do better than me at the moment. I’m qualified and equipped to the eyebrow. So why be difficult?
Fanthorpe uses a variation on the theme of persona in this poem. By running words together such as ‘Gettinguptime’, and ‘timetogohomenowtime’ plus clearly giving the impression of a small child who feels isolated and out of his depth. We can all remember understanding words like this, and probably still use the technique when talking to kids or animals now. We also can all identify with the feelings of lack of understanding, and being in awe of a grown-up that is made clear in this poem.
It is very unconventional to use brackets in poetry. Hardly any other Authors do but Fanthorpe make great effects from this technique. She can easily bring in less important issues without loosing thread of the story. For example in Half-past Two the child had done something very wrong, but ‘(I forget what it was)’ is bracketed to quickly convey its lack of importance. The brackets are also used to bring in a sense of humour, you can imagine the writer smiling as they dismiss this insignificant fact.
In Dear Mr. Lee the childlike ability of the writer is emphasized by the ungrammatical use of brackets giving a reader a clear picture of someone trying to put over a difficult set of feelings, and not having the writing skills to do it properly. “Dear Mr. Lee (Mr. Smart says its rude to call you Laurie, but that’s how I think of you, having lived with you all year)”
Fanthorpe uses an ungrammatical and unconventional way of writing to very well emphasize the importance of what she is saying, and to bring out the details of the poem. She uses Capital Letters in unexpected and un-necessary places. In Half-past Two ‘He did Something Very Wrong’ and in Dear Mr. Lee ‘Dear Laurie’ both have un-necessary capitals but tell the reader how important the persona feels this part of the story is.
This is the technique of Vers Libre to create poetry with no rhythm and timelessness. Especially in Half-past Two this way of writing gets inside the readers head, and you can feel the vortex in which the child finds himself.
All the poems studied are in blank verse so it is easier to describe the subject of the poem because you do not have to worry about rhyming. In Dear Mr. Lee U. A. Fanthorpe writes in blank verse because she can make it seem you are reading a letter. If the poems were confined to the rules of rhyming then Not My Best Side would not be funny and Dear Mr. Lee would be too serious.
Fanthorpe uses both humour and pathos within her work. In Not My Best Side the reader has to laugh at the Dragon, but in Half-past Two the little boy appears a pathetic figure. The aggression of the interviewer in You Will Be Hearing From Us Shortly quickly makes the reader feel sorry to the candidate, and in Dear Mr. Lee you can feel the class “take the mick” out of their English Teacher, Mr. Smart.
To conclude: U. A. Fanthorpe was a teacher of English at Cheltenham Ladies College. She uses her skill with the language in a modern and unconventional way to a fresh attitude to poetry. Many people today dismiss poetry as boring and tedious, but her new look at the subject will encourage young people to read verse as well as prose.
Her subjects are mostly light hearted, rather than other modern poets in the anthology being studied who seek to shock or disturb the reader. Although Half-past Two leaves the reader feeling uncomfortable and sorry for the little boy you are not so disturbed as to be put off from reading further of this author’s works.
I prefer Dear Mr. Lee of the four poems studied. It is easy to identify with the child, and the way Fanthorpe has written it is rebellious against the education system. The letter uses the same language as we would in a rough work essay, for example Cider rather than the whole novel’s title.
The way that U. A. Fanthorpe creates personas is excellent, e specially Not My Best Side shows her skill in that she sets out to give voices to the three subjects in Uccello’s masterpiece, and within a few lines has created living characters from a two dimensional image.