When she died, in 2009, Anthony Thwaite described U.A. Fanthorpe as a 'smiling subversive with a voice like bird-song'. An encouraging example to all late developers, this particular bird's voice took its time: she didn't become a poet until she was 45. But these examples of her very earliest work show the latent mastery and the rapid development of the craft that would bring her wide critical acclaim and an affectionate general readership.
The mysteries of the trade gradually reveal themselves as rooted in a wide and uncensored range of subject-matter, a life-time's love of words, and an intuitive grasp of the mechanics of form and voice. Recognising her role so late, she was a woman in a hurry; there wasn't time for self-consciousness or grandiose notions of 'vocation'. 'A poet,' she said, 'is a smuggler. He imports things clandestinely which are not supposed to have got through the customs.' Poetry 'happened to me', she would say. Her job? To listen, to pass it on.
None of the poems in this gathering of U.A. Fanthorpe's early work was included in any previous edition of her poetry.
'The peerless U.A. Fanthorpe roots herself in the very earth of English poetry, connecting herself to Hughes and Browning, but also and more pertinently to the real experience of English living so clear-eyed and so, well completely poetic.' – Stephen Fry
'U.A. Fanthorpe is an extraordinary poet, one of the best of our 20th and 21st centuries. So quietly that we didn't notice what was happening, her poetry changed the way we see, the way we write.' – Gillian Clarke
'Her poetry is one of the delights of the age.' – Michael Foot
'The most humane poet in English of the last 30 years… her poetry managed the difficult feat of being very English and also transcending it.' – Tom Wilkinson, The Independent
'U.A. possessed an endearing patriotism that was founded lastingly on love, not shakily on superiority. All her poems, in fact, were sourced in love. She could make the difficult accessible and accessible complex. She had not a smidgeon of pomposity or ego or self-regard. Indeed, if she had a fault as a poet, that fault was a closet virtue – modesty. She would have demurred herself, but U.A. Fanthorpe exerted a great influence on contemporary poetry.' – Carol Ann Duffy