U.A. Fanthorpe dies at 79; acclaimed English poet

U.A. Fanthorpe, a highly regarded English poet who was first inspired by the human tragedy she saw in a neurological hospital, died April 28 in a hospice near her home in Wotton-under-Edge in western England, said her publisher, Peterloo Poets. She was 79.

No cause of death was announced.

Her late-starting career was crowned with honors, including the Queen's Medal for Poetry in 2003. In 1994 she was the first woman to be nominated to be professor of poetry at Oxford (losing to James Fenton), and she was a leading candidate for poet laureate in 1999.

Ursula Askham Fanthorpe was born July 22, 1929, in London. A graduate of Oxford University, she taught at Cheltenham Ladies' College for 16 years and became head of the English department.

"I began to see that power had an effect on me that I didn't like," she said, so she resigned and enrolled with a temporary agency, which led to a receptionist's job at a neurological hospital in Bristol in 1974.

Her experiences there prompted her to begin writing seriously.

"I found it moving, horrifying and beautiful, all the things that human life is, the things that are swept under the curtain that you're not expected to see," she told The Independent newspaper in 2003.

In an early poem, "The List," included in her first published collection in 1978, she compared a list of the next day's patients to figures on a classical frieze.

"Tomorrow these names will turn nasty,

Senile, pregnant, late,

Handicapped, handcuffed, unhandy,

Muddled, moribund, mute,

Be stained by living . . . "

In an interview for Contemporary Authors, a reference service, Fanthorpe said she had waited so long to start writing because she felt "less interesting than other people who had fought, suffered, endured, etc."

"It look me a long time to discover that I didn't have to write about myself. . . . I needed the shock of experience as a hospital receptionist, which made clear to me that the perspectives of poetry are different from those of medical professionals."

Inspiration, she said in an interview for The Poetry Archive, often would come as "people suddenly tell me things -- not because of any gift of mine but because they want to talk -- and this will give me, frequently, the best sort of material for writing a poem."

Fanthorpe is survived by Rosie Bailey, her partner for 44 years.