Many Of Fanthorpes Poems Look At The

Familiar Or Known From A Different Or Unusual Point Of View. Discuss What You Have Found Enjoyable In A Selection Of Poems. Essay, Research Paper

In the poems selected, “Hang-gliders in January”, “Horticultural show” and “Soothing and awful”, Fanthorpe does not perhaps always approach the familiar from an unusual angle but spots the pathos of the commonplace where we had not previously looked for it. She has an extraordinary quality of taking something seemingly trivial and developing thoughts and ideas about it that others may have previously considered but dismissed without developing.

The title of the first poem to be considered is ‘hang-gliders in January’ which sounds very matter-of-fact and average somehow, and by being so can cause the reader to perhaps arrive unjustly at a rushed conclusion about the nature and content of the poem to follow. Nothing is done accidentally by a poet (particularly one of Fanthorpe’s quality) and thus there is evidently a reason for her giving the poem such a title. It does give the poem an inexplicable sense of intrigue in that it seems improbable that with such a subject a poem could have a meaningful impact, which means when (and indeed if) it does, it is all the more effective.

The actual theme of the poem is not actually simply ‘hang-gliders’ (although this is the descriptive subject) but something deeper than this; we all take the world around us for granted, but sometimes we are hit with an overwhelming wonder at something considered simple in a day to day context. In this poem Fanthorpe attempts to come at the essence of one such experience so personally and exquisitely expressed that it is plausible to assume it to be her own. Her emphasis is on the ‘miraculous ‘ in the ’simple’ which can be seen through the repetition of these and associated words. In the first three lines miracle appears twice, and once in its adjective form,

“Like all miracles; it has a rational

Explanation; and like all miracles, insists

on being miraculous.”

This repetition in such a short few lines immediately draws the reader s attention to the word. It is important for this to be at the beginning as it is a principle theme in the poem and the reader needs to be aware of it if they are to enjoy the words that follow. It is not though just simple repetition of the word but if we look at the lines closer we can see that it is in fact grammatical parallelism, so there is a repetition of rhythm which makes the lines even more memorable.



The lines are memorable for other reasons too. Readers may criticise Fanthorpe for her use of the words ‘rational explanation’ as they are considered a clich in modern times, but she has used them deliberately to give the feeling of a normal person with a story to tell. The tone of the two lines are very different, the first gives the impression of a practical and pragmatic speaker with no belief in the world of magic, but the second reveals a person still clinging to a bit of childhood naivety. The word ‘insists’ shows that the speaker does not feel in control of their beliefs and that however often they are given a ‘rational explanation’ there is always something pulling at them, ‘insisting’ that some things cannot or should not be explained. The notion that things that are miraculous often have a simple explanation but also that simple things can be miraculous when looked at in a different light introduced in these two lines is explored in the poem with reference to hang-gliders.

The poem is written in such a way that it feels like an evocation of the speakers experience, she starts at the beginning, giving us the background information of how it all started out as just trivial dog walk and finishes with a simile about how simply perfect the men and their hang-gliders were,

“Like a bird at home in the sky”

Most important though is what she does in between. She uses thematic imagery as with the use of ’shipless sails’, ‘titanic tropical fish’, ‘mythical river’ and caravels , which are all nautical in theme, this helps to relate ideas and draw the poem together. One of the most stunning part of the poem though is most definitely Fanthorpe’s succinct and original description of an experience that she must have observed quite acutely. This can be enjoyed in the second stanza where she uses a series of totally unique metaphors to describe the vision before her.

She begins with ‘pot-bellied’, a compound adjective common to Fanthorpe’s poetry, which is an exquisite description of the position which the hang-gliders are in during their flight. She has observed so many things about them and has described them in so much detail but with so few words it is quite stunning. We know how they move, precisely what they look like, how big they are and how different they are to anything else she has ever seen; they are ‘tropical’ ‘enormous bats’ titanic’ and ’still’. The words she uses are perfect and almost all adjectives. Then the stanza comes to a close with the speaker s realisation that they were just ‘men’, the word is repeated three times as though being said over and over in a person s mind who is reluctant to believe.

The most interesting part of the stanza though is the words, ‘when we looked’, which hints that they were not looking before but perhaps simply experiencing it and enjoying it. She captures the essence of the ‘double-take’ experienced by everyone sometime in their lives, when you see something and cannot quite believe it so you look again and realise it was not all you had thought it was and that you must not have really looked properly in the first place.

Fanthorpe is wonderful at capturing the essence of things that are simple or common to everyday life. ‘Hang-gliders in January’ is about exactly what the title says and similarly in ‘Horticultural show’ Fanthorpe deals with horticulture or more simply vegetables! There are more parallels between the two poems, there is the same explicit development to a conclusion in ‘Horticultural show’ as in ‘Hang-gliders in January’ and the same kind of profound ending which is what the poem works up to. Fanthorpe is again addressing a subject normally perceived in a banal light, vegetables, and bringing it to life as it were. It is interesting to see how she does this

The first line of the poem is,

These are Persephone s fruits of the underyear

It is clear form this that for the reader to enjoy the poem they need to know a little of the story of Persephone from Greek mythology. She is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter; goddess of the earth and springtime and after her abduction by the god Hades because of her beauty became the queen of the underworld. As her mother Demeter searched for her the earth grew desolate, and when she found her she begged Hades to allow Persephone to return to earth. Hades granted the request on condition that Persephone had not eaten any fruit in the underworld. She had eaten but a few pomegranate seeds, so Hades took pity on Demeter and decreed that Persephhone should spend half of each year in the underworld (the underyear) and the other on earth. Each spring when she returned to earth it was believed her mother’s joy at being reunited with her caused the earth to bring forth an abundance of fruits and grains. With the knowledge of this story underyear in the first stanza is seen not only as autumn but as the part of the year Persephone spent in the underworld, as can the slow dream of winter . It is also easy to see the relevance of Persephone to the harvesting of fruits and vegetables.

It is interesting that although in the poem Fanthorpe is giving a new perception of horticulture and its relevance to our lives, she is in fact using well known mythical images which reveals, somewhat, her attitude to the past; perhaps that we have a lot to learn from it. Her message in this poem seems to be that we are by necessity what we are and will be, and like everything and everyone before us we will go underground, no matter what, and that is certain; it is our one common fate. This message is only revealed at the end of the poem with the words,

Persephone’s fruits utter where they have been,

Where we are going.

These lines bring a wonderful image of these fruits rising up from the ground with a message as we go down . It hint at the fact that these fruits have a certain knowledge that we as humans do not and thus that human beings should not be so complacent because even mere fruit and vegetables have a knowledge that we can never have.

Before this final revelation the poem deals especially with the description of individual vegetables one by one, stanza by stanza. As in Hang-gliders in January she manages to describe each one both prefectly and uniquely. She uses light imagery with the onions calling them paleskinned lamps that shine with the light of the tomb . We can note that she has subtly introduced the theme of death here with the use of the word tomb . She goes on to describe the marrow, the carrot, the leek and the potato, but my particular favourites are the beetroots which she laments display their bleeding hearts , and goes on to say, We read the future in these entrails . The distinct allusion to death is interesting, Fanthorpe seems to see the beetroot pigment as a symbol of blood, and the beetroot as a carrier of the message that our bleeding hearts and entrails will one day be under the ground where it has been. It could also be read that everyone s future is that of a bleeding heart in a metaphorical sense, we will all be hurt by love at one time or another, but this is unlikely to be the meaning Fanthorpe intended.

The poem is not all morbid though despite its clear theme, the lines,


Jubilee mugs, disguised as children,

Cope with candyfloss

are eminently humorous. Firstly the reversal of children dressing up as crocodiles and jubilee mugs to crocodiles and jubilee mugs dressing up as children is certainly giggle worthy but also the use of the verb cope rather than eat or enjoy will bring many humorous visions to the eyes of parents and other child lovers.

It is certainly unique to combine a poem about death with descriptions of vegetables but it is something that Fanthorpe has done very well. The combination of something not usually put with something else is common to her poetry and can be seen in the poem Four dogs in which her own domesticated, family dog Shandy is treated as just another dog alongside, Cerberus, Anubis and El perro (Goya) which are generally considered as symbols of evil.

In the poem Soothing and awful fanthorpe does not combine ideas in a new manner but explores a common idea or thought that many people may have. The idea that we cannot with words show our full appreciation of the magnificent things in the world; in the case Fanthorpe has taken it is, St Catherine s Montacute church in South Somerset. The structure is similar to that of her other poems, she saves the meaning or intended message of the poem until the last stanza.

However majestic their gifts, comely their living,

Their words would be thin like ours.

The word their in this quotation is in reference to our fathers and is used by fanthorpe to cite that this notion that our words are never enough transgresses time as well as nationality class and age as illustrated in the previous verses leaving the reader simply feeling that in essence we are all the same.

The characters she depicts in the poem are all chosen for a reason, there is a foreigner Friedrichshafen , a gaggle of young grammar school girls, an upper-class civilized voice from Cambridge ,a probably lower class man from Dudley and a conglomerate of the young , whose comments fanthorpe makes stand out from the rest in that there is simply a list of four exclamations. It is especially effective when she juxta poses two very contrasting persons, the civilized voice of Cambridge and someone from Dudley . Their comments, like those of the other visitors, are equally unsatisfactory, Especially noticed the well-kept churchyard and nice and cool . Fanthorpe is perhaps trying to point out that even though the man from Dudley only managed two monosyllabic adjectives, his response was more from the heart than the civilized voice obviously trying to sound so.

The way in which Fanthorpe has the comments interject the poem in italics to draw attention to them, brings to mind other poems where she has done this for the same reason such as Casehistory: Julie (encephalitis) and The quiet grave . There is much that is similar about Fanthorpe s poetry but still each poem is uniquely different from the next. She may not stun us with her original choices of subject but she stuns in other ways, like by addressing familiar topics in original ways (which is surely better than addressing original topics in familiar ways) meaning that her poetry is very accessible, relevant and enjoyable for many different people.