A reviewer of ''Safe as Houses'' claimed that Fanthorpe's poetry is ''rotted in the real world and in ordinary language

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April 11 2005                                 .                                Anna Carlisle

A reviewer of ‘’Safe as Houses’’ claimed that Fanthorpe’s poetry is ‘’rotted in the real world and in ordinary language.’’

How far do you agree with this view?

Although it would be simplistic to say that all Fanthorpe’s poetry is related to the ‘’real world’’, connections certainly can be made in terms of language style and theme that convey everyday life.  One of her principal focuses seems to be that of war but never concerning the actual combat: she instead concentrates on the destruction caused on the home front; to the ‘’ordinary’’ people, particularly exploring the influence of war on children.  Indeed, her own experience of childhood, one in which she felt she did not ‘’fit in’’ also shapes her poetry, arguably appealing to all her readers who have, most likely, felt out of place at one time or another in their every-day lives.  The language used to communicate these ideas is fairly common, rarely in ‘’traditional’’ rhyming couplets and even when taking on the persona of some of the most famous characters in literature, the language she ‘’gives’’ them would not look out of place in our contemporary world.

Of course, Fanthorpe is a modern poet, discussing issues that matter to her so it would not be unreasonable to take the view that her poems are ‘’rotted in the real world.’’  Though it is difficult to make a general judgement about her poems, whether her poetry is ‘’rooted in the real world’’ or not, the title of this anthology, the well-known phrase ‘’Safe as Houses’’ certainly suggests poetry that will discuss issues which are significant today, in a style that is familiar to the reader.

Fanthorpe’s poetry can be categorised into a range groups which are, in themselves, applicable to the ‘real world.’  A prominent collection can be identified as ‘’Unsafe Houses’’, a theme which is relevant to everyday life as feeling safe and secure in you own home is something that is desired by everyone in our modern world, both physically (hence the invention of safety features such as burglar alarms and house insurance) and emotionally as people want a sense of belonging in their home.  Poems which refer to this issue include ‘The Dolls Children’, ‘Sirensong’, ‘What, in our House?’ and ‘Last House’ although all take varying approached to the issue so their connection to the ‘real world’ is in differing ways.  Fanthorpe alludes to the house being a big part of the occupier, which probably appeals to many readers who own their own property, or indeed, own anything which has particularly importance to them.  An outstanding phrase in ‘Sirensong’ is describing destruction as ‘Uncovering private parts,’ illustrating both the physical and emotional affects of having you house destroyed.  On one level, it represents to the actual ruin of having the rooms in your house exposed and by using language that relates to the physical body, Fanthorpe also cerates a personal, sensitive reaction from the reader, as if uncovering the house is like uncovering a part of yourself.  The idea of effortlessly destroying something that contains all your personal belongings is likely to cause a reaction with many people living in the ‘real world,’ as nowadays the property market as developed to ensure that our houses have material as well as sentimental value, thus words such as ‘sliced’ and ‘fluttered’, which emphasise the simplicity of destroying property is likely to have maximum impact.  This theme is reflected in ‘Last House,’ where similar language had been used to describe the cinema during its demolishment: ‘trickle of mortar’; ‘A slice of a wall flops.’’  However, this poem has a much more optimistic approach as although the cinema is being destroyed, ultimately it is not as horrifying as a house being ruined.  Perhaps Fanthorpe is making the point that because no-one actually lives in the cinema, it is easier to witness its destruction: it only our ‘real’ homes which we fear will not remain stable.  

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Indeed, these two poems show Fanthorpe’s interest in the ‘real world’: in ‘Last House’ she is not describing the film stars in Hollywood but in the cinema where ‘ordinary’ people came and went.  By using recognisable quotations from films and emphasising the popularity of the cinema in her language style (oilfields of ketchup; acres of hair) Fanthorpe is ensuring readers clearly recall their experience of going to the cinema and thus appreciate the sentimental value of the building.  Likewise, in Sirensong, it is not the destruction on say, the Western Front that is dealt with.  Instead it is the destruction ...

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