She didn’t like her first name, which was Ursula, and was hence always called “UA.” She taught English at Cheltenham College for 16 years and then left to be a secretary and receptionist at Bristol hospital. It was there that the patients, their anonymous suffering and quiet lives, provoked her to write.
She writes about “ the permanently rickety, elaborate structures of living” which we all create to maintain our lives and relationships. Her style is modest ,deceptively simple and shockingly powerful. She describes a life of out-patient appointments,visits to X-ray, family visits, and ultimately death- the last scene of all.
“…..there the actor lies
Alone, and in the long dim hours explores
Dissolving senses .”
“ Patient, she sat in a wheelchair
in an x-ray department waiting
for someone to do something to her”
Notice the ambiguity of “ patient”, the pause after “waiting” and the hopelessness of “someone” and “something.” And what about the simple language, which gives you just enough to see the picture, but leaves you, the reader, to create the emotion behind it.
But you would be wrong to think that her work was relentlessly glum. She had a sharp sense of humour. She inhabits other times and places, explores territory you think you’re familiar with, and gives it a twist, releasing something fresh and funny as she does so.
She describes Christ, frustrated at his dim disciples, trying to get them to understand what he means:
“I am tattooing God on their makeshift lives” he says, “ My Keystone Cops of disciples , always/ running absurdly away or lying.”
She conflates the Royal Family and the Archers:
“They’re loyal to their fans, they never stray.
Death changes the cast list, but not the play.”
And sometimes she writes something so simple, so powerful, that creeps up on you and hits you in the solar plexus.
Have a look here.
This is one of her best. I challenge you to read it aloud without filling up
Step right this way, UA- the palm trees are over here.