Jenny Joseph, whose poem Warning was twice voted Britain’s favourite poem, has died at the age of 85.
It is perhaps best known for its opening lines: “When I am an old lady I shall wear purple / With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”
Despite it being about old age, Joseph was in her 20s when she wrote it.
She wrote several poetry and prose collections, the most recent being published in 2009. Joseph died earlier this month after a short illness.
‘One of best-loved poets’
Born in Birmingham, Joseph studied at the University of Oxford and went on to work as a newspaper reporter, pub landlady and lecturer.
Her agents described her as “one of Britain’s best-loved poets”.
Warning was voted Britain’s favourite modern poem in 2006 – having previously been named the nation’s favourite post-war poem 10 years previously in a BBC poll.
It went on to inspire the launch of the Red Hat Society – a women’s group whose members wear purple, accessorised with a red hat.
However, the success of the poem is said to have annoyed Joseph, according to her publishers Bloodaxe Books.
“At the same time, she was delighted that it had been translated into numerous languages and was known throughout the world,” they said. “What she disliked most was that this early poem written in her 20s overshadowed the rest of her work, which was largely concerned with the duality of existence…
“She viewed her poems as attempts to present ‘how things work’ at the core, at the edge.”
‘New ways of telling stories’
Joseph was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999 and won the James Tait Black Prize for fiction for her work of prose and verse Persephone. She had previously won the Cholmondeley Award for her second poetry collection, Rose in the Afternoon.
She also had work published with Enitharmon Press. Its director Stephen Stuart-Smith, who worked with her on 2009’s Nothing Like Love, described that last collection as “exploring a wide range of literary forms, new ways of telling stories, and demonstrating her skill in introducing cadences and everyday speech into the lyrical movement of her verse.
“As a person and as a poet she was warm and witty, as a friend loyal and supportive, as a performer entertaining as well as unpredictable.”