RIP Jenny Joseph – Poetry News January 19th

In our final poetry round up of the week we bring you the sad news that Jenny Jospeh, the poet who inspired the creation of the Red Hat Society has passed away at the age of 85.

Poet Jenny Joseph Passes Away at the age of 85

The poet Jenny Joseph, who is perhaps best known for her poem “Warning”, died of natural causes on January 8th, 2018, following a short illness.

Born in Birmingham on 7th May 1932, Joseph grew up next door to the famous children’s author Enid Blyton in Beasonsfield. In 1950 she obtained a scholarship to the St Hilda’s College at the University of Oxford, where she gained a degree in English Literature. Following her graduation, she began work as a journalist.

It was this career path that led to her move to South Africa where she wrote for Drum the radical magazine. In 159 she returned to London, having been asked to leave South Africa as her articles were against the apartheid regime.

It was in London that she had her first poetry collection published; “The Unlooked-for Season”, She was awarded the Gregory award in 1960.

“Warning”, which has been voted as Britain’s favourite poem twice, first in 1996 and then in 2006, was written whilst Joseph was in her 20’s yet is a poem about old age. It wasn’t a poem the poet was particularly fond of, in fact its success is said to have annoyed her immensely. Her publisher stated that whilst at the time she was delighted at the popularity of the poem, which was translated into many languages and gained world renown, she didn’t like the way in which it overshadowed all of her other work; she in fact wrote over 10 collections of poetry, the latest of which was written in 2009.

The opening lines of “Warning” those for which it is possibly best known, was the inspiration for an entire group the Red Hat Society – this is a women’s group where the members all wear purple garments and a red hat, the dress code inspired by the poem.

The irony of this is perhaps that the poet herself in fact hated the colour Purple, claiming that it simply didn’t suit her.

In 1999 Joseph was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In addition to the Gregory award that she won in 1960, she was also a recipient of the Cholmondely award in 1974, for “Rose in the Afternoon” her second poetry collection, and the James Tait Black Prize for fiction in 1986.

Jenny Joseph is survived by her three children; Martin who is a theatre producer, Nell who works as a welfare officer and Bec who is a carpenter.

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