'When I am an old woman I shall wear purple': Jenny Joseph dies aged 85
Jenny Joseph, whose 'Warning’, with its much-quoted first line, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple’, was voted Britain’s favourite poem in a BBC poll, has died at the age of 85. Joseph wrote ‘Warning’ in 1961, and the poem’s fame annoyed her, her publisher Bloodaxe said. She blocked its inclusion in many anthologies and did not include it in readings, because it she felt it overshadowed the rest of her work.
Her ﬁrst book of poems, The Unlooked-for Season (1960), won an Eric Gregory award, and she won a Cholmondeley award for her second collection, Rose in the Afternoon (1974). There were two further collections from Secker & Warburg, The Thinking Heart (1978) and Beyond Descartes (1983). Her Selected Poems, including the famous 'Warning', was published by Bloodaxe in 1992. Her later work includes four other Bloodaxe titles: Persephone (1986), winner of the James Tait Black Memorial prize; Ghosts and other company (1995); a book of prose, Extended Similes (1997), and a collection of new and later selected poems, Extreme of things (2006).
She was born in Birmingham in 1932, and after graduating in 1953, was a newspaper journalist in Bedford and Oxford before moving to South Africa in 1957, where she worked for Drum Publications and taught at an Indian high school in Johannesburg before being expelled from the country in 1959. She and her husband kept a pub in Shepherd’s Bush from 1969 to 1972.
The second line of ‘Warning’ (“With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me …”) inspired the formation of America’s Red Hat Society, which has over 70,000 members.