Ruth Fainlight

Ruth Fainlight’s collections include Sybils and Others and Somewhere Else Entirely. Her New and Collected Poems appeared in 2010.

Poem: ‘Writing’

Sophia de Mello Breyner, translated by Ruth Fainlight, 24 November 1994

In Palazzo Mocenigo where he lived alone Lord Byron used every grand room To watch solitude mirror by mirror And the beauty of doors no one passed through

He heard the marine murmurs of silence The lost echoes of steps in far corridors He loved the smooth shine on polished floors Shadows unrolling under high ceilings And though he sat in just one chair Was glad to see the other chairs were...

Poem: ‘Sugar-Paper Blue’

Ruth Fainlight, 16 December 1993


Trying to describe a colour by comparison and metaphor is as futile as the attempt to hum the tune I hear in my head. But I thought everyone knew what was meant by sugar-paper blue.

Sugar-paper – that thickish, stiffish somewhat-grainy-surfaced, mottled faded-navy paper glued or folded into bags for sugar: the next image is my aunt and mother sticky-fingered in the family grocery...

Poem: ‘New-Born’

Ruth Fainlight, 25 July 1991

From the roof of her under-reef den a giant Pacific octopus – whose suckered legs are metres long, who changes tone when curious from glowing white to glorious red – hangs a hundred thousand eggs clumped into strands, like clusters of grapes painted on the ceiling of Sennefer’s tomb at Luxor.

‘The rough surface of rock makes the vine-tendrils and fruit more realistic....

Poem: ‘Bouzigues’

Ruth Fainlight, 1 June 1989

There’s a place on the road coming down from the hills where rows of oyster frames unfurl on an indigo sea like a pattern of bamboo fans or blocks of pale embroidery on a geisha’s kimono, whose knees and shoulders press against the border of the wood engraving tight as Alice’s when she started growing.

The high-piled mass of the dead volcano cone is her oiled and twisted...

Poem: ‘Early Rivers’

Ruth Fainlight, 2 February 1989

This jar of rosy-purple jam is labelled Early Rivers, August ’82 – the date I made it, the name the farmer gave those plums, smooth as onyx eggs, but warmer.

The dimpled groove, bloom-dusted, down each fuit pouted at the touch of my knife, yielding the stone I put inside a cotton sock (relict of a worn-out pair – every boiling dyed it darker crimson – from one...

We shall not be moved

John Bayley, 2 February 1984

There remains a most decided difference – indeed it grows wider every year – between what Philip Larkin calls ‘being a writer’, or ‘being a poet’, and managing...

Read More


Derek Mahon, 5 June 1980

It would be disingenuous of me to pretend that I have taken the full measure, or anything like it, of Middleton’s Carminalenia, an intensely difficult collection about as far removed from...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences