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Poppies

Ruth Fainlight, 3 September 1987

... A bed of them looks like a dressing-room backstage after the chorus changed costume, ruffled heaps of papery orange petticoats and slick pink satin bodices. Every petal’s base is marked with the same confident black smear as a painted eyelid and the frill of jostling purple anthers sifts a powdery kohl that clogs the lashes shading watchful glances from dilating pupils, as though all the dancers swallowed belladonna ...

Death’s Love-Bite

Ruth Fainlight, 6 May 1982

... A slow-motion explosion is what my mouth’s become, front teeth thrusting forward at impossible angles. Incisors once in satisfactory alignment cruelly slice through lips and tongue, and molars grind each other into powder. Though it took almost thirty years for them to drift so far apart, the pace accelerates. My mouth contains meteors and molecules, the splintered bones of mastodons, galaxies and Magellanic clouds; feels like a photograph of particles halted in a cyclotron and magnified a thousand powers, a microscopic re-enactment of the planet’s coming total fracture, elements dispersing out in space ...

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 plum-season to the next I saved it) then pushed the lumpy tied-up bag into the centre of the pulpy amber halves and melting sugar in the preserving kettle, and let the mixture ooze its pectins, odours, juices, flavours, until the chemistry of time and fire produced this sharpness, sweetness, that I’m eating now, straight from the jar, smearing my mouth, digging the spoon in deeper, seeking a taste undiluted even by nostalgia ...

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 hair fighting free from its combs to tangle in the shell- encrusted poles ...

Lost Drawing

Ruth Fainlight, 17 July 1980

... Bare winter trees in silhouette against a clear cold turquoise sky just after sunset: during the war, at my aunt’s house in Virginia, I tried to draw them – trees like these in England which she never saw – and now, trees in my garden make me feel the first true pang of grief since her death. Between the wash-tubs and storecupboards filled with pickled peaches and grape-jam, crouched into a broken wicker chair, I peered up through the basement window ...

Like Manet’s ‘Olympe’

Ruth Fainlight, 19 December 1985

... Like Manet’s ‘Olympe’, naked in the afternoon heat and manilla-shaded light, my aunt lay on the green watered-silk of her bedspread. Smooth hair, proud head, short but shapely legs and high breasts were so much the same as the painting I had just fallen in love with, that I faltered, still half in the doorway, almost afraid to enter. Through one moted beam that cut across the room between us, I saw her reflection, pale as an ocean creature, floating deep in the dressing-table mirror over splinters of sun from the jumble of bottles and jars – stern eyes seeming to dare me closer ...

My Fuchsia

Ruth Fainlight, 15 November 1984

... My fuchsia is a middle-aged woman who’s had fourteen children, and though she could do it again, she’s rather tired. All through the summer, new blooms. I’m amazed. Yet the purple and crimson have paled. Some leaves are yellowed or withering. The new buds look weaker and smaller, like menopause babies. But still she’s a gallant fine creature performing her function ...

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 ...

Sugar-Paper Blue

Ruth Fainlight, 16 December 1993

... i 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 store ...

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 c ...

Bananas Book

Eric Korn, 22 November 1979

Saturday Night Reader 
edited by Emma Tennant.
W.H. Allen, 246 pp., £5.95
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... but then he didn’t have to survive Stalin – and Kornei Chukovsky did, triumphantly.Poetry by Ruth Fainlight, Ted Hughes, Blok; more fiction, by Elaine Feinstein, John Sladek, Tim Owens; some cheerfully itchy artwork by Pamela Zoline, Rolf Brandt, and others; so much accomplishment, so much mere febrility. It’s unamiable, not to be ignored, and ...

We shall not be moved

John Bayley, 2 February 1984

Come aboard and sail away 
by John Fuller.
Salamander, 48 pp., £6, October 1983, 0 907540 37 6
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Children in Exile 
by James Fenton.
Salamander, 24 pp., £5, October 1983, 0 907540 39 2
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‘The Memory of War’ and ‘Children in Exile’: Poems 1968-1983 
by James Fenton.
Penguin, 110 pp., £1.95, October 1983, 0 14 006812 0
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Some Contemporary Poets of Britain and Ireland: An Anthology 
edited by Michael Schmidt.
Carcanet, 184 pp., £9.95, November 1983, 0 85635 469 4
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Nights in the Iron Hotel 
by Michael Hofmann.
Faber, 48 pp., £4, November 1983, 0 571 13116 6
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The Irish Lights 
by Charles Johnston and Kyril Fitzlyon.
Bodley Head, 77 pp., £4.50, September 1983, 0 370 30557 4
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Fifteen to Infinity 
by Ruth Fainlight.
Hutchinson, 62 pp., £5.95, September 1983, 0 09 152471 7
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Donald Davie and the Responsibilities of Literature 
edited by George Dekker.
Carcanet, 153 pp., £9.95, November 1983, 9780856354663
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... Johnston has more in common with women poets writing today like Fleur Adcock, Carol Rumens and Ruth Fainlight. His verses, like theirs, have nothing against being simple, forceful and straightforward. Modern mannered poets show a latent anxiety about the poem not quite coming off which is quite absent in ...

Short Cuts

Rosemary Hill: What Writers Wear, 27 July 2017

... ashes.’ Yet Plath continued to wear the shirt-waister dresses, hats and gloves that reminded Ruth Fainlight when she met her of ‘one of my New York aunts dressed for a cocktail party’. The suggestion that she was dressing for a part she couldn’t play is perhaps a little glib. There was something in those clothes that was her; she was also the ...

Accessibility

Derek Mahon, 5 June 1980

Carminalenia 
by Christopher Middleton.
Carcanet, 120 pp., £3.95, February 1980, 0 85635 284 5
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The Strange Museum 
by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 51 pp., £3.50, March 1980, 9780571115112
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The Psalms with their Spoils 
by Jon Silkin.
Routledge, 74 pp., £2.95, April 1980, 0 7100 0497 4
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The Equal Skies 
by Norman MacCaig.
Chatto, 64 pp., £3.75, March 1980, 0 7011 2491 1
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Sibyls and Others 
by Ruth Fainlight.
Hutchinson, 141 pp., £5.95, March 1980, 0 09 141030 4
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... when the boys asked the Cumaean sybil what she wanted she replied: ‘I want to die!’ Not so Ruth Fainlight’s sybils: they want to live, difficult and perplexing though their lives are. But then the Cumaean sybil was held captive, whereas Fainlight’s speak and behave with the authority of Gravesian ...

Unaccountables

Donald Davie, 7 March 1985

The Letters of Hugh MacDiarmid 
edited by Alan Bold.
Hamish Hamilton, 910 pp., £20, August 1984, 0 241 11220 6
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Between Moon and Moon: Selected Letters of Robert Graves 1946-1972 
edited by Paul O’Prey.
Hutchinson, 323 pp., £14.95, November 1984, 9780091557508
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... fair to Graves, from whom we get two untypical letters – one to Alan Sillitoe, the other to Ruth Fainlight – of the sort that we might expect from a master instructing neophytes. To Sillitoe for example, in 1954: Your poem sounds good, holds together well, but the language has been taken a stage beyond common sense, and that I always regret. A ...

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