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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
... of the planet’s coming total fracture, elements dispersing out in space. That’s the truth I clench between my jaws, behind my face. And all the technical ingenuity called upon to solve this dental problem won’t heal Death’s ...


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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...
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 ...


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 ...


Sophia de Mello Breyner, translated by Ruth Fainlight

24 November 1994
...  ...

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 ...
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 ...
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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... reactions then occur; theorists of rhetoric can tell us how the effect is achieved; but the truth of the information is what really matters, as when Donne tells us: ’Tis the year’s midnight and it is the day’s, Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks. Where the theorists are concerned, truth of this ...

Short Cuts

Rosemary Hill: What Writers Wear

26 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 ...


Derek Mahon

5 June 1980
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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...  ...


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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