Lavinia Greenlaw

Lavinia Greenlaw’s latest book, Some Answers without Questions, part memoir and part manifesto, is due in August.

Diana of the Upper Air

Lavinia Greenlaw, 29 July 2021

Fora short while the highest point of the New York skyline was marked by a girl standing on tiptoe. At night she was also the brightest point, the focus of 66 incandescent lamps and ten spotlights, at a time when there was little electric light in the city. During the day, the sun detonated her gilded surface and she ‘flashed against a green-blue sky’, as Willa Cather described...

All hail the microbe: Things Pile Up

Lavinia Greenlaw, 18 June 2020

InFootprints: In Search of Future Fossils, David Farrier reaches into the past in order to envisage the deep future. This can only ever be an extrapolation of the present – our knowledge, experience, language and ideas – but Farrier is relaxed about this. His focus is on the way life has been recorded in the substance of the world, the ways we can trace human impact and the...

Johnson published a scandalous, bestselling novel at the age of 23. By the time she married C.P. Snow, her second husband, she had written 13 books. The biographical note to these new Hodder editions says, somewhat slyly, that ‘for thirty years they formed an ambitious and infamous couple.’ The Encyclopaedia Britannica summarises her as an ‘English novelist who treated moral concerns with a light but sure touch’, as if she were being praised for her pastry. Johnson’s writing is more industrial than domestic.

Two Poems

Lavinia Greenlaw, 25 October 2018

My father leaving

I have found a form for my grief in the memory of a young deer I glimpsed by the side of the road half destroyed half poised to make a leap.

The snow held in place its shock at being collapsed back into the earth while yet to know what it was here for or what needed to be done.

Did you think the earth had taken hold the day you pulled off the road and walked away from...

Spurious, Glorious: Three Long Poems

Lavinia Greenlaw, 13 September 2018

The long poem​ pre-empts its own significance. We expect more of it and less of ourselves, adjusting our pace and investing in the big picture. Hannah Sullivan’s majestic debut offers three big pictures – birth, coming of age and death – but this isn’t a triptych. Instead, these themes extend across the book, with the poems acting as a set of transparencies that...

Four Poems

Lavinia Greenlaw, 8 March 2018

There, he says

His wife has died, he is alone and so we follow him into the storm because he wants to take us out. Out where?There, he says as we turn each black corner, there.

A man in grief walking the empty centre of a Sunday-night small town caught up in the act of knowing where he’s going as we repeat the drenched streets.

He’s already got us running in circles as if we...

Indoor Raincoat: Joy Division

Lavinia Greenlaw, 23 April 2015

When​ people equate pop lyrics with poetry, they expect pop to feel flattered and sometimes it is. So This Is Permanence reminds us that lyrics can reward close attention without being recast. The book collects the words of Ian Curtis, the singer in Joy Division, who committed suicide in 1980 at the age of 23. Joy Division belonged to the scene that emerged into the space left behind by...

When Tracey Thorn was 17, she bought an electric guitar through a small ad in Melody Maker. Only when she got it home did she realise something was missing: she needed an amp. She played the guitar anyway and got ‘into the habit of making very little noise’. A couple of years later, with Ben Watt, she formed the band Everything But the Girl. In the last thirty years they’ve been ‘signed, dropped, re-signed, mixed and remixed’ while selling around nine million records.Thorn grew up in the suburbs twenty miles north of London.

Poem: ‘Actaeon’

Lavinia Greenlaw, 25 August 2011

He walks his mind as a forest and sends of himself into dark places to which he cannot tell the way. The hunt comes on and he in his nerves streams ahead – hounds flung after a scent so violent no matter the path or what’s let fall.        A burst of clearing. Water beads and feathers her presence as she thickens and curves. He says words to himself...

Three Poems

Lavinia Greenlaw, 1 January 2009

Saturday Night

Out of the impenetrable wood

Elizabeth Bishop

And young girls shall gather to dance on the highways under petals of light that float from their shoulders and dip into lotioned shadows. They shall coil their salty hair and tug at their lapsed muslins as they fall like cushions, and spill. Do they dance for those creatures whose unmade selves come unbuttoning out of the dark?...

Poem: ‘The Long Day Closes’

Lavinia Greenlaw, 27 June 2002

Pulled from my shell of dreams and noise, I was taken to live in a quiet place where the undiluted dark of the streets without streetlight, had no emphasis.

Boys on boys’ shoulders turned the crossroads signpost back, conferred on baffled drivers, four blind corners, an added hour of English winter.

Power cuts shut the short days down. I moved my bed against the boards that hid the...

Four Poems

Lavinia Greenlaw, 22 May 1997

Minus Ten

The snow is blameless. It falls like someone who cannot stop talking, in querulous drifts. It covers the same ground we barely remember, collects evidence wherever we slip.

Thaw turns to ice, freezing the surface to a single assertion. We must break glass with every step to reach a starting point.And the children. What of the children?


Henry Ford boasted there would be...

Poem: ‘Millefiori’

Lavinia Greenlaw, 3 August 1995

For Don Paterson

He preferred his glass eye to be of itself, vitreous not ocular or even optically convincing.

Without pupil or iris, allowed to risk its stubbornly fluid nature, the blue held everything.

It liquefied in candlelight and clouded over in winter. Once, at the opera, an aria

built wave upon wave of sound, higher and closer till it struck the resonant frequency

of blue glass and...

Poem: ‘Invention’

Lavinia Greenlaw, 10 November 1994

My six-year-old mechanic, you are up half the night inventing a pipe made from jars, a skiing carfor flat icy roads and a timer-catapult involving a palm tree, candles and rope.

You could barely stand when I once found you, having loosened the bars from the cot and stepped out so simply you shocked yourself. Today I am tearful, infatuated with bad ideas,

the same song, over and over. You take...

It is hard to make a living from poetry. Lavinia Greenlaw has turned her hand to all manner of activities to support her work – publishing, teaching, arts administration, posts as...

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Send no postcards, take no pictures

John Redmond, 21 May 1998

Kenneth Koch ends his fine and amusing collection, One Train, with a sequence called ‘On Aesthetics’, which, amongst many other things, takes in the aesthetics of Paul Valéry,...

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Ever so comfy

James Wood, 24 March 1994

Every handful of John Updike’s silver has its square coin, its bad penny, its fake. This exquisitely careful writer tends to relax into flamboyance: it is the verbal equivalent of...

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