Ruth Fainlight

Ruth Fainlight is the author of the collection of verse, Sybils and Others.

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...

Poem: ‘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...

Poem: ‘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...

Poem: ‘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.


Poem: ‘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,...

Poem: ‘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,...

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...

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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...

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