Ruth Fainlight

Ruth Fainlight




Ruth Fainlight was born in New York City, but has lived in England since the age of fifteen.  After adjusting to the English educational system, she went to art college, lived for some years in France and Spain, and later married the writer Alan Sillitoe.  They now divide their time between a flat in London and a cottage in a Somerset village. 

Ruth Fainlight has published thirteen  collections of poems in England and the USA, as well as two volumes of short stories, and translations from French, Portuguese and Spanish.  Selections of her own poems have been published in book form in Portuguese, French and Spanish translation. 

She received the Cholmondeley Award in 1994, and her 1997 collection, Sugar-Paper Blue, Bloodaxe Books 1997 & Dufour Editions USA 1998, was shortlisted for the 1998 Whitbread Award.

Her latest collection  is Burning Wire, Bloodaxe & Dufour 2002. 

In 1985 and 1990 she was Poet in Residence at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 

Her operatic work includes libretti commissioned for the Royal Opera's Garden Venture in 1991 and 1993.  The Dancer Hotoke, composer Erika Fox, was nominated for the 1992 Laurence Olivier Awards.  Her TV opera, Bedlam Britannica, was transmitted on Channel 4 in September 1995. 

She was Writing Tutor at the Contemporary Opera and Music Theatre Lab for the Performing Arts Lab (PAL) for its last three seasons in 1997, 1998 and 1999. 

Ruth Fainlight has served on the Council of The Poetry Society, and is a member of the Society of Authors and the Writers in Prison Committee of English P.E.N.  

She has read her work at festivals and conferences, universities, schools and libraries in Argentina, Canada, England, France, Greece, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Macedonia, Peru, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Uruguay, USA and Wales.


Cages 1966
To See the Matter Clearly 1968
from Macmillan UK; Dufour Editions, USA 

The Region's Violence 1973
Another Full Moon 1976
Sibyls and Others 1980
Fifteen to Infinity 1983
Selected Poems 1987
The Knot 1990
from Hutchinson or CenturyHutchinson, UK 
Fifteen to Infinity also published 1987, Carnegie-Mellon University Press USA
Climates 1983
from Bloodaxe Books UK 
This Time of Year 1994
Selected Poems 1995 (updated new edition)~
from Sinclair-Stevenson UK 
Sugar-Paper Blue 1997  
* * * Shortlisted for 1998 Whitbread Poetry Prize * * *
from Bloodaxe Books UK, Dufour Editions USA 
"Burning Wire", by Ruth Fainlight
Burning Wire 2002
from Bloodaxe Books UK, Dufour Editions USA
(web link to Bloodaxe)

Artist's books  (text: poems by Ruth Fainlight)

Sibyls, 1991, with woodcuts by Leonard Baskin
from Gehenna Press USA

Pomegranate, 1997, mezzotints by Judith Rothchild
from Editions de l`Eau, Ceret, France 

Leaves/Feuilles, 1998, (bi-lingual, French/English, tr. M.Duclos), mezzotints by Judith Rothchild
from Editions Verdigris, Octon, France 

Feathers, 2002, mezzotints by Judith Rothchild
from Editions Verdigris, France 

Sheba and Solomon, 2004, drypoints by Ana Maria Pacheco from Pratt Contemporary Art, UK 

Short Stories

Daylife and Nightlife 1971
from Andre Deutsch UK 

Dr. Clock`s Last Case 1994
from Virago Books UK 


All Citizens Are Soldiers (with Alan Sillitoe) 1966
from Macmillan UK; play, from Spanish of Lope de Vega (original title: Fuenteovejuna

Navigations 1983, Casa da Moeda, Portugal and Marine Rose 1987, Black Swan USA, poems, from Portuguese of Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen

Selection of poems by Jean Joubert, from French, included in Selected Poems 1995 

Poetry Collections by Ruth Fainlight in translation

La Verità sulla Sibilla 2003, tr. Alessandra Schiavinato and Paolo Ruffilli, published by Edizioni del Leone, Venice, Italy 

Visitação 1995, edited by Ana Hatherly, Quetzal Editores, Lisbon, Portugal 

Encore la Pleine Lune 1997, tr.M.Duclos & J.Joubert, Editions Federop, Eglise-Neuve d'Issac, France 

Leaves/Feuilles 1998, tr. M.Duclos, Editions Verdigris, Octon, France 

Bleu Papier-Sucre 2000, tr. M.Duclos, Les Amis de la Poésie, Bergerac, France

Poemas 2000, tr. B.Varela, L.Graves, M.Negroni, J.Capriata, M.Lauer Editorial Pequeña Venecia, Caracas, Venezuela

Poems by Ruth Fainlight in translation

The poem "Sugar-Paper Blue" was translated into Russian by Marina Boroditskaya and is published in the April 2003 issue of the Moscow monthly Inostrannaya Literatura (Foreign Literature).

The poem sequence "Sheba and Solomon" has been translated into Russian by Marina Boroditskaya and published in Moscow in the literary magazine Novaya Younost in 2003.

Criticism: Radio

BBC World Service, Kaleidescope & other BBC Radio Three and BBC Radio Four programs

Criticism: Press

Book reviews for Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Independent, Poetry Review, Jewish Quarterly, Jewish Chronicle, European Judaism, Financial Times, London Magazine, PN Review


Excerpts from reviews of poetry collections by Ruth Fainlight 

"Her new book has the steadiness and clarity of the moon itself". 
Peter Porter, The Observer 

"A formidable collection ... If there is a suggestion of feminist defiance here, so much the better; at least Fainlight isn't strident. With so much talent and confidence, she doesn't need to be". 
Derek Mahon, London Review of Books 

"In a tradition various enough to include Emily Dickinson, Mary Coleridge, Christina Rossetti and Charlotte Mew, her poetry gets on with itself, not self-absorbed but quite independent". 
John Bayley, London Review of Books 

"... in Fainlight, we are in the presence of someone engaged in understanding herself as an artist more than anything else .... the lyric poet at her most mature .... and American poets might do well to read (her). Straightforwardness is a trait I have always valued in our poetry and missed in poetry from across the Atlantic.  Lately, I miss it in ours, but find it in the work of this expatriate". 
Mark Jarman, The Hudson Review, USA 

"It may seem strange to place William Empson, that masterful wizard of ingenious and knotty structures, at the mouth of Ruth Fainlight's quiet, paradoxically discreet yet sibylline cave of making, but as I became absorbed by these 'Selected Poems' I found that it was a remark of his which helped me to define their quality: "The first or only certain reason for writing verse is to clear your own mind and fix your own feelings". .... Ruth Fainlight's poetry is ... increasingly generous with its rewards".
John Mole, Poetry Review 

"... her poems combine Alice Munro's virtues with something more archaic and also, in exact clear words, give us truly new visions of usual and mysterious events".  
A. S. Byatt, The Independent 

"To my mind, the virtues of Ruth Fainlight's voice have never been more needed.  At a time when there are so many ready to urge poets to take their place in the media market-place, Fainlight's poetry is a reminder that poems are not merely products for display and sale, but arise out of privacy and dedication". 
Elaine Feinstein, The Jewish Quarterly 

"Her voice can be cutting as well as lyrical.  Fainlight is terrific on the subject of ageing". 
Helen Dunmore, Poetry Review 

"Ruth Fainlight has always been a painterly poet, sensuous and observant, who has paid particular attention to myth as it shapes destiny or gives meaning. 'Sugar-Paper Blue' is one of her finest books to date .... the reader is aware of images being thought and felt through, the mind winding itself into narratives, prompted now by pain, now loss, now keen pleasure". 
George Szirtes, Times Literary Supplement 

"When Ruth Fainlight visited Leningrad in 1965, her guide's parents showed her the books, pamphlets and poetry they had "guarded through the terrible years".  The title poem of her new collection opens in a blue-walled room with the sound of footsteps overhead.  The footsteps are those of Anna Akhmatova, old, ill, yet "a good neighbor".  Akhmatova was already an iconic figure to Fainlight.  Her clumsy attempts to catch a glimpse of the Russian poet lead to a beautifully placed collision between the Leningraders and the young Westerner who has not yet learned "That what/ I wanted could not happen".  And the older Fainlight is observed with equal candour, in an unusual poem called 'Young Men', about sexual desire which will never demand fulfilment". 
Helen Dunmore, The Observer 

From The Oxford Companion to English Literature, (2000)
"In her first collection, her distinctively cool, ironic, yet not dispassionate voice spoke clearly: it shows some affinity with the tone of Robert Graves .... Her topics are both domestic and global: she combines, often in one poem, the personal and the austerely detached, and excels at the uncanny casual note of recognition".

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