Ruth Fainlight

Ruth Fainlight




awards & honours

Cholmondeley Award for Poetry, 1994 

Hawthornden Fellowship, 1987

shortlisted for:

Laurence Olivier Awards 1992 
(Outstanding achievement in opera)

Whitbread Awards for Poetry, 1998 



Inaugural 'poet-in-residence' for the Poetry workshop on the 
Guardian Unlimited website (October 2004)

Poet in Residence: Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN, USA, 1985 & 1990

Writing Tutor (libretti): Performing Arts Labs, 
International Opera & Music Theatre Labs, UK, 1997, 1998, 1999 

Arvon poetry tutor 



The Dancer Hotoke 1991, composer Erika Fox
* * *nominated for the 1992 Laurence Olivier Awards* * *

The European Story 1993, chamber opera, composer Geoffrey Alvarez (libretto is based on poem of the same name).

(Both works above were  commissioned by Royal Opera House for their 'Garden Venture' program in 1991 and 1993)
* * *texts of both included in 'Selected Poems' 1995* * *  

Her TV opera, Bedlam Britannica, was transmitted on Channel 4 in September 1995. 


She has recorded with BBC World ServiceKaleidescope & other BBC Radio Three and BBC Radio Four programs.


website links

Article by Ruth Fainlight called: "A Memoir of Tangier and Paul Bowles" on  

Italian site: 

USA site:

"Desperado Literature" site  - Lidia Vianu interviews Ruth Fainlight

Ruth Fainlight's translation (from Portuguese) of Sophia de Mello Breyner's poem, "In the Poem", is included on the February/March 2003 series of Poems on the Underground.



Handbag Ancient Egyptian Couples  |  The Tree Surgeon


from: Fifteen to Infinity, 1983

My mother's old leather handbag,
crowded with letters she carried
all through the war. The smell
of my mother's handbag: mints
and lipstick and Coty powder.
The look of those letters, softened
and worn at the edges, opened,
read, and refolded so often.
Letters from my father. Odour
of leather and powder, which ever
since then has meant womanliness,
and love, and anguish, and war.

Ancient Egyptian Couples

from: Sugar-Paper Blue, 1997

Ancient Egyptian couples
standing or seated side by side.
Plaited wigs and pleated robes
breastplates and bracelets patterned
with lotus and papyrus buds
in wood, stone, plaster,
meticulously worked and incised.

Signifying separate realms,
his skin is painted
earth red, hers gleams soft
and golden as the sky.

Sometimes, the wife has placed a hand
upon her husband's shoulder.
They stare at us, not at each other,
from enormous kohl-rimmed eyes.

That surge of affection
across millennia, like
the sudden return of desire
which haloes the head, the whole
body, of the one confirmed
again as beloved, brings them
close as you and I.

The Tree Surgeon

from: Burning Wire, 2002

Pressing against the trunk, he twists around
and back to test the resilience of the branch,
the rope, the safety of his position,
then crawls along a bough – a primate
in his habitat. When he stops to rest and
contemplate the distracting criss-cross of last
season's twigs, plot his next move and where
to cut yet not harm the tree's structure,
he becomes a modern human.

Next spring it will start again. By autumn,
when this year's leaves have fallen, the space
he's cleared will be filigreed with new growth.
The pressure of a tool on his palm, the timeless
repetitions of toil, seem part of the same
process – something more important than
an individual life. He's caring for trees,
not carving a sculpture that will immortalize
him; would never conceive such ambitions.

At ground level, two men, helmetted,
their ears muffled against the sound, feed
fallen branches through the mouth of a hopper
that spits the shredded stuff into the open back
of a truck. The tree surgeon, gracefully
stretching toward the tip of the tallest branch,
is only not an artist because he knows
that what he does could be done as well –
or maybe even better – by someone else.


(© Ruth Fainlight)

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