About Lavinia Greenlaw

Lavinia Greenlaw (b. 1962) is a Londoner by birth and has lived in the city for much of her life. Born into a family of scientists, scientific subject matter forms an important and much-commented on element in her work. However, art, history and travel are equally significant sources of inspiration. Her working life has reflected her writing's intellectual restlessness; she was an editor at the Imperial College of Science and Technology and Writer in Residence at the Science Museum, but also holds an MA in Art History from the Courtauld and has worked in arts administration at the South Bank and for London Arts Board. She has published five collections of poetry including Minsk (2003), which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot, Forward and Whitbread Poetry Prizes, The Casual Perfect (2011) and A Double Sorrow: Troilus and Criseyde  (2014) which was shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award. Her sound work, Audio Obscura, was commissioned in 2011 from Artangel and Manchester International Festival, and won the 2011 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.

In her introduction to the poem 'Night Photograph', Greenlaw comments "If I write about anything in particular I write about how we see and how we try to see." This obsession with perception is at the heart of her work and the tensions within it. On one hand she has the coolly empirical gaze of the trained scientist who pays meticulous attention to the surface of things, on the other Greenlaw acknowledges that science's attempt to explain the world through the analysis of observable phenomena is, at best, incomplete. Light is often the medium she uses to explore these contradictions - it is the means by which we see, but is prone to creating illusions. Different conditions of light suffuse her poems; the gorgeous colours of a polluted London sunset, the poisonous glow of radium, the extremes of an Arctic climate. Vision is for Greenlaw both the evidence of her eyes and what lies beyond rational modes of explanation, like the glimpsed lizard-tail of a dream, or as she says of her experience of an Arctic winter "Because I couldn't see I had to imagine..."

Greenlaw's voice is a beautiful medium for these contradictions. It is a precision instrument, tuned to the particular music of her lines, but it also has a hushed and wondering quality like a naturalist describing a rare creature they've been waiting a long time to study.

Her recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 27 January and 6 October 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Selected bibliography

A Double Sorrow: Troilus and Criseyde, Faber and Faber,...


The Casual Perfect, Faber and Faber, 2011


Signs and Humours: poetry and medicine (editor),...


An Irresponsible Age (fiction), Fourth Estate/Harper...

Mary George of Allnorthover (fiction), Harper Perennial...

The Importance of Music to Girls (non-fiction), Faber...


Thoughts of a Night Sea (Photographs by Garry Fabian...

Minsk, Faber & Faber, 2003, Harcourt Brace, USA, 2005


A World Where News Travelled Slowly, Faber & Faber, 1997



1990 Eric Gregory Award

Prize website

1993 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection - shortlist), Night Photograph

Prize website

1993 Whitbread Poetry Award (shortlist), Night Photograph

Prize website

1995 Arts Council Writers' Award

Prize website

1997 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Single Poem - winner), 'A World Where News Travelled Slowly'

Prize website

1997 K Blundell Trust Award

Prize website

1998 Wingate Scholarship

Prize website

2000 National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts Fellowship

Prize website

2002 Spycher-Leuk Literaturpreis (Switzerland)

2003 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

2003 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist), Minsk

Prize website

2003 Whitbread Poetry Award (shortlist), Minsk

Prize website

2003 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection - shortlist), Minsk

Prize website

2003 Poetry Book Society Recommendation, Minsk

Prize website

2003 Prix du Premier Roman (France)

Prize website

2004 Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

Prize website

2005 Travelling Scholarship, Society of Authors

Prize website


Buy album £0.00


2Night Parrot

3River History

4From Scattered Blue

5A Change in the Weather

6The Patagonian Nightingale


8Love from a Foreign City

9The Innocence of Radium

10Night Photograph

11Reading Akhmatova in Midwinter



14The Shape of Things


16A World Where News Travelled Slowly

17The Earliest Known Representation of a Storm in Western Art

18Late Sun

19The Spirit of the Staircase

20The Falling City

21The Long Day Closes

22Essex Rag





27Camel Hair

28Against Rhetoric: A Letter to Lord Chandos, 1603


30'What makes for the fullness and perfection of life'

31Blue Field


33Bird Walk


35The Boat Back into the Dark

Books by Lavinia Greenlaw