© Image by Caroline Forbes

Lavinia Greenlaw

(b. 1962)

"Things change, become home and we must leave them" - Lavinia Greenlaw, 'Guidebooks to the Alhambra'

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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Select bibliography

  • The Cost of Getting Lost in Space, Turret Books, 1991 - out of print
  • Love from a Foreign City, Slow Dancer Press, 1992 - out of print
  • Night Photograph, Faber & Faber, 1993
  • A World Where News Travelled Slowly, Faber & Faber, 1997
  • Mary George of Allnorthover (fiction), Harper Perennial, 2001
  • Minsk, Faber & Faber, 2003, Harcourt Brace, USA, 2005
  • Thoughts of a Night Sea (Photographs by Garry Fabian Miller), Merrill Publishing, 2003
  • Poetry Quartets 8, Audio Cassette, The British Council/Bloodaxe Books, 2004
  • Lavinia Greenlaw Reading from her poems, CD, The Poetry Archive, 2006
  • An Irresponsible Age (fiction), Fourth Estate/Harper Perennial, 2006
  • The Importance of Music to Girls (non-fiction), Faber & Faber, 2007
  • Signs and Humours: poetry and medicine (editor), Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 2007
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. Her first collection, Night Photograph, appeared in 1993 and attracted immediate attention, being shortlisted for both the Whitbread Poetry Award and Forward Poetry Prize, whilst her most recent, Minsk, was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize.

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.


1990 Eric Gregory Award

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

1993 Whitbread Poetry Award (shortlist), Night Photograph

1995 Arts Council Writers' Award

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

1997 K Blundell Trust Award

1998 Wingate Scholarship

2000 National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts Fellowship

2002 Spycher-Leuk Literaturpreis (Switzerland)

2003 Cholmondeley Award

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

2003 Whitbread Poetry Award (shortlist), Minsk

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

2003 Poetry Book Society Recommendation, Minsk

2003 Prix du Premier Roman (France)

2004 Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

2005 Travelling Scholarship, Society of Authors

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