Image by Caroline Forbes

Lavinia Greenlaw

b. 1962

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

Blue Field

Lavinia Greenlaw


Lavinia Greenlaw

Night Photograph

Lavinia Greenlaw

The Innocence of Radium

Lavinia Greenlaw

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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. 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.

Selected bibliography

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


Night Photograph, Faber & Faber, 1993

Love from a Foreign City, Slow Dancer Press, 1992 - out...

The Cost of Getting Lost in Space, Turret Books, 1991 -...

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