FAINLIGHT, Ruth. Twenty One Poems. London: Turret Books, 1973.
Tall 8vo., 25 x 15.5cm; pink cloth lettered in gilt to spine; pink paper dust jacket with design and lettering by her son David in black to covers; pp. 29, [iii]; a fine copy.
Limited edition, number 85 of 100 copies signed by the poet.
"I am a poet who is a woman, not a woman poet"
Ruth Fainlight was a celebrated poet in her own right, although she did to some extent live in the shadow of her brother, Harry, who was a friend to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Allen Ginsberg. A heavy drug user, Harry purportedly once slept with William S. Boroughs, and was described by Ginsberg as “the most gifted English poet of his generation”. He was also befriended by Ted Hughes (who wrote a poem about him in 1983). Ruth worshiped her brother and, after his death in 1982, she edited a posthumous volume of his work, Selected Poems, which was published in 1986.
Turret Books was a hub for avant garde poetry. It was founded by Bernard Stone, a friend of Alan Silitoe, and Ralph Steadman. In 1950 Silitoe had married Ruth, and the press published her brother Harry’s only book of poetry in 1965. However it was not until 1973 that Ruth’s poems were printed by them.
Before this time, however, Ruth had published over a dozen volumes of poetry, short stories, opera libretti and numerous translations. Her first poetry collection, Cages, was published in 1966. While her brother was close to Ted Hughes, Ruth befriended Sylvia Plath, and influences between the two friends are evident in both of their writings. She was Poet in Residence at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, in 1985 and 1990, and her work has been translated into Portuguese, French, Spanish and, most recently, Italian. She was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2007.
Fainlight’s poems often invoke an imagined ancestry of earlier female oracles and prophets. She resists easy definition, and her poetry bears witness to her dislike of being categorized. In ‘Vertical’, she refers to the liberating power of her writing which enables her to escape from being pigeon-holed: “I am released by language …/which sets me free/From whomsoever’s definition:/Jew. Woman. Poet.”