The Built Moment

Faber 7th February 2019 Buy this book


Guardian review

My last collection, The Casual Perfect, focused on  “the achievement of the provisional”. In the near decade since writing those poems,  I have found myself exploring what we build out of the provisional: beginnings and endings, arrivals and departures, and the moments we fix as memories,  fixing too their joy and pain. There are also reflections on thought, language and image as other kinds of framework or fixative.

The Built Moment is divided into two sections. The first, ‘The Sea is an Edge and an Ending’, is a sequence of poems about my father’s disappearance into Alzheimer’s. It is not a narrative of illness so much as a meditation on the metaphysics of memory loss. What does it mean only to exist in the present, for your sense of self to come loose and for the past to float free?

These poems were the basis for a short film I made in 2016, also called The Sea is an Edge and an Ending, which continues to be shown in galleries and at festivals. The film carries echoes of Shakespeare’s Tempest in its study of a man under a kind of spell, whose child must observe his strange and terrifying liberation. It moves from the shifting coastal landscape of the east of England, a geography central to my life and work, to eroded interiors containing only the bare structures and reduced emblems of this man’s li

If the first section of the book is about loss, this section is about possibility. It includes a prayer (‘Men I Have Heard in the Night’), a blessing (‘Fleur de Sel’) and a speculation on why we cling on to pain (‘The Break’). There are poems about Joy Division and David Bowie, and an elegy for my first love. There are structures that arrest remembering and forgetting, and the fundamental arrest of a poet’s difficulty with words. These poems are about what we make and hold onto and offer one another. They are also about how as we get older and death becomes more and more a part of life, what we build and what we break out of becomes more important than ever.


In the City of Love’s Sleep

Faber & Faber 6th September 2018 Buy this book

“Raif spoke to Iris for a matter of minutes. What does he see in her? What he needs to. He sleeps and wakes and what comes to mind is a woman turning away. He follows her.”

Iris, a museum conservator in her late forties, is separating from her husband while trying to bring up two daughters in a house that’s falling down. Raif is a stalled academic – as uncertain of the past as he is of the future – whose girlfriend is about to move in. They meet by chance, nothing important is said, yet Iris turns away and starts to run. She is running from what this encounter has woken in her.

In the City of Love’s Sleep is a contemporary fable about what it means to fall in love in middle age. It charts the steps two people take towards each other, and what it means to have taken those steps before. The city becomes a map of confinements and evasions, enticements and release; the museum objects that Iris and Raif come into contact with punctuate the narrative and reflect ways of navigating their emotional terrain.

This mesmerising novel explores our desire to grasp, understand, invest and describe: love and the objects are, in a sense, metaphors for one another. Love is revealed in all its inscrutable complexity: the raw nature of feeling and its uncontrollable, unsettling truths.

Lavinia Greenlaw “writes about the recognition, the second it takes to “know” someone unknown, the stirring of what one might not register as memory. She shows how we respond to the tiniest signals – a syllable, a gesture, a glance. It is love in middle age she describes. The writing is present-tense choreography, as easy to read as gliding across parquet.”

Kate Kellaway, The Observer


A Double Sorrow

Faber & Faber March 2014 Buy this book

 A Double Sorrow is a riveting formal achievement—a reimagining of a great narrative poem as a sequence of lyric moments: glints, surmises, fleeting apprehensions.  In Pound’s great phrase, Lavinia Greenlaw has made it new, honoring our literary past while enlivening our future.”

James Longenbach

“In an act of imaginative reconstruction, Greenlaw has filleted the original, lifting telling phrases and key narrative moments and making them her own…[It is] shadowed by the mystery that is the mark of real poetry.”

The Guardian 

“An admirable and moving addition to [the] new Chaucerian canon”

Times Literary Supplement

When Chaucer composed Troilus and Criseyde, he gave us what is said to be his finest poem and one of the most captivating love stories ever written. It is also a tale that has been passed from one writer to another over centuries, evolving and enduring as a tragedy of human nature that speaks to us all.

Lavinia Greenlaw’s pinpoint retelling is neither a translation nor a version but something new. She has drawn out the story’s psychological drama? through a process of detonation? or amplification of image and phrase into original poems.  In this series of skilfully crafted seven-line vignettes, she creates a zoetrope that illuminates each small but irrevocable step as these characters argue each other and themselves into and out of love. The result is a breathtaking and shattering read, contemporary ?and timeless.

The Casual Perfect

Faber & Faber 2011 Buy this book
“Greenlaw renders the knowledge that “There is no way home”, since we are already here, with an unsparing sensuality and a satisfying, slow-burning music … Her own intense literariness is always bent on finding its way back to life as well as over the page. With The Casual Perfect, Lavinia Greenlaw has come into her own.”
                                                                                                         Sean O’Brien, The Guardian
If Lavinia Greenlaw’s Minsk was about home, her new collection tests the proximities of elsewhere, “the circle round our house”, the road between two lives. Its title recalls a phrase of Robert Lowell’s to describe Elizabeth Bishop — one of the book’s presiding spirits, with her insistence on the provisional, on the moment in which perception is formed, on landscape as action rather than description. The Casual Perfect continues Lavinia Greenlaw’s explorations of light and the borders of vision, which include a journey to the four corners of Britain to observe the solstices and equinoxes, and a cycle about the East Anglian landscape which is nine-tenths sky. Questions of travel hover around many of these poems, or questions which need to be “travelled fully” rather than answered — and which involve the overheard and the glimpsed, what is gleaned from traces and external signs. The result is a collection that is under-stated, spare but inclusive, which invites our presence as readers.

Questions of Travel

Notting Hill Editions 2011 Buy this book

….and one brilliant melange – the poet Lavinia Greenlaw annotating a selection from William Morris’s tour of Iceland. This is formally the most adventurous, with Morris’s text on the recto page, and Greenlaw’s poetic reshapings and interpolations on the verso. It makes the reader dance a kind of duet over the pages, watching how Greenlaw has adapted and inverted the already fascinating account of the Pre-Raphaelite painter’s rather charmingly bumbling trip.

Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman

Morris’s intimate journals, written for a friend, unconsciously explore questions of travel, noting his reaction to the idea of leaving or arriving, to hurry and delay, what it means to dread a place you’ve never been to or to encounter the actuality of a long-held vision. Poet Lavinia Greenlaw draws out these questions as she follows in the footprints of Morris’s prose, responding to its surfaces and undercurrents, extending its horizons. The result is a new and composite work, which brilliantly explores our conflicted reasons for not staying at home.

The Importance of Music to Girls

Faber and Faber 2007 Buy this book



That Lavinia Greenlaw has chosen to tell the story of her life through the moments musicaux that meant the most to her is excellent news…Greenlaw’s prose is so beautiful, careful and quotable that she hardly needs to insert the words of other great minds, yet we have everyone from Musil to Roth to Homer and Hogarth contributing their thoughts on the great heritage of musical feeling that has been passed down to us. This is not just a book about that heritage, or about the author’s life, but perhaps the loveliest hymn to St Cecilia that this century has yet produced.

Melissa Katsoulis, Sunday Telegraph

Whether then, now or in the future, each generation has and will have an (often chaotic) set list of their own making, tunes that define a moment, sounds that last a lifetime. In this tender memoir, Lavinia Greenlaw builds on that assertion, creating a body of work that plays out as sweetly as any finely tuned mixed tape. Honest, melancholy and at times totally random, Greenlaw’s musical musings, from the playground chants of her formative years to the Donny Osmond obsession of her teens, provide a touching canvas from a pre-digital age. From the growing pains of early childhood through to her self-reflective teens, Greenlaw’s sharp observations on the various rites of passage, seen through the sounds she hears and the musical influences she is privy to, are richly imagined yet instantly recognisable.

Anna Millar, Scotland on Sunday

“If I had not kissed anyone, or danced with anyone, or had a reason to cry, the music made me feel as if I had gone through all that anyway . . . the music attracted and repelled, organised and disturbed and then let us into the night, clusters of emotion ready to dissolve into sleep.” In The Importance of Music to Girls, Lavinia Greenlaw tells the story of the adventures that music leads us into: getting drunk, falling in love, dying of boredom, cutting our hair, terrifying our parents, wanting to change the world. This is a vivid memoir unlike any other, recalling the furious passion of being young, female, and coming alive through music.

An Irresponsible Age

A funny, moving and wholly involving account of people struggling belatedly to grow up and take charge of their lives.
Peter Parker, TLS

Greenlaw has already established herself has a significant force in British poetry. This novel seems certain to confirm her developing reputation as a writer of lively, intelligent and well-crafted fiction.
The Guardian

A piece of ice in the eye, chilling and disturbing, a beautiful portrait of ordinary unhappiness at its best.
Irish Times

There is a deep sense of imminent reckoning pervading this subtle and intriguing novel; an unspoken understanding that the irresponsibility – personal and political – must come to an end.

It is hard not to compare this novel with The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen’s novel about family life at the end of the twentieth century … sensuous and richly descriptive.”
Literary Review


Greenlaw manages both to show the unimportance of human feeling in this setting and to make its intensity present.
Her studies of colour, light, water, ice and distance are fascinating…
Sean O’Brien, Sunday Times

… the bleakness in her memories and seascapes comes across less as an eccentric extreme than as the way the world really moves, or rather the way it does not move, blue and static in its shining ice.
Stephen Burt, TLS

… the sensuous of her thought and her ability to move between the abstract and the precisely observed remain as potent as ever.
William Wotton, The Guardian

Thoughts of a Night Sea

Merrell 2003

Mary George of Allnorthover

Flamingo 2001

“With perceptiveness and verve, Lavinia Greenlaw charts the travails of a spunky new heroine, Mary George, caught in the treacheries and stagnancy of an English backwater in the 1970s.
Edna O’Brien

“… the perfect setting for Greenlaw to display her natural talent for creating a sense of simmering insurrection and then holding it on a razor’s edge … This is a terrific first novel, a meteorological force in its own right.”
Marina Benjamin, The Evening Standard

“A poet’s eye clearly informs Greenlaw’s beautifully observed portrait of Seventies provincial life. In prose layered like paint, Greenlaw conjures up the period through details – petrol shortages, power cuts, particular sweets and music, the regulation mini-bottles of warm school milk – that will strike endless chords with readers who grew up at that time. Greenlaw’s nostalgia is palpable, but it is never sentimental, nor is her portrait of the eccentric but loveable Mary George – a genuinely original heroine. This is a suggestive, elusive novel, which achieves a magical effect by the gradual accumulation of images. But this outstanding debut does not lack immediacy or drama: its climax is a brutal murder.”
Katie Owen, Vogue

A World Where News Travelled Slowly

Faber & Faber 1997 Buy this book


The central theme of Greenlaw’s second collection is the unpredictable act of communication, from the mechanical to the miraculous. Other poems are concerned with attempts at preservation – plundered relics, the stately home, an iron lung.

Greenlaw’s control is formidable; in this volume there is scarcely a line or stress out of place.
Elizabeth Lowry, TLS


Night Photograph

Faber & Faber 1993 Buy this book

Galileo’s wife, a woman dying of radium poisoning, the first dog in space, a strangely obsessed pianist, an early beneficiary of plastic surgery and a Russian boy whose adventures are limited by the immature powers of his inventor, are among the characters featured in this collection of poetry.

Shortlisted for the Whitbread and Forward Poetry Prizes.

“Her work is immediately striking for its interest in science, and more lingeringly memorable for the way it combines an excited way of thinking with a calm way of looking.”
Andrew Motion, The Observer

“… everything Greenlaw touches glitters and resonates, her discipline and skill allowing her to be serious, soulful, knockabout, funny and downright strange in the course of a few lines.”
Glyn Maxwell, Vogue

“Her talent is undeniable and suggests that there is much to look forward to.”
Robert Potts, TLS

Signs and Humours

The Poetry of Medicine.