About Elaine Feinstein

Elaine Feinstein (b.1930 – d.2019) was from Bootle, Lancashire and was educated at Newnham College, Cambridge. She worked as an editor, a university lecturer and a journalist. From 1976 she lived on her writing. Feinstein’s early poetry bears the influence of modernists such as Pound, but it wasn’t until she began translating the great Russian poet, Marina Tsvataeva, that she found her own voice. Much of her material is drawn from personal experience, though set within the wider cultural contexts of her Jewish inheritance, feminism and European history. These influences can be detected throughout her work which, as well as her ten collections of poetry, also includes fourteen novels, several acclaimed biographies, short stories and plays for radio and television. She received a Cholmondeley Award, three Arts Council Awards and was made a Fellow of the Royal Literary Society in 1981. In 1990 she received an honorary Doctorate from the University of Leicester for services to literature.

Feinstein’s poems allow us intimate access to the fears and consolations of family life, particularly in her moving elegies to her parents and the stringent yet tender poems about her long and “bumpy” marriage. Feinstein said “People have always been the centre of my concerns,” and this statement is borne out in work that, whilst revealing the ambivalence of our relations with others, also records our rare moments of grace which flower unexpectedly like the cactus’ “blare of red” in ‘June’. She was aware that such moments are a reprieve or, as she puts it in ‘Getting Older’, “every day won from such/darkness is a celebration.” That darkness is ever-present, be it personal loss or the long shadow of the Holocaust, but it’s also what gives her poems their urgency, as it does for the dying owner of the laundrette in ‘Urban Lyric’ who “is made alert to the day’s beauty,/as if her terror had wakened poetry.”

Feinstein’s voice moves slowly through the emotional complexities of her poems, reflecting their measured pace, the discipline of their line breaks, and the pauses she uses on the page to allow time for her words to sink in. The cumulative effect is very moving and intimate – as if she is taking us into her confidence.

Her recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 17 September 2002 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Poems by Elaine Feinstein

Urban Lyric - Elaine Feinstein
Getting Older - Elaine Feinstein
Insomnia - Elaine Feinstein
Wheelchair - Elaine Feinstein
Dad - Elaine Feinstein

Featured in the Archive


1970 Arts Council Grant/Award for Translation

Prize website

1979 Arts Council Grant/Award for Translation

Prize website

1981 Arts Council Grant/Award for Translation

Prize website

1990 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

1997 Poetry Book Society Recommendation, Daylight

Prize website

2003 Poetry Book Society Special Commendation, Collected Poems and Translations

Prize website