Greening, John 1954-
GREENING, John 1954-
Home—Huntingdonshire, England. Agent—c/o Cargo Press, The Sea House, Coverack, Helston, Cornwall TR12 6SA, England.
Poet and teacher.
Society of Authors grant.
COLLECTIONS OF POEMS
Westerners, Hippopotamus Press (Surrey, England), 1984.
The Tutankhamun Variations, Bloodaxe Books (New-castle upon Tyne, England), 1991.
Fotheringhay and Other Poems, Rockingham Press (Ware, England), 1995.
The Bocase Stone, Dedalus (Dublin, Ireland), 1996.
Nightflights: New and Selected Poems, Rockingham Press (Ware, England), 1999.
Gascoigne's Egg, Cargo Press (Cornwall, England), 2000.
Omm Sety, Shoestring Press (Nottingham, England), 2001.
Also author of texts included in six songs called Falls, premiered by the Dunedin Consort in 2000 at Wigmore Hall, United Kingdom. Contributor of poems to literary magazines and anthologies.
John Greening is a poet who writes about the intimate relationship between everyday life and historical worlds. He has composed poems about Egypt, the Norse gods, polar exploration, and various historical figures. As noted by reviewer Tim Dooley in Times Literary Supplement, "Greening's poems can offer lyrical graces as well as psychological or political perspectives."
Greening found much of the inspiration for his work through his travels in Germany, the United States, and Egypt. His book of poems The Tutankhamun Variations, for example, combines views of historical archeological expeditions in Egypt with impressions gathered by Greening when he visited the country as a young man. His travels to the United States and Canada led him to Niagara Falls, which in turn served as the inspiration for Greening's Falls, an unaccompanied choral work with six songs focusing on the stories and folklore surrounding the famous water falls.
In 1984, Greening's first collection of poems, titled Westerners, was published. The book includes six poems on artifacts in Egyptian museums, poems about Cleopatra, and a long mythic poem. Writing in Times Literary Supplement, Michael Hulse noted that the "poems of the present are never far removed from a sense of the past." He mentioned that Greening does not avoid sociological and political comment, including acerbic observations about wealth and privilege. Hulse also praised Greening for his "highly developed sense of the suggestiveness of human history."
Greening focuses on Egypt and an Antarctic expedition in The Tutankhamun Variations. The book features the notion of a sequence as a compositional device. In his book, Greening includes twenty-three poems based on such varied topics as a 1922 expedition to Egypt, the London Tutankhamun Exhibition that took place in 1972, and the poet's own experience when he traveled in Egypt in the late 1970s. Nearly half of the book focuses on the excavation of a boy pharaoh's tomb. Another major sequence is titled "The Winter Journey" and is based on three members of Robert Scott's Antarctic expedition of 1911 in their quest to collect an emperor penguin's egg. "A nostalgia for Britain's empire riddles the work, and yet its Masterpiece Theater costume drama has a surreal tilt," wrote Mark Jarman in the Southern Review. Dooley commented in Times Literary Supplement, "Images of burial and bringing to light, of childhood and the attribution of value recur in poems clogged with historical detail or private reminiscence."
In Nightflights: New and Selected Poems, Greening provides a retrospective of his poems prior to 1999 in addition to some new works. Writing in Times Literary Supplement, Neil Powell pointed out "notable successes among the newly collected poems" which end the book. He particularly praised the poem "The Twilight of Birds," which he said benefited from more "attentive writing" than some of the earlier works.
In Gascoigne's Egg, Greening provides a series of poems that mingle the accident of the airship R101 (a dirigible that crashed on October 5, 1930, into a hillside near Beauvais in France, killing everybody on board) with the memories of George Gascoigne, a sixteenth-century English Renaissance poet who once owned an estate that included the site where the airship was built. In his poems, Greening explores how the past and present intertwine and provides a look at the flight's disastrous outcome due to hubris.
In 2002, Omm Sety was published. Once again, Greening returns to the setting of Egypt, this time to write about historical figure Dorothy Eady, who took the name Omm Sety, which means "mother of Sety," after the birth of her and her Egyptian husband's son. Eady was convinced that she had lived a previous life in Egypt as a priestess in a temple and had been King Sety's forbidden lover. When Eady's marriage ended, she stayed in Egypt as an archeologist and further pursued her lover from the past. In his thirty-five-page poem, Greening counterpoises matching free verse stanzas, all spoken by Omm Sety, with metrical verse representing King Sety speaking from the other world. The two worlds are often juxtaposed on opposite pages. Writing in Critical Survey, John Haynes commented on Greening's ability to show great variety in his metrical verse, using everything from octosyllabic couplets to full pentameter. Haynes noted, "A short review cannot cover all the facets of this wonderfully rich poem, for example the Jungian and Egyptian mythological undercurrent about the deep impersonality, or the linking of Ozimandias with Oz, the slangy shortening of Soiris, and then to the Emerald City of Oz and another Dorothy also concerned with 'home.'" Haynes also remarked that "Greening unveils no avuncular trickster" who tried to "explain it all," and noted, "The poem ends in unflinching solitude."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Critical Survey, January, 2002, John Haynes, review of Omm Sety, pp. 126-28.
Southern Review, spring, 1994, Mark Jarman, "Diversity Comes to British Poetry," pp. 393-408.
Times Literary Supplement (London, England), October 12, 1984, Michael Hulse, review of Westerners, p. 1169; December 20, 1991, Tim Dooley, review of The Tutankhamun Variations, p. 8; November 12, 1999, Neil Powell, review of Night-flights: New and Selected Poems, p. 26.*