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Chronological list of prose books by (or edited by) John Greening:

To view more information please click on book cover. All of the books below can be ordered online from the publisher, Greenwich Exchange ( or from Central Books ( or at Amazon (






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Vapour Trails

Vapour Trails is a very readable survey of modern poetry, gathering reviews commissioned by the TLS and other journals, and featuring several new essays. The first half guides us through ‘Varieties of Englishness’, then there are discussions of poets from Scotland, Wales, Ireland and America, with a stopover in Iceland, and a selection of more personal work.

“If poetry widens our sympathies and heightens our attentiveness, so can writing about poetry, particularly if it is as probing and acute as that of John Greening. This collection is a treasure-trove for anyone interested in modern poetry, and above all serves as a reminder for those who might be inclined to doubt that poetry matters.”
Roger Caldwell, London Grip

“A stimulating, modestly comprehensive view of British and Irish poetry written in the twentieth century”
Tony Roberts (Stand)

Poets discussed include: • Fleur Adcock • John Agard • Moniza Alvi • Simon Armitage • Patricia Beer • John Berryman • Elizabeth Bishop • Edmund Blunden • Eavan Boland • Charles Causley • Amy Clampitt • Gillian Clarke • Michael Donaghy • Helen Dunmore • D.J.Enright • U.A.Fanthorpe • Eleanor Farjeon • Elaine FeinsteinJohn Fuller • Philip Gross • Thom Gunn • Michael Hofmann • Ted Hughes • Mimi Khalvati • Lotte Kramer • Gerđur Kristný • Michael Longley • Robert Lowell • Louis MacNeice • James Merrill • John Montague • Andrew Motion • Edwin Muir • Norman Nicholson • Dennis O’Driscoll • Kathleen Raine • Christopher Reid • Peter Redgrove • Carol Rumens • Anne Sexton • Penelope Shuttle • C.H.Sisson • Anne Stevenson • George Szirtes • Edward Thomas • R.S.Thomas • Charles Tomlinson • Vernon Watkins • W.B.Yeats • Andrew Young




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Threading a Dream

Threading a Dream is a journey in prose and verse to southernmost Egypt, that 'Black Land' where the dead were known as 'Westerners'.

In 1979,  the Greenings went to live in Aswan for two years. Newly married, childless, ready for adventure, they were prepared (with a smattering of colloquial Arabic) to thread the country’s mysteries, its contradictions, troubles, and delights, its sights and synchronicities.

It was an extraordinary place, a unique time, and as this memoir describes, it was where the poet began to find a voice.

In this new memoir, poems from thirty-five years, notably from Westerners (1982), are interwoven with prose chapters exploring the light and dark of life in Upper Egypt during the last days of Sadat. There are also snippets from plays, along with extracts from The Tutankhamun Variations and other Egypt-themed volumes such as Omm Sety – which John Haynes in Critical Survey called a ‘wonderfully rich poem’ and Matthew Jarvis in English described as ‘both scholarly and witty ... a resonant and intricate piece of work which deserves to be widely read.’  

The story of Threading a Dream picks up several unexpected threads. Some are uncanny, even mystical, and more than a few are political, but in the end this is a memoir is about one English writer’s personal Arab Spring.

The memoir features illustrations by Rosie Greening.

Threading a Dream is available from Gatehouse Press at the link below, £10.






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Undertones of War


Edmund Blunden (1896-1974) was one of the youngest of the war poets, enlisting straight from school to find himself in some of the Western Front’s most notorious hot-spots. His prose memoir, written in a rich, allusive vein, full of anecdote and human interest,  is unique for its quiet authority and for the potency of its dream-like narrative. Once we accept the archaic conventions and catch the tone – which can be by turns horrifying or hilarious – Undertones of War gradually reveals itself as a masterpiece. It is clear why it has remained in print since it first appeared in 1928.


This new edition not only offers the original unrevised version of the prose narrative, written at white heat when Blunden was teaching in Japan and had no access to his notes, but provides a great deal of supplementary material never before gathered together. Blunden’s ‘Preliminary’  expresses the lifelong compulsion he felt ‘to go over the ground again’ and for half a century he prepared new prefaces, added annotations. All those prefaces and a wide selection of his commentaries are included here – marginalia from friends’ first editions, remarks in letters,  extracts from later essays and a substantial part of his war diary. John Greening  has provided a scholarly introduction discussing the bibliographical and historical background, and  brings his poet’s eye to a much expanded (and more representative) selection of Blunden’s war poetry.  For the first time we can see the poet Blunden as the major figure he was. For the first time, too, Undertones has an index and the chapters are given clear headings, events placed within the chronology of the war.


Blunden had always hoped for a properly illustrated edition of the work, and kept a folder full of possible pictures. The editor, with the Blunden family’s help, has selected some of the best of them .


For further information, visit:







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Poetry Masterclass


Poetry Masterclass is more than just a reference book, although you will find here an extensive glossary of technical terms and verse forms, together with book recommendations and even a brief history of poetry in English. It is also a supremely practical handbook, including well over a hundred creative writing ideas for teachers, students and fledgling poets, with chapters on how to teach a poem, read a poem, write a poem ... Above all, this is a very personal guide by an experienced teacher and established poet: a practitioner offering personal, hands-on advice and demonstrations of technique, much as a performer might during a musical masterclass.


















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Elizabethan Love Poets (Greenwich Exchange, 2010)


This new book examines some of the neglected poets of the late sixteenth century, alongside work by Shakespeare, Donne, Jonson and others.  Each chapter concentrates on one characteristic love poem.













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Edward Thomas (Greenwich Exchange, 2008)


This brief study of key poems by Thomas includes analysis of well known poems such as 'Adlestrop', together with biographical information.

This is a very useful little book on the poetry of Edward Thomas ... Not only does John Greening take us back to the text itself through his careful and sensitive reading of individual poems but also he points to interesting general issues that haunt much of Thomas's poetry.'  Ian Brinton, The Use of English.














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Thomas Hardy: the Poems of 1912-13 (Greenwich Exchange, 2007)

This new ‘Focus’ study from Greenwich Exchange concentrates on the poems Hardy wrote in memory of his first wife – the ‘Emma’ poems.  Greening highlights the distinctive music of this twenty-one poem ‘suite’, while exploring the sexual and spiritual tensions concealed within Hardy’s Dorsetshire and North Cornish landscapes.













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W.B. Yeats (2005, Greenwich Exchange Literary Series,

This new study, written from a poet’s perspective, highlights what is so original and enduring in Yeats’ craftsmanship.  The distinguished Australian poet Alan Gould called it a ‘readable and useful introduction’ which ‘succeeds in renewing interest in this extraordinary poet’ (Quadrant, ).

W.B.Yeats follows the success of John Greening’s Greenwich guide to the Poets of the First World War.












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Poets of the First World War (2004, Greenwich Exchange Literary Series)












Next year Eyewear Publishing ( will be bringing out Vapour Trails, a selection of John Greening’s reviews and essays in their Literary Criticism series.

On the State of Poetry

The Lost Ear (Poetry Review)

The Quest for the Seven Virtues  (Poetry Review)

The Mystic Path of Modern English Poetry  (Swansea Review)

Varieties of Englishness: a collection of Collecteds

Fleur Adcock (Poetry Review)

Charles Causley (TLS)

Peter Didsbury  (TLS)

U.A.Fanthorpe (TLS)

Elaine Feinstein (London Magazine)

David Gascoyne (Poetry Review)

Philip Gross (TLS)

Harry Guest  (London Magazine)

John Heath-Stubbs  (Poetry Review)

Richard Kell (TLS)

C. Day Lewis (Poetry Review)

Peter Scupham  (TLS) 

Carol Rumens (TLS)

Anne Stevenson: essay on ‘Arioso Dolente’ (The Way You Say the World:

 a celebration for Anne Stevenson)


Animal Liberation: 40th anniversary of ‘The New Poetry’  (Poetry Review)

Something Else: Jon Silin (Silkin Memorial Lecture)

George MacBeth  (TLS)

Charles Tomlinson’s Vision of nature (Swansea Review)

Breathing the Political Air (Poetry Now)


Other Collections Reviewed:

Gillian Allnutt  (Thumbscrew and TLS) 

Simon Armitage  (TLS)

Kevin Crossley-Holland (Poetry Review)

Hilary Davies (PN Review)

Michael Donaghy (TLS)

Jane Draycott   (TLS)

Paul Farley  (TLS)

Paul Groves (Thumbscrew)

Jen Hadfield (TLS)

John Heath-Stubbs (TLS)

Judith Kazantzis (TLS)

Tim Kendall (TLS)

Sidney Keyes (Poetry Review)

Mimi Khalvati  (TLS)

Lotte Kramer (PN Review)

Glyn Maxwell  (Acumen)

Les Murray (Poetry Wales)

Robert Nye (TLS)

Jacob Polley  (TLS)

Neil Powell (Poetry Review & TLS)

Kathleen Raine (Poetry Review)

Pauline Stainer (TLS)

Michael Symmons Roberts  (TLS)

Adam Thorpe (TLS)

Anthony Thwaite (TLS)

George Szirtes (Poetry Review


Welsh Writers

Dannie Abse (Poetry Wales)

Gillian Clarke  (TLS)

John Davies (Poetry Wales)

R.S.Thomas: the Machine Stops  (Poetry Review)

Vernon Watkins: the Music in the Eyes (Dylan Thomas Centre Lecture/New 

Welsh Review) and articles in Poetry Wales and New Welsh Review.

Rowan Williams (TLS)


Irish Writers

Paul Durcan (TLS)

Eamon Grennan (TLS)

Brendan Kennelly (TLS)

Thomas Kinsella (TLS)

Michael Longley (TLS)

Place Wisdom: John Montague  (Agenda and Poetry Review, TLS)

Louis MacNeice (Quadrant)

Dennis O’Driscoll (TLS and Quadrant)


American Writers

Poetry Chronicle: Hudson Review

The Wilderness and the Ouija Board (Spokes)

The Lost Boys of American Poetry (Poetry Review)

James Merrill: in memoriam(Poetry Review)

Vendler’s List:

Helen Vendler, Rita Dove, August Kleinzahler, Chase Twichell, Robert Bly, 

William Stafford, James Wright, Dave Smith (PR)

Smiling Public Men:

Donald Hall, James Merrill, Howard Nemerov, Galway Kinnell, Richard Howard

Nature and Artifice Timothy Steele and Peter Kane Dufault  (PR)

Elizabeth Bishop (Quadrant)

Hayden Carruth (Quadrant): to see essay please click here

Billy Collins (TLS)

Elton Glaser (Poetry Review)

John Haines (TLS)

Jane Kenyon (TLS)

Ted Kooser (TLS)

Adrienne Rich (TLS)

Walt Whitman (TLS)

Letter from the Old World (The Hudson Review)


The Long Poem

Dedication to the MonarchJay Parini (TLS): the Long Poem (Long Poem Group Newsletter)

Sebastian Barker (SpokJ.D.McClatchy (TLS)es)

Aidan Andrew Dun (TLS)

John Gurney (TLS)


Other times, other places: 

Rescuing the Castaway: William Cowper (Quadrant)

Prince of Morticians: Thomas Lovell Beddoes (TLS)

Peter Huchel  (Agenda)

Goethe  (PR)

W.G.Sebald (TLS)

Hans Enzensberger (Poetry Review)

Marko the Prince (Agenda)

St John of the Cross (TLS)

E.Powys Mathers (TLS)

Four Poets of the GreaGlyn Maxwell (TLS)t War (Friends of Dymock Poets)



Pleasure Trips, short story included in PEN Anthology edited by Peter Ackroyd. Originally in New Edinburgh Review.


The Great Western and Missed, short stories in South-west Review, ed Lawrence Sail and subsequently the former in South-west Review Anthology




Hayden Carruth wrote of his friend, the poet, peace campaigner and Christian Denise Levertov that she ‘keeps her mind on the reality of imaginative process.  She rarely veers into mystical utterance for its own sake’.  Carruth considers himself a very down-to-earth poet, suspicious of the vatic or prophetic.  He is sometimes pigeon-holed as a nature poet, which he does not like either, although he conveys the strongest sense of the real outdoors of any American poet since Frost, from whom his anecdotal pentameter monologues (‘Regarding Chainsaws’, ‘Marvin McCabe’, ‘John Dryden’ etc.) ultimately derive. Carruth detests the ‘lovelessness, arrogance, and egomania’, the ‘flight from reality’ Thoreau’s kind of nature writing has encouraged, and (in the opening pages of his recent autobiographical notes, Reluctantly), makes a tub-thumping case for honest clear-sightedness, for the avoidance of anthropomorphism and sentimentality.  Creation is sad, pointless, ‘without end or reason’. There is nothing ‘Transcendental’ in his view of it.  He sees only ‘the absence of intelligence’ and feels like ‘a duck blown out to sea and still squawking’. 

Carruth was born in 1921 in Waterbury, Connecticut and grew up in the New England that he writes about so frequently. His Second World War years were chiefly in Italy.  He trained as a cryptographer, but much of his army work was paper-pushing.  Although he exposes his life and personality in much of his writing (his 1953 sequence The Bloomingdale Papers [published 1975] draws on the paralysing years of his mental breakdown, his ultimate ‘conquest of himself’) we learn little about his personal experience of the war: just a glimpse in the poem ‘The Mountain’ of the Hayden Carruth who was a first-class marksman but who hated guns. We learn much more about his experience as a smallholder in Vermont – ‘the land/hidden from violent times’.  The matter of war, the Holocaust, terrorism, Vietnam – these take their place in a world which includes good things, peaceful things too.  In particular it includes rural New England and loving women. He clearly sympathises with the peace movement, yet asks wryly ‘Will revolution bring the farms back?’ And whatever his subject matter,  the question always seems to hang in the air: how can it be that we must die? Even in a poem about an age-old farm activity, ‘Emergency Haying’, the energy and urgency of the task is put in perspective halfway through: ‘I think of those who have done slave labour,/less able and less well prepared than I./Rose Marie in the rye fields of Saxony,/her father in the camps of Moldavia...’ The long ‘Essay on Death’ from the final section of Collected Shorter Poems 1946-1991 (Copper Canyon) tries to make sense of the ceaseless barrage of bad news while trying ‘to send my loving father-message to a woman/far away’ (presumably the daughter whom he commemorates so heartbreakingly in the 1996 poem, ‘Pittsburgh’).  He looks at events in a broader perspective than Levertov or the Beat poets, so escapes the trap of instant outrage, the rush to revenge. Without any hysterical roll-calls, Carruth takes us from the atrocities of Emir and Sultan, to airport terrorist, to Polish farmers, who stood in their fields ‘watching/the trainloads of Jews go by, and they/shook their fists//and made the throat-slitting gesture and laughed’.  He is asking questions all the time, keeping his rational, sentence-making brain alert, knowing ‘the terrorized are all/who wait, everywhere.’

Like Yeats (though he counts cows rather than swans!), Carruth has submerged his ego in ‘camouflage, fronts, deceptions of all kinds.’ He also shares with Yeats a somewhat pretentious taste in titles: Brothers, I Loved You All (1978), If You Call This Cry a Song (1983) and  – can he be serious? – Tell Me Again How the White Heron Rises and Flies Across the Nacreous River at Twilight Toward the Distant Islands (1989).  In the second of these books, we find ‘On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam’, a title which again echoes Yeats, but which unmasks the plain-speaking Carruth and the quiet sharp-shooter:  ‘Well I have and in fact/more than one...’ it begins, harmlessly, then lists them all, pointing out in the most unhysterical tone imaginable: ‘and not one/breath was restored/to one//shattered throat/mans womans childs/not one not//one...’ 

Form is a kind of camouflage. It is the stanza and the lineation that dominate Carruth’s poetry (some poems could almost be called concrete) but he is always listening to the ‘sentence sound’, to the speech of the people around him, to the Blues in the air (‘November Jeans Song’). Each new book finds new registers, new formal challenges: tercets, syllabics, song, sonnet, the very long lines in his latest work... Even his throwaway anecdotal manner is as artificial and hard-won as Frost’s, and can be as long-winded (and indeed just as sentimental as anything by ‘that idiot Thoreau’). His most effective forms are those that allow for a variety of perspectives, jottings from a journal, perhaps – relaxed, genial, colloquial, in the face of violence:



One day lightning struck our weathervane,

Busted the cupola, scattered slates every

Whichway, split a rafter, blew out the radio,

Entered the plumbing, and knocked hell out of

The curb box, making a pretty fair geyser.

Scared? Not me, I’d just had too many strawberries.

(‘Spring Notes from Robin Hill’) 


Nothing of the war here, it seems, but Carruth does not let us forget during this sequence that his wife, Rose Marie, is German and he ends with ‘It’s those bombs/They keep exploding out there on the ocean’. It could be said that Carruth writes best about war by avoiding it.  So in ‘The Birds of Vietnam’ he finds a way of describing the human casualties by  considering the deaths of birds, listing them. Similarly, a series of haiku or epigrams (‘The Clay Hill Anthology’) allows war to be mentioned ‘in passing’, perhaps ironically, or wittily:


The Sanskrit root word

for “war” means literally

”desire for more cows”.


There is a 1989 cycle of  (mainly) love sonnets, where an atrocity in Lebanon  suddenly appears (sonnet 57). The very fine Asphalt Georgics (1985), too, allows war to become an issue quite late on, when we least expect it (‘Phone’). These Georgics are a brilliant exercise in register, a series of unstoppable, all-inclusive abcb quatrains, ‘Cantos’ that stay on the road and respect other drivers. Carruth’s interest in jazz surely pays off in some of this later work. Apart from such catch-all forms, the discursive ‘essay’ perhaps suits him best: on marriage, on the deaths of animals, on stone... Everything must be studied and considered, even if ‘the green world shrivels like a napalm scab’. As his friend Galway Kinnell writes in the foreword to his 1985 Selected, Carruth ‘violates the first principle of contemporary poetry...’Don’t think’’.  He might have added ‘about your audience’, because Carruth always does consider us: we feel we are sharing a conversation with him.  In later poems it may be about walking, gardening, reading, making love, eating scrambled eggs, listening to music, getting drunk or being (and why not!) plain grumpy. 






At the invitation of its editor, Jane Potter, John Greening is currently preparing a chapter on Siegfried Sassoon and Edmund Blunden for Cambridge University Press's History of World War One Poetry.