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Books, articles, poems and public readings.

You can hear a series of talks recorded for the RLF at

Keep track of current projects:


Threading a Dream: a Poet on the Nile

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.



Geoffrey Grigson’s Selected Poems
edited by John Greening


Geoffrey Grigson’s Selected Poems


GEOFFREY GRIGSON (1905-1985 ) was for many years a vital figure in the literary life of Britain. A controversial and notoriously unsparing reviewer, he edited the journal New Verse which brought W.H.Auden and other writers of the 1930s to prominence.  His encyclopaedic knowledge of poetry and poets made him an anthologist of unrivalled scope and originality, and he was an early champion of once neglected figures such as John Clare and Ivor Gurney. He wrote authoritatively about Samuel Palmer and other artists, too. But he was most popular as a writer on the countryside, with works such as The Englishman’s Flora, his various Shell Guides, and articles for Country Life finding him a wide readership.

For much of his life Geoffrey Grigson was writing (as well as writing about) poetry, but it was only when he was in his sixties that this considerable body of work attracted much attention. Late in life he found advocates as diverse as Jeremy Hooker, Tom Paulin, Peter Reading, Peter Scupham, and Anne Stevenson, who praised his ‘purity of vision’ and ‘bell-like clarity of wisdom’.  However, the Collected Poems by which he chose to be remembered only represents the years from 1963 to 1980, and three subsequent individual volumes, which received considerable acclaim and Poetry Book Society awards, remained uncollected. 

This new selection draws on poetry from Grigson’s debut collection in 1939 up to his very last poem written in September 1985. It represents the full range of his work, notably the love poems, the satires, the landscapes and sketches of rural life, and the many autobiograpical pieces. Here are fascinating glimpses and snapshots and meditations and squibs from this irascible Cornishman, this seventh son, who lost all his brothers before he was middle-aged, who was married three times (finally to the cookery writer, Jane Grigson), who knew most of the famous poets of his day, who was friendly with artists such as Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, John Piper, who was quintessentially English yet was devoted to France and to the idea of Europe, who lived through two world wars, and endured many more purely literary feuds – including a notorious bust-up with Roy Campbell. 

Now the smoke has had time to clear, what remains is Geoffrey Grigson’s poetry – sharp, economical, by turns lyrical or barbed, restlessly attentive to the physical world, its delights and its terrors.

Grigson’s Selected Poems is available Autumn 2017 from Greenwich Exchange


A collection of John Greening’s essays and reviews, Vapour Trails, is to appear from Eyewear in 2018. (

A book of ‘postcard sonnets’ written in collaboration with Stuart Henson is  forthcoming.



Penelope Shuttle and John Greening's Heath


Heath by Penelope Shuttle and John Greening


Heath – published in June 2016 by Nine Arches ( – is a collaboration with the eminent poet Penelope Shuttle ( John and Penelope were brought up on opposite sides of what was once the most dangerous ten square miles in England, Hounslow Heath – now Heathrow Airport.


Read the full description of this book in the Poetry section of this website.



John Greening's Nebamun's Tomb


nebamuns tomb by John Greening


The poems in this pamphlet were written after visiting the British Museum to see their newly revived Egyptian collection, in particular the paintings from the tomb of an accountant called Nebamun. These remarkable works of art, dating from around 1350 BC, were 'removed' and sold to the museum by the British consul-general in Egypt, Henry Salt (1780–1827), a keen and well-placed collector of antiquities. My own interest in Egypt began rather later, between 1979 and 1981, when my wife and I were volunteer teachers in Aswan, an experience which resulted in Westerners (Hippopotamus Press, 1982), my first collection.


Read the full description of this book in the Poetry section of this website.



Edward Blunden’s Undertones of War


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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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Undertones of War on sale in Blackwells, Oxford


John Greening and Margi Blunden discuss the war poet’s work on Cambridge 105 radio:



Accompanied Voices


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ACCOMPANIED VOICES is a unique book: not only is it a highly readable anthology of some of the most memorable and accessible international writing about classical music, and a moving commentary by one set of practising artists on the work of another. It is also something of a chronological guide to the great composers, following the story of western music in the language which comes closest to music itself – poetry. 


Readers unaccustomed to poetry anthologies will find in ACCOMPANIED VOICES the same pleasure that they might find in simply putting on a CD and listening. Every page brings something unexpected or illuminating, funny or heartbreaking. Here we begin to realise just how much Ted Hughes or R.S.Thomas took from Beethoven,  or what Bach meant to First World War veteran Ivor Gurney or Holocaust survivor Lotte Kramer. We meet poets who have long been exploring classical music (Peter Porter, John Fuller) or are musicians themselves (Fiona Sampson, Gwen Harwood). We hear Ronald Duncan on Britten, George Mackay Brown on Peter Maxwell Davies. But there is Norman Nicholson on Grieg, too, Jo Shapcott on Schoenberg, Dannie Abse on Wagner; the poetry of a former Archbishop as well as that of a former Poet Laureate. 


Poet and music lover John Greening adds a substantial introduction and detailed notes on the work of well over a hundred distinguished poets and their subjects.


Further details:




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 Knot is a miniature masterpiece’ (Warwick Review) - KNOT Review

The Hawthornden sequence of Elizabethan verse letters, Knot,  is now available direct from Worple Press or from any online bookshop.

Based on the design of a seventeenth-century knot garden, Knot makes consort music with the poets of Elizabethan England. Sonnets and verse letters are woven around a journal of life in a twenty-first century writers' retreat (Hawthornden Castle) and a prose allegory of Ben Jonson’s famous walk from London to Scotland to visit William Drummond. The collection concludes with a witty modern masque.


To the War Poets


In November 2013, John Greening’s major collection To the War Poets appeared from OxfordPoets (Carcanet):


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As we approach the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, a modern poet sends dispatches across the decades, hoping to catch strains of a forgotten Englishness – but offering an alternative perspective too, in his translations from Heym, Trakl, Stadler, Stramm. Verse letters to the war poets are interwoven with other pieces in which the sounds of conflict are never far away: the Sutton Hoo ship burial is discovered weeks before the Second World War, Heathrow is shut down by security forces in 2006. A childhood of planes and trains and bicycles is haunted by gibbet and blitz and holocaust. There are troubled echoes of Empire (Egypt and Zanzibar, personally significant places for the poet); and amid the gentle landscapes of middle England there is still a distant rumbling: the pacifist Waldo Williams trapped in war-time Huntingdonshire, Glenn Miller’s final concert in a Bedfordshire village.

Carcanet's 2013 catalogue can now be read at the link below. To the War Poets , with a cover by St Neots artist Richard Walker, is featured on page 26.

Further reviews of To the War Poets:







 John Greening writes:
Vapour Trails, to be published by Eyewear,  is a substantial selection of the best of my reviews, essays and lectures on poetry. The articles were written chiefly for the TLS, Poetry Review, London Magazine, PN Review, Quadrant (Aus), Poetry Wales, Swansea Review and a few other journals. The lectures were given at Ledbury, at the Jon Silkin Festival and for the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea.  The essays are arranged in thematic groups, beginning with pieces which try to define what makes good poetry, then moving through a selection of reviews of key contemporary English poets, a section which includes longer essays on poets and landscape, another on poetry and music; then a series of extracted reviews on important Scottish, Welsh and Irish poets. The book goes on to cover a group of Americans, considers long poems, poems of war and finally glances back at some influential earlier writers. Vapour Trails ends with a very personal piece about my own ‘hunt for a voice’.”

 A prose memoir of two years spent in Upper Egypt (written in 2011).

 John Greening writes:

 “Threading a Dream (a Poet on the Nile) is the memoir of an obsession, dating from two years my wife and I spent teaching in Upper Egypt from 1979-81, at the very end of Sadat’s rule. With the fall of Mubarak thirty years later, I found myself thinking again about the intervening years, and how, although I have never returned to Aswan, in some sense I have never stopped returning. This is not a travel book, nor is it autobiography as such, but a study of the ‘growth of a poet’s mind’ through a series of recollections, meditations, descriptions, anecdotes on aspects of Egypt ancient and modern. The book’s structure resembles that used by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts in Edgelands, where each chapter heading sets a theme for improvisation, but what is distinctive in the 70,000 words of Threading a Dream is that its twenty-nine chapters include six letters, two short stories, a play synopsis, and around forty poems selected from the dozen collections I have published since my early Egypt-themed books, Westerners (Hippoptamus Press, 1982) and The Tutankhamun Variations (Bloodaxe Books, 1991). These can be experienced as musical interludes, moments of intensity or light relief to accompany the prose, with its action, description and psychological exploration; but I hope that much of the interest – even to those who would not read a poetry collection – will come from seeing how a poem emerges from a particular time and place.”

Publication details to follow

John Greening is currently preparing a chapter on Siegfried Sassoon and Edmund Blunden for Cambridge University Press’s History of World War One Poetry.

At the start of 2016 he led a well-received discussion on the T.S.Eliot Prize shortlist at London’s Southbank Centre: these are the transcripts of his ten mini-talks:
A piece about the technology of writing for the RLF:

A new essay on Edwin Muir for Battersea Review:

An article for Carcanet about Edmund Blunden:  

Along with interviews for Acumen and Iota magazines, there is also one at

See also:

The survey of recent pamphlets for the Times Literary Supplement is still available to view at the TLS website along with fifteen years of John’s poetry reviews including the most recent look at a new biography of Edward Thomas and a survey of the poetry of John Crowe Ransom.  John’s  Guardian obituary of the Irish poet Dennis O'Driscoll can also still be found A fuller article appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of Poetry Review. Several other reviews of poetry collections and books about music and landscape are pending.

Poems feature regularly in The Spectator

and the New Statesman
In 2016-17, poems and articles are due to appear in PN Review, the TLS, the Dark Horse (a long essay on Patricia Beer) , London Magazine, and in several anthologies including The Poet’s Quest for God (Eyewear), Urban Myths (Emma Press).

Poems from the collaboration with Penelope Shuttle,  Heath, have already been appearing in the international poetry press, with extended extracts from both poets’ work in The Manhattan Review and Stand. A sample can be seen at the Poetry Foundation website:

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John Greening is currently working with baritone Roderick Williams on his Schubert Cycle Project ( for performance over the next two years with actress Jenny Agutter. Five of the poems were read as part of the performance at the Globe Theatre and in New York. This performance was reviewed in the New York Times:

He is also writing a long poem about Sibelius, The Silence, following a grant from the Society of Authors and hoping to prepare a new edition of Patricia Beer’s writings for Carcanet.