By Harry Rowe | Staff Writer
Award-winning poet John Greening shared a portion of his favorite work Tuesday night when he gave a live poetry reading in the Treasury Room of the Armstrong Browning Library.
Greening was at Baylor Monday giving a lecture titled, “Edmund Blunden, War Poet.” As a leading expert on World War I literature, Greening read aloud some of his favorite poems he’s written over the years and added some personal commentary on them as well. Both events were put on by Baylor’s English department.
“I met John about two years ago. I put together an anthology of poetry and he contributed poems to it, and so I got to know him that way,” said Dr. Kevin Gardner, professor of English and department chair for the English department. “I realized with his style of poetry and his interests he would be really welcome at Baylor.”
Greening opened with a poem titled “Westerners.” He said if he had a signature poem, it would be that one. Greening said he and his wife lived in Aswan, Egypt for two years. Greening’s website describes it as a “extraordinary place, a unique time, and as this memoir describes, it was where the poet began to find a voice.” The poem is from his time spent in Egypt. Contrary to the typical Westerner someone might think of, Greening explained that Westerners to the Egyptians meant the dead, as the dead were buried on the west bank of the Nile river.
“We ferried our past across here. Our furniture, our favorite things. The familiar parts of our life. We reconstructed them to make ourselves an opulent future and barricade oblivion. You will recognize us among these everlasting earth-treasures in a gold mask or in black granite. In the clean slot of a hieroglyphic, though you thought we were dead and strange you will recognize us. We are still here. We are the Westerners,” Green read to the room.
Another poem Greening read was a poem about the town of Kent, England, where he believes his mother to have been born, despite not knowing much of her early life. Before he read the poem aloud, he acknowledged what he said is the major flaw of all poetry readings.
“[Earlier I talked about] importance of line breaks and playing with language — there’s a lot of that in this. Again, line breaks are impossible to convey to the reader unless you do that signal,” Greening said to the audience, driving his point home with emphatic arm motions.
Greening concluded with several poems such as “Greening,” which explored Greening’s last name with clever word play, and a final one titled “Eleven” that talked about the month of November and the armistice that happened nearly 100 years ago to the day.
“Speaking for myself, I really like the way [Greening] focuses on place. He gets his inspiration from geographical locations a lot, and that’s something I can relate to personally,” Gardner said. “Also, I like the directness of his poetry. He seems very clear and intentionally not obscure as he writes poetry. The third thing is there’s a kind of playfulness, a wit, as we can see in the poem he wrote about his own last name, with the puns that were a reference to the creator of Bart Simpson.”