New poems by John Greening

 

To mark the publication day of his Vapour Trails: Reviews and Essays on Poetry (Shoestring Press), Wild Court is featuring four new poems by John Greening. The first three are from an extended sequence about the historic county of Huntingdonshire, where he lives.

 

Vapour Trails is a survey of modern poetry, gathering reviews commissioned by the TLS and other journals over the course of 20 years, and featuring several new essays. It takes in over 50 poets, from Elizabeth Bishop to John Berryman, Thom Gunn to Gerđur Kristný, Anne Stevenson to RS Thomas. Copies are available to purchase here.

 


 

    from Huntingdonshire Codices

 

Typing up on the top floor of the Tudor castle
I used to teach in, typing pages of old verse
for some collection I dreamt of, trying to pass

the late evening shift’s long final hour,
typing on a better computer than mine, hoping to store
the text on its hard-drive. One page more

of the dozens, it’s a sestina: ‘For the Six Wives’,
elaborate piece of artifice compressing their lives
into six verses (and an envoi). No one believes

this place where she died is really haunted, but typing away
I reached the passage where I’d written about the day
of Catherine’s funeral, how Anne Boleyn... and, as I say,

there are no ghosts. But at the line, the word, ‘Anne’,
the computer crashed. I typed it again. It crashed, and then
the poem simply vanished. I exited. I ran.

 

*

 

The Kimbolton Hoard is on display in St Neots Museum,
though they won’t say where it was found. There’s a rumour
it was somewhere in that field beside the alpaca farm.

The metal detectors will be out. As to why it was buried...
you might well do the same if you were worried
someone was after your money. Then there was that story:

the guy who invested a small amount in Bitcoin, but forgot
and put his hard-drive in the bin, along with – what?
seventy million or so? Zeros mark the spot

at the local landfill. Not exactly a sacrifice,
though maybe in the Iron Age it was the price
of health or happiness, a way to keep the peace.

In two thousand years, when they at last dredge
that small box out of the earth, the museum can stage
an exhibition of life in the Alpaca Age.

 

*

 

Talking of Fake News, there was that manuscript by Donne,
an autograph copy, it was said, the one
found in the stables of Kimbolton Castle: they put it on
the front page of the TLS. It was possible.
He might well have passed through here to Keyston, or to call
on local poets. If so, it’s a minor miracle –

‘Good Friday Riding Westward’ in his own hand –
perhaps a copy he brought with him, and left behind
for the Duke to read, or Sir John; or simply (absent minded)

dropped as he climbed on to his horse to continue west
towards his place in literature. A kind of test
of the true Metaphysical: who can be last

to survive outside his own holograph? It’s his word
against the experts’. Death, proud as ever, heard
the news and God went on battering, undeterred.

 
 
 

    Asylum

 

An early morning walk through
the lunatic asylum’s
lonely hilly grounds, up to
the Ridges, where I had thought
those birds following me were
eagles (but they were vultures),
and I kept on coming round
to the same point. Ohio
is quiet. Memorial
Weekend. The cemeteries
are quieter still, along
the nature trail, old inmates
marked with small fluttering stars
and stripes, but nothing there for
such a wing-span, wide as this
blackness in my room where the
news keeps on rolling, circling.
Athens, Ohio, November 2018

 

John Greening

About John Greening

A Cholmondeley and Bridport winner, John Greening has been a TLS reviewer since the 1990s and is a judge for the Eric Gregory Awards. His recent books include 'To the War Poets' (Carcanet), editions of Blunden and Grigson, the collaboration 'Heath' (with Penelope Shuttle), an Egypt memoir and the anthologies, 'Accompanied Voices' and 'Ten Poems about Sheds'. His latest full collection, 'The Silence', appeared in 2019 from Carcanet. He was recently resident artist at the Böll Cottage, Achill.