The Interpretation of Owls
Selected Poems, 1977-2022
Kevin J. Gardner, Professor of English
The Interpretation of Owls is a representative selection of one of the UK's most prolific and respected poets. Edited by Kevin Gardner in consultation with John Greening himself, this first American collection showcases a remarkable poetic journey of more than forty years, displaying extraordinary variety and technical skill.
The contents (arranged thematically to illustrate Greening's abiding interests and influences) comprise nearly 300 poems chosen from twenty-two individual collections and from previously uncollected and unpublished work. Readers of John Greening's accessible and musical lines will find themselves transported from America to England to Iceland to Ireland, with a long stay in Egypt and brief stopovers in several other countries.
Passing from the present to the ancient world and back, these poems reimagine historical figures, look inward at the poetic self, and explore the very meaning of home. This outward journeying through time and space is reinforced by a constant questing for spiritual meaning—reminiscent of T. S. Eliot, whose influence on Greening has been profound. Though we are unlikely to find him wrestling with angels, Greening is nevertheless constantly hoping for revelation, attuned to the numinous, treating creation as sacred, and ready to find a world of spirituality in history, myth, or even a lump of East Anglian clay.
The Interpretation of Owls features an author's preface, an editor's introduction, two indexes, and for readers who want to experience the work in its order of original publication, a chronological table of contents. Additionally, there is an invaluable new interview with the poet in which he discusses with the editor the background to some of the works.
Baylor University Press, 2023
"For some four decades, John Greening has been a centering figure in the poetic landscape of Britain: a poet whose unbounded curiosity has taken him through the wide (and often conflicted) world with a passion for details that root his work in place. He finds, in a broad range of settings and circumstances, a language adequate to his emotions. Like Auden, he seeks out memorable language in a variety of poetic forms. I hope this marvelous selection brings a grateful audience to his splendid, moving, spiritually adept, and always provocative work." —Jay Parini, author of New and Collected Poems: 1975–2015
"John Greening's welcome and timely publication, The Interpretation of Owls: Selected Poems, is full of riches, of shaped and compelling poems drawn from a deep well of lived experience. Greening is a man with his own voice, and at ease with it. This volume demonstrates to great effect the formation and fruition of his staunch lyricism, wit, wryly observant eye, and keen ear. His poems shine with the grace of perception, the clarity of lovely realised purpose. Their innate sophistication and respect for spiritual matters further commend these poems to any reader of contemporary poetry." —Penelope Shuttle, Poet and Novelist
"To enter the expansive lines and many-angled sequences of John Greening's poetry is to be engaged in the best of conversations, with a voice whose easy depth of knowledge and breadth of reference is always rooted in attention to immediate experience—a voice that also, generously, listens. Its invitation to the reader is to inhabit, truly, each of its particular places, whatever the country, culture, or historical moment—and so, by extension, the world. Nowhere has the sheer range of Greening’s work been better displayed than in this rich selection." —Philip Gross, Professor Emeritus, University of South Wales