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This review is taken from PN Review 240, Volume 44 Number 4, March - April 2018.

Cover of Threading A Dream: A Poet on the Nile
Andrew HadfieldPoets will be poets

John Greening, Threading A Dream: A Poet on the Nile Gatehouse Press) £10
From 1979–81, the last years of Anwar Sadat’s rule in Egypt, and before his first collection was published, John Greening and his wife lived in Egypt as teachers working for Voluntary Service Overseas. Thirty-five years later he has written a memoir, a series of observations and vignettes, interspersed with poetry from his many volumes. Greening has developed a fascination with Egyptian life and culture over many years and he looks back to explore his relationship with the country, its ancient civilisation and modern culture.

Greening is often a disarming and engaging guide. He tries to explain how difficult it is to realise that one is actually standing next to the pyramids and how to make sense of an overwhelming tourist experience which might be better realised on the page, rather as Wordsworth wished he had left Mont Blanc unseen. Tourists really need to stand for hours contemplating the mystery and majesty of them but that is far from easy when surrounded by beggars, vendors and tourist guides. Of course, sometimes guides are indispensable. On a trip to the Nubian Damn one tells the Greenings that this masterpiece of engineering and symbol of Egyptian modernity has its own dark secrets:

The High Damn was like the war, you were expected to die… One night in 1964, two thousand men died when a stray dynamite detonated… I was there next morning in the same position … The lorries had taken the bodies away, the boxes were made and the bodies were sent with a thousand pounds ...

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