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This report is taken from PN Review 190, Volume 36 Number 2, November - December 2009.

Hunting Ground Neil Powell

In some of this windy summer’s quiet spaces, I’ve been re-reading the remarkable ‘Huntingdonshire Trilogy’ - ‘Eclogues’ (1998), ‘Nocturnes’ (1999) and ‘Elegies’ (2009) - by John Greening. Together they form the centrepiece of Hunts: Poems 1979-2009, published by Greenwich Exchange which, since local geography is much to the point here, seems curiously to have migrated to Billericay in Essex. The book’s abrupt-looking title is in fact subtle and suggestive: when Huntingdonshire was a properly autonomous county, ‘Hunts’ was its abbreviated form in postal addresses, like ‘Herts’ and ‘Beds’ for nearby Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire; but the word also implies quests or pursuits of a rural sort, which is what many of these poems are.

Is it possible for the reader of poetry to be too well-informed? The question sounds absurd: after all, the more background knowledge we bring to a poem, the more we’ll be able to understand and appreciate it. Yet this isn’t quite the unequivocal truism it may seem: place-names, for instance, can resonate in a different way, more elusively and perhaps more allusively too, if they don’t conjure up clear images of the places we once travelled daily through on our way to work. In that case, our own stock of recollected details can crowd in and overwhelm the poem, so we become more engaged with the contents of our memory than with the words the poet put on the page. (Though there is, it now occurs to me, something worse than an over-informed silent ...


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