Richard Greene has recently gained significant acclaim as the 2010 winner of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, for his third collection, Boxing the Compass (Signal Editions). Greene is originally from Newfoundland — something often revealed in his verse. He currently teaches at the University of Toronto, and lives in Cobourg, Ontario.
In a recent interview in The Toronto Quarterly he spoke of "a despair in modern poetry". He said, "I think the valid emotions of poetry require severe testing. In that I am influenced by R.S. Thomas and Geoffrey Hill. Bear in mind that as a religious poet, I am automatically thought by some readers to be sentimental...” He continued to say, Poetry “should not just evoke or report feelings, it should also test them with certain ironies.”
He has written biographies of the novelist Graham Greene, and the poet Dame Edith Sitwell.
The following poem is from his 2004 collection, Crossing the Straits (St. Thomas Poetry Series).
Occupation: Pilate Speaks
Execution hangs in the air
like a figure of Roman rhetoric,
every obscure point personified
and made plain, an allegory played out
in simple sentences and understood.
We are an occupying power, one kingdom
in the midst of another, compelling
loyalty where the heart is beaten down
and all things lie under the exaction of fear.
My task is to quell their riots,
to keep the peace of our advantages.
In this man is the fiction of kingship:
he requires or enacts no policy,
and recruits to his cause no persons
unworthy of nails. I wish to parley
for his innocence, for the due process
of irony ends in freedom or death,
and I would not depose his heaven,
his kingship that is not of this world.
Yet his small elevation, this mound
at Gabbatha, occupied at Caesar’s
pleasure, permits no gentle discourse.
A voice may carry, and there is no King
but Caesar. You know to whom you speak.
I hand him over to bloody converse
of the whip, those lacerating words
inscribing an empire in his flesh,
such rituals of his coronation
as will befit an ambiguous reign.
My regret will have its other meanings,
possible worlds invading our sleep
with all unchosen things, holy jests
as may stay for an answer I cannot give.
I send him from the mind’s place into streets
loud with voices of the world’s no meaning;
I linger in this moment’s constant death
to barb in three tongues my tribute to his reign.
Posted with permission of the poet.
Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca