Richard Thomas Greene
Richard Thomas Greene, poet, scholar (born at St. John's, NL 17 Jul 1961). Richard Greene received his BA in English at MEMORIAL UNIVERSITY in 1983, and took his doctorate as a Rothermere Fellow at Oxford University in 1991. He returned to Memorial University to teach English before joining the UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO at Mississauga in 1995, as a member of the English and Drama department. Married to pianist Marianne Marusic and father to four children, he resides in Cobourg, Ontario.
Greene first distinguished himself as a teacher and a critic with his book Mary Leapor: A Study in Eighteenth-Century Women's Poetry, published in 1993. He has followed up this study on one of the few female writers from the labouring-class with the later The Works of Mary Leapor (co-edited with Ann Messenger, 2003), which selects some of the best work from this erstwhile kitchen maid from Northamptonshire.
In addition to 18th-century poetry, Greene's interests include 20th-century poetry and creative writing. It was with scholarly works on Dame Edith Sitwell and Graham Greene that Greene broke through to greater renown and a wide general readership. His Selected Letters of Edith Sitwell (1997; rev. ed. 1998) revealed in Greene an incisive eye and ear in selecting elements from the correspondence that best show the reality of the life behind the poetry. A recent publication is Edith Sitwell: Avant Garde Poet, English Genius (2011).
Greene's gift of precise selection, and for letting the subject speak for himself, is shown to full advantage in Graham Greene: A Life in Letters (2007), a book hailed in many quarters as an edition of selected letters that speaks with the authority of a full-dress autobiography. Graham Greene's unmistakable voice is given free range and continuity, courtesy of Richard Greene's sensitivity to and deep knowledge of his subject. Indeed, the book's introduction could serve as a stand-alone essay on this most complex author who was, above all, a working writer.
Thus, it is interesting to look back and realize that for all this praise of his critical work, it is as a poet that Richard Greene was first primarily known. Beginning with Republic of Solitude: Poems 1984-1994, and its follow-up, Crossing the Straits (2004), Greene's voice is uniquely plain-spoken. There is a notable lack of artifice to the poems, in which the imagery, and the reflective tone of voice, are concretely based in the situation of the poem. Whether it be a short lyric, as in "Birds in Black," where two crows on a branch "look like clockwork birds/but in their gaze I see/wary minds/appraising me," or in his poems of long conversational lines, such as "I See Myself Becoming Old," in which he inventories aspects of life, like suits no longer worn and obituaries scanned for mention of contemporaries, there is always a quiet reflective tone. Further re-readings reveal deeper tensions under that quietness; Greene is very aware of the inherent struggle of the mind and heart in the earth, but his poetic assessment is always grounded in a wise contemplative mode of acceptance. These qualities may be his greatest contribution to Canadian, and to world, literature.
In 2009 all these aspects of Greene's poetic achievement were fully evident in his third book of poetry, Boxing the Compass. The centrepiece long poem "Over the Border," a title borrowed from the introduction title of his Graham Greene book, weaves these strands in Richard Greene's work into an account of post-9/11 travels in America while conducting research on Graham Greene. In 2010 this volume was awarded the GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD for poetry.