After mapping Britain’s national decline over thirty years through 25 books of poetry, Peter Reading reinvented himself as a writer in his 21st-century work. The vitriolic social critic became poetry’s Millennial prophet of doom, directing his venom and sorrow at the destruction of the world’s wildlife and environment.
Vendange Tardive is a late harvest of vintage Reading in disaster mode. Here is a rueful crop of valedictory poems in which man reaps what he sows: shipwreck, ruin, death, war, ignomony and extinction. But somehow, amid all that, there is still the fruit of the vine and the bittersweet spirit of life.
Over four decades Peter Reading became our most skilful and technically inventive poet, mixing the matter and speech of the gutter with highly sophisticated metrical and syllabic patterns to produce scathing and grotesque accounts of lives blighted by greed, meanness, ignorance, political ineptness and cultural impoverishment.
'Anger is a country Peter Reading has been colonising for years…the anger is expressed with classical clarity… Rage against the state of the nation, but also rage against the darkness of death, exile and inability to show love’ – Helen Dunmore, Observer
'Despair, both environmental and political, is never absent; but this is an appreciative, defiantly humane volume' – Robert Potts, Guardian
'Deliberately squalid, violent and apocalyptic contemporary contents are yoked to forms that for the best part of three millennia have been used for the beautiful and the heroic' – Michael Hofmann, The Times
'Peter Reading’s most characteristic work, always economical, is now concise to the point of terseness… leaving sparser textures and a sometimes painfully direct expression of personal sadness, anger and despair. Can we find a parallel here with other modern artists – Rothko, Shostakovich, Beckett – who found themselves, in extremis and in their later works, continuing to create less and less, moving inexorably towards the point where they would be left with nothing, the point (presumably) of artistic extinction?’ – Alan Jenkins
Peter Reading reading his work
Peter Reading reads extracts from two book-length sequences, Going On and Evagatory from his Collected Poems: 2 [1985-1996] (Bloodaxe Books, 1996). This film is from the DVD-book In Person: 30 Poets filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce, edited by Neil Astley.