Peter Reading was one of Britain’s most original and controversial poets: angry, uncompromising, gruesomely ironic, hilarious and heartbreaking – as funny as he was disconcerting. Over four decades he 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, phony media flimflam, political ineptness and cultural impoverishment.
Each of his collections is self-contained, as carefully constructed and plotted as a novel, interweaving voices and narrative strands which can now be seen to link the 24 books which make up his Collected Poems. This was published in three volumes from Bloodaxe: Poems 1970-1984 (1995), Poems 1985-1996 (1996) and Poems 1997-2003 (2003). He subsequently produced two later collections, -273.15 (2005) and Vendange Tardive (2010). He died in 2011.
Volume 1 of his Collected Poems includes an Introduction by Isabel Martin and was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. The collections included (in full) are: Water and Waste (1970), For the Municipality’s Elderly (1974), The Prison Cell & Barrel Mystery (1976), Nothing For Anyone (1977), Fiction (1979), Tom o' Bedlam’s Beauties (1981), Diplopic (1983), 5x5x5x5x5 (1983) and C (1984).
'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
'Reading has spent 25 years creating a body of work which vindicates Tom Paulin’s description of him as “the unofficial laureate of a decaying England”…Now that his entire corpus, astonishing in its range and integrity, is available, it is hard to see how Reading’s role has for so long been under-recognised…Reading has completed a quarter-century masterpiece which has successfully blended the personal, the national and the global. The result is an epic lament for a species given to cruelty and self-destruction, employing a vast array of traditional forms and genres' – 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 (1946-2011)
Peter Reading reads extracts from his book-length sequences Going On (1985), Evagatory (1992) and -273.15 (2005), the first two of these from his Collected Poems: 2 (1996). Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed him reading this selection at his home in Ludlow, Shropshire, in June 2007. This film is from the DVD-anthology In Person: 30 Poets, filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce & edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2008).