Peter Reading


Peter Reading may be buried at Church Stretton, in Shropshire, England. (If anyone knows for certain, please contact me.)

Peter Reading

Reading, who was born in Liverpool in 1946, was educated at the Liverpool College of Art. After graduating he taught for a few years before obtaining a job as a weighbridge operator at an animal feed mill in Shropshire - where he remained for 22 years until he was sacked for refusing to wear a uniform when a new owner took over. He liked the work because he said that it gave him time to think.

He was a prodigious poet - writing a total of 26 collections. These collections were unusual because they were fashioned more like novels with themes and plots and often featured: characters, newspaper cuttings, letters, found poems, crossings out, different type-faces and pieces of prose. The poems that did appear were often untitled. He once said: 'The concision of poetry appeals to me, but the novelist's job - big-scale serious tackling of things, as in Dickens and Smollett - is something I try in a smaller way to get into what I do.'

Nick-named the 'laureate of grot' - his work was frequently bleak and hilarious - writing with detachment about the grimness of modern life e.g. 'Squashed polystyrene Indian Take-Out trays,/ eddying grease-smirched chip-papers, Pepsi cans,/ scuttering plastic cups....a Mirror's/ double-page centre-spread, caught in grained wind,'. He recorded the exploits of H. sap (as he called us) with grotesque pleasure and attention to detail  - taking his bearings from the likes of Jonathan Swift. His subjects ranged from terminal illness - as in C, to homelessness in Perduta Gente and to translations of the Greek classics such as Ovid and Homer in Last Poems.

He was greatly influenced by Swinburne - and in particular by the Victorian's complex metrical forms which Reading employed in his own work to great effect. In Final Demands (1988), for example, Reading uses a dactylic meter in many of the poems. He seldom used rhyme but his work  was always highly structured. In 5 × 5 × 5 × 5 × 5 (1983) - he wrote a series of 25 poems which had 5 syllables in each line, 5 lines in each verse and and 5 verses in each poem. In C, he crafted 100 prose poems containing 100 words each.

Reading was a controversial figure and when Stet (1986) won the poetry section of the Whitbread Awards, Lord Havers denounced it as unfit to be read by children.

Reading  was arguably the most important English poet of his generation - making others look sentimental and out of touch with the modern world. His graphic work shocked many readers though and he divided opinions - but he still commanded a loyal following and respect from the critics while maintaining his stance as an outsider. He was also a wine connoisseur and a bird watcher - elements of which filtered into his poetry. Bird images were often used by him for elegiac purposes.

Towards the end of his career, he read his entire works for a recording by the Lannan Foundation. He received the Cholmondeley Award for Poetry in 1978, the first Dylan Thomas Award in 1983, the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry in 1990 and 2004 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1988.

He died at the age of 65. He was married 3 times and had a daughter by his first wife.

I am an abrasive wit,
An oasis of intellect.

Of my kind -
and there are not many of my kind -
I am really quite remarkably good.

I am mordant, very mordant.
Satire is clearly one of my gifts.

Out of everyday matters
I fashion urbane jokes.

(From Opinions of the Press)





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