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(Untitled) - Peter Reading

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Peter Reading
Paperback / softback
Bloodaxe Books
UK Publication Date

[untitled] is a tting non-title for Peter Reading's latest collection, which confronts the inadequacy of language in the face of death and decline, of man's unspeakable inhumanity and his brutal destruction of the planet. These grimly ironic poems are pared down to the bones of language, their meaning often decayed to half-life, words corrupted beyond sense.Peter Reading is probably the most skilful and technically inventive poet writing today, mixing the matter and speech of the gutter with highly sophisticated metrical patterns to produce scathing and grotesque accounts of contemporary lives. [untitled] is as much a tour de force as his two dozen previous books, weaving together interlinked poems and sequences which echo with his earlier work as well as with the earliest poetry, with Homer and Anglo-Saxon poems of exile.Alert! is Reading's version of a long poem of alienation by the exiled Armenian existentialist Vah Oshagan. The haiku, tankas and fragments of Apophthegmatic ('pithy sayings') improvise on oriental metrics to ponder life's brevity and imminent death. His adaptation of an old Spanish stanza in Copla a Pie Quebrado is a corrupted form, a metric which enacts his meaning, 'the nal foot broken - / tting for History fractured / in an aridied dump.' Repetitious is a reprise in iambic stanzas recalling lines from Reading's thirty-year output.

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Peter Reading (1946-2011) was born in Liverpool. After studying painting at Liverpool College of Art, he worked as a schoolteacher in Liverpool (1967-68) and at Liverpool College of Art, where he taught Art History (1968-70). He then worked for 22 years as a weighbridge operator at an animal feedmill in Shropshire, a job which left him free to think, until he was sacked for refusing to wear a uniform introduced by new owners of the business. His only break was a two-year residency at Sunderland Polytechnic (1981-83). After leaving Liverpool, he lived for 40 years in various parts of Shropshire, in recent years in Ludlow. The benevolence of America's Lannan Foundation rescued him from poverty. He was the first writer to hold the one-year Lannan writing residency in Marfa, Texas (in 1999), and is the only British poet to have won the Lannan Award for Poetry twice, in 1990 and 2004, as well as the only poet to read an entire life's work for the Lannan Foundation's DVD archive - his filmed readings for Lannan (made in 2001 and 2010) of 26 poetry collections make up the only archive of its kind. His other honours included the Cholmondeley Award, the Dylan Thomas Award for Diplopic (1983), and the Whitbread Prize for Poetry for Stet (1986). Work in Regress was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize in 1997. All his poetry is published by Bloodaxe Books, along with Isabel Martin's critical study Reading Peter Reading (2000). His first collection was Water and Waste (1970), published when he was 24, and his last, 26th collection, was Vendange Tardive, published forty years later in 2010. Each of his collections is self-contained, as carefully constructed and plotted as a novel, interweaving voices and narrative strands which can be seen to link the 24 books which make up his Collected Poems, published in three volumes: 1: Poems 1970-1984 (1995), 2: Poems 1985-1996 (1996) and 3: Poems 1997-2003 (2003). His later collections from Bloodaxe are -273-15 (2005) and Vendange Tardive (2010).

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 anddespair. Can we ?nd 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

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