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Peter Reading

Peter Reading (1946-2011) was born in Liverpool, England, and studied painting at the Liverpool College of Art. He was one of the most inventive and challenging poets in England. His language was brilliantly original, compassionate, and laced with acid humor. Reading was the first writer to hold a Lannan writing residency in Marfa, Texas. In June of 1999 he read from his work composed during his residency, as part of Readings & Conversations.

Reading was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in his native England. He was one of Britain’s most controversial poets: angry, gruesomely ironic, hilarious, heartbreaking, and prolific. His work was experimental, playing with formal traditions of English in liberating ways, and he produced a body of work that was frequently interrelated across book titles. His poetry was collected in three volumes by Bloodaxe Books, and critical assessments of his work have been written by Neil Roberts, Sean O’Brien, and Anthony Thwaite. “Anger is a country Peter Reading has been colonising for years. . .his anger is expressed with classical clarity. Rage against the state of the nation, yes, but also rage against the darkness of death, exile, and inability to show love.”  - The Observer (London)

He published 26 books of poetry since his first, Water and Waste, in 1970, when he was 24 years old. Other works include Work in Regress; Collected Poems, Volumes I and II; Perduta Gente; Evagatory; Stet; Ukulele Music; and Nothing For Anyone. Reading was praised as the “unofficial laureate of the British down-and-out” and “the elegist of a dead-ending century.” Employing traditional and innovative verse forms as well as colloquial and formal language, he confronted issues of urban violence, environmental catastrophe, terminal illness, and homelessness.

Reading received the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry in 1990 and again in 2004. His other honors include the Cholmondeley Award, the Dylan Thomas Award, and the Whitbread Prize for Poetry.

Peter Reading died on 17 November 2011

Update: Lannan has extensive recordings of Peter Reading reading his work. Most are audio; some are video. You can view the list below. Here is some additional information about Peter reading:

Reading’s ability to evoke a layered, nuanced portrait of his times is both rare and necessary. That he can do so with such concision, magisterial command of metre and structure, and a great range of emotion, makes his work as pleasurable in its poetry as it is agonising in its message. - Carrie Etter, The Guardian.

In Spring 2001, Lannan Foundation traveled to England and recorded Peter Reading reading his entire body of poetry to that time, i.e. through the collection Faunal. In 2010 Lannan commissioned British videographer Pamela Robertson-Pearce to record him reading from his subsequent collections at his home in Ludlow, Shropshire, England. Lannan Foundation is delighted to bring the voice and work of Peter Reading to a world-wide audience.

Peter Reading was born on 27 July 1946 in Liverpool, England. He worked as a schoolteacher in Liverpool (1967-68) and at Liverpool College of Art where he taught Art History (1968-70). He was Writer in Residence at Sunderland Polytechnic (1981-83) and he won a Cholmondeley Award in 1978. His collection Diplopic (1983) won the inaugural Dylan Thomas Award. Stet (1986) won the Whitbread Poetry Award and he was awarded a Lannan Award for Poetry in 1990. In 1997 he held the Creative Writing Fellowship at the University of East Anglia. The collection Marfan (2000) was inspired by his tenure as Lannan Foundation Writer in Residence in Marfa, Texas, in 1999. His recent collections of poetry include [Untitled] (2001), Faunal (2002), and Collected Poems Volume III: Poems 1997-2003. Reading was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

One of the most skillful and technically inventive poets, he mixed 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, ignorance and political ineptness.

He was above all an experimental poet, playing with the formal traditions and rhythms of English in liberating ways. Reading almost single-handedly demonstrated the possibilities of different metrical forms in English, and of the production of works that are densely, complexly interrelated to each other.

Books by Neil Roberts, Sean O’Brien and Antony Thwaite have discussed Peter Reading’s work; Isabel Martin’s definitive Reading Peter Reading has marked out in detail the scholarly territory; and Bloodaxe have, in 1995, 1996, and 2003, published his three-volume Collected Poems, bringing together his numerous volumes of poetry published over the previous quarter of a century. This was a remarkable rate of productivity, made partly possible by Reading’s willingness to rework and retry his central themes, styles and experiments.

Prizes, Awards & Fellowships
  • 1990 Lannan Literary Award for Poetry
  • 2004 Lannan Literary Award for Poetry
  • 1999