Peter Reading

photo of Peter Reading

Peter Reading was born in Liverpool, England, in 1946 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. Mr. Reading was the first writer to hold a one-year writing Lannan residency in Marfa, Texas. In June of 1999 Mr. Reading read from his work composed during his residency, as part of Readings & Conversations.

He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in his native England. Reading is 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 has produced a body of work that is frequently interrelated across book titles. His poetry has been collected into three volumes by Bloodaxe (UK) 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 has published over 20 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. Mr. Reading has been 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 has confronted issues of urban violence, environmental catastrophe, terminal illness, and homelessness.

Mr. 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 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. We are currently updating the audio archives on our podcast site. 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.

Peter Reading is one of Britain’s most original and controversial poets: angry, uncompromising, gruesomely ironic, hilarious, and heartbreaking. 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 the Lannan Foundation commissioned British videographer Pamela Robertson-Pearce to record Mr. Reading reading from his subsequent collections at his home in Ludlow, Shropshire, England. The Lannan Foundation is delighted to bring the voice and work of Peter Reading to a world-wide audience.

Poet 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 is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

He is probably the most skillful and technically inventive poet writing today, 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, ignorance and political ineptness.

He is above all an experimental poet, playing with the formal traditions and rhythms of English in liberating ways. Reading has 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.

Recent 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 is a remarkable rate of productivity, made partly possible by Reading’s willingness to rework and retry his central themes, styles and experiments.

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. - Helen Dunmore, The Observer (London).

Peter Reading elsewhere on

Peter Reading, (Literary: Awards, Fellowships, and Grants)
Peter Reading, (Residency)
Peter Reading, (Literary: Awards, Fellowships, and Grants)

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