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This review is taken from PN Review 57, Volume 14 Number 1, September - October 1987.

FACING FACTS Peter Reading, Essential Reading (Secker and Warburg) £9.95 pb.
Peter Reading, Stet (Secker and Warburg) £5.95 pb.

Although, as Alan Jenkins acknowledges in a prefatory note, the task of making a satisfactory selection from the corpus of Peter Reading's published work is a particularly difficult one, Essential Reading actually gives a very strong sense of the poet's development since the publication of his 1974 collection, For the Municipality's Elderly. That development seems to have been dictated largely by his concern to establish a poetic idiom appropriate to his increasingly bleak perception of the harshness of the human condition; and as the predominantly elegiac note of the early poems gives way to coarser, more discordant tones, one registers Reading's kinship with poets like George Crabbe and Wilfred Owen, poets for whom confrontation with the brute facts of existence necessitated a retuning of poetic language, a more or less direct challenging of certain orthodoxies of expression.

The bleakness of Reading's vision has attracted the obvious criticisms, to which the poet in turn has responded in equally obvious fashion: 'Too black and over the top', he argues in Ukelele Music, 'is what the Actual often/ happens to be, I'm afraid'; and he goes on to reinforce his point with a selection of news items suggestive of the barbarity of which the human species is capable. Reading's argument here is clear enough, but it does not entirely dispel one's unease at the obsessiveness of his focus, and simply fails to address the crucial issue, which is not the appropriateness of the poet's material, but the nature of his ...


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