Reading Peter Reading

Isabel Martin, Author Bloodaxe Books $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-85224-467-5
Relentlessly bleak, restlessly clever and suffused with metaphysical bile, Reading's 24 books of verse (all published since 1973) have won him fiercely devoted admirers in his native Britain. His latest, book-length poem responds to the year he spent in Marfa, Tex., a remote desert hamlet now largely occupied by the buildings, installations and legacies of Minimalist sculptor Donald Judd. Like almost all Reading's mise en scenes, Marfan begins and ends with politicized anger, ennui and ashen disgust. Blank-verse paragraphs portray departed trains, ""the restless spirit of the dead Apache,"" ""El Cheapo Liquor,"" a ""Blessed Tortilla,"" ""Cowboys for Christ"" and the luminous apparitions known as ""Marfa Mystery Lights."" Reading's speaker also remembers his own ""anxieties: a labial lump;/ pain in the kidneys and the abdomen;/ and money, money, money, money, money."" Descriptions are wry: ""Sunset is like a busted-up fried egg""; Judd's ""aluminium boxes/ betoken... genius spawned of privilege""; and the Border Patrol, attacking Mexican migrants, are ""fat, trigger-happy, complacent twats."" Jay Shuttleworth's black-and-white photos, along with Reading's own jittery collages, lend the short book additional visual interest. Reading's no-holds-barred dysphemisms seek the stringencies of Beckett and Swift, and while his admirers will find him their equal, detractors will object to his narrow tonal range. Chief among those admirers has been Martin, who wrote the introduction to Reading's two-volume Collected Poems. Adapted from her German doctoral thesis, Martin's hefty volume examines Reading's oeuvre and his reputation book by book, from his Larkinesque juvenilia through his breakthrough (in the U.K.) volume, Perduta Gente, a sequence about homelessness, squalor and mayhem in Thatcher's England. Other Reading investigations include his use of classical metrics and mathematical word games; his sequence ""C,"" about death from cancer; and his recent, misleadingly titled Last Poems. It's solid criticism, but unlikely to reach or attract the unconverted. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
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FORMATS
Hardcover - 320 pages - 978-1-85224-466-8
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