The phrase ‘Liverpool poet’ will for most people bring to mind the likes of Roger McGough or Adrian Henry, few would think of Peter Reading. Given the willingness with which we venerate and laud those spawned by the city the absence of acclaim for Reading in the many volumes of ‘Liverpolitana’ that fill my bookshelves is surprising. Yet he was generally acknowledged as one of the leading poets of the generation which followed Ted Hughes, described by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy as “a true original” and one of Britain’s most controversial poets.
He was born in Liverpool on 27th July 1946, the son of electric fitter Wilfred Reading and his wife Ethel (née Catt). The family home was at 30 Circular Road East L11 in Norris Green but in 1948 they moved to a semi-rural location between the Liverpool and Kirkby. He attended the Alsop Grammar School and then Liverpool College of Art. After a spell as a teacher at Ruffwood Comprehensive School he returned to the Art College as a lecturer on the history of art. Before he would publish any verse he left the world of academia in 1970 and took a job as a weighbridge operator at an animal feedmill in Shropshire. He would work there for over 22 years, saying that it gave him time to think. His first verse collection, For the Municipality’s Elderly, was published in 1974, the first in a substantial body of work. He was eventually sacked from the weighbridge job when he refused to wear a uniform and thereafter lived a somewhat hand-to-mouth existence on the proceeds of his writing.
His work was variously described as pessimistic and bleak, earning him the title the Laureate of grot. He himself was described as a small, quiet man who could occasionally growl after imbibing a good deal of wine. One critique said he “wrote as if he and the world of his poems were already dead”. He continued to live in Shropshire until his death on the 17th November 2011, aged 65. He was married three times, having a daughter by his first wife.
Peter Reading's family home until he was two years old.
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