Cut-Ups

Robert Crawford

  • Perduta Gente by Peter Reading
    Secker, £5.00, June 1989, ISBN 0 436 40999 2
  • Letting in the rumour by Gillian Clarke
    Carcanet, 79 pp, £4.95, July 1989, ISBN 0 85635 757 X
  • Lazy Thoughts of a Lazy Woman by Grace Nichols
    Virago, 58 pp, £4.99, July 1989, ISBN 1 85381 076 2
  • Studying Grosz on the Bus by John Lucas
    Peterloo, 64 pp, £4.95, August 1989, ISBN 1 871471 02 8
  • The Old Noise of Truth by Joan Downar
    Peterloo, 63 pp, £4.95, August 1989, ISBN 1 871471 03 6

Till recently, I’ve dodged most of Peter Reading’s work. He seemed so much the darling of the TLS and of a metropolitan circle whose powerfully disseminated views it is often essential to evade in the interests of finding a position which affords a degree of independence. Seeing stray poems by him in magazines, I thought of him as having a gift of designer outrage, whose appeal to the sophisticated might be suspect. Was he trying to rewrite The Waste Land with a Black and Decker? Now, looking at Perduta Gente against a background of his earlier volumes, I find my original intuitions both complicated and reinforced. Those partial to the conspiracy theory of the sinking island of English letters may take comfort from the fact that the selection of poems in Essential Reading (1986) is edited by Alan Jenkins of the TLS. And that book contains a few examples of what are (in part at least) knowing winks: after describing a catalogue of sufferings in C, Reading concludes that ‘this, rendered in catalectic tetrameters, might do for the TLS or other reputable literary periodical.’ Heading the blurbs on the back of the new book, Perduta Gente, there’s Alan Jenkins again (in the Observer this time). But literary life is full of cliques, always has been, always will be, for better and for worse. Ultimately, Reading is his own man. What his TLS-ability signals is less his being suavely hyped than his being grounded on the side of the sophisticated. His work is obsessively self-reflexive – ‘but am I Art?’ is its central question.

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