W.H. Auden often wrote about nothing and explained everything with the lazy whisk of a horsetail sweeping at a short-lived fly. Nicholas Reading does the same damned thing. There is hope in these poems but it is begrudgingly given. There seems to be that knowledge that despite ourselves we may yet find redemption. I believe Reading wants us to hope — just not to set our hopes too high.
In his second collection Love & Sundries, Nicholas Reading balances tragedy and empathy with both fear and wisdom in narrators who often yearn for what they don’t quite know how to achieve. Somewhere between the inner-voice of Mack from Cannery Row and the hard-bitten spirit of Richard Hugo, these poems tether themselves to hope amidst the elegiac emptiness of miles of flat land and peripheral characters who turn out to mean much more, where memories are finally forgotten to “create a future again and again and again tomorrow.”
In “Directive,” Robert Frost describes a guide “who only has at heart your getting lost.” Such a guide, it seems to me, is the poet Nicholas Reading. He observes whimsically: “On the bank of a river / a few people are lost. I expect that more // with join. No one will admit we did nothing / to prevent this gathering from happening.” So it is with his poems. They let us wander and get lost, but also gather and congregate. If a host of lost people find each other, the poet implies slyly, are they really lost? Another poem ends with Dirty Rosa saying, “You will not like it . . . but you are / welcome here.” Despite their edginess, and because of their edginess, Reading’s poems make us welcome. They say in capital letters, TRESPASS PLEASE.