Documenting the quest to track down everything written by
(and written about) the poet, translator, critic, and radio
dramatist, Henry Reed.
An obsessive, armchair attempt to assemble a comprehensive
bibliography, not just for the work of a poet, but for his
Read "Naming of Parts
The Heat of the Day: In wartime London, a woman finds herself caught between two men.
Cold Comfort Farm: Sensible Flora Poste moves in with her eccentric country relatives.
The Dog Stars: A man, his dog, and an airplane survive an apocalyptic flu.
Wet dreams, wet dreams, in libraries congealing.
Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog
An antipodean appearance of Henry Reed, in the Wellington, New Zealand literary magazine Arena
(Noel Farr Hoggard, ed.), from March, 1958, where Roy MacGregor-Hastie
wrote a contentious, four-part series of articles on the state of poetry, titled "The Poet in His Workshop."
MacGregor-Hastie first mentions Reed in Part 2 of his series, "The Vertical Men" (from the Auden poem, "Let us honour if we can / The vertical man, / Though we value none / But the horizontal one"):
There is little of the morbid, though a great deal of the introspective in the writing of Henry Reed, who I should have liked to have included in this article as a vertical man. However, he is at an angle of ninety degrees to himself, so I shall leave him for the Miscellaneous section of this series, and deal with Alexander Tvardovsky, a contemporary Soviet poet.
Arena, no. 46 (March 1957): 18.
The promised Reed finally arrives in Part 4, "The Great Unclassified," where MacGregor-Hastie places Reed in a European miscellany, after Alfredo Panzini
, Giuseppe Ungaretti
, and Joaquín de Entrambasaguas (I can only guess: MacGregor-Hastie has written "Juan de Estrembasagua"), but only after thoroughly bashing the old guard—Auden, Eliot, Stephen Spender, and C. Day-Lewis—for their complacency and selling-out:
In England the work of any poet who is unfortunate enough to be under thirty is ignored completely, anyway by the larger publishers; if in the nineteenth century poets had to be both famous and dead before they were owned by their families, in the twentieth century, after the pre-war flood of slim volumes of garnered fancies, publication of verse has dried up. Only the little magazines can guarantee to the dedicated poet any frequency of publication, and their solvency is not always as great as one would wish; the Listener, the New Statesman and Nation, the Times Literary Supplement—these are the major media now and only publish the sort of verse you would expect....
There is probably only one man who remains cheerful through it all and unperturbed by the commercialism and disinterest he finds in the world of the Arts. His name is Henry Reed and he is sui generis, unclassified and unclassifiable. He published a collection of poems in 1946 called the 'Map of Verona', which established him in English Literature as perhaps the only living poet who could have written Lawrence's 'Innocent England' and write more; he published in this collection a series of poems about the war itself and the duality of experience of the sensitive soldier, his preoccupation more with the trivial detail of Army life than with the consequences to some other person's family of his firing the rifle—he is at such pains to be clean in the regulation way. In one of these poems, 'Naming of Parts' he shows his extreme sensitivity and ability to approach the emotional through the every day experiences of the world of trivia. He is being taught the names of the parts of his rifle, and the beauty of his surroundings intrudes into the lesson:
. . . . rapidly backwards and forwardsAnd that is my epilogue. The most valid commentary on this our civilisation so-called, which tries to live without the Arts, which are its flowers—
the early bees are assaulting the flowers;
They call it easing the Spring.
They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
if you have any strength in your thumb:
like the bolt and the breech and the cocking piece, and the point of balance,
which in our case we have not got; and the almond blossom
silent in all of the gardens, and the bees going backwards and forwards
For today we have naming of parts.
the point of balance
which in our case we have not got.
Arena, no. 48 (March 1958): 12-13.
MacGregor-Hastie's respect and appreciation for Reed is laudable, if a bit idealized: Reed, even as early as the late 1950s, was hardly remaining 'cheerful' and 'unperturbed', and he probably would have taken more than some offense at the author's rough-handling of his friends, Spender and Day-Lewis—not to mention his idols and authorities, Auden and Eliot.
1506. MacGregor-Hastie, Roy. "The Poet in His Workshop: No 4—The Great Unclassified." Arena 48 (March 1958): 10-13 [12-13].
MacGregor-Hastie shows great respect for Reed in this series on the state of poetry (but little regard for the poets of the 'Thirties).
Online since October 2014, the BBC Genome
project contains the text of program listings in the Radio Times
from 1923 through 2009.
The search function at the top of the page allows keyword (and advanced) searching, as well as browsing by service, year, and issues
in pull-down menus.
The search result for "Henry Reed
" yields 1,013 results (many belonging to a popular band leader of the same name), but setting limits in the advanced options for "Radio only" brings us to Reed's possible first billing, for "New Poems
" on August 3, 1944: 'The ninth of a monthly selection of very recent or unpublished poems : "The Jungle," by Alun Lewis , and "Philoctetes," by Henry Reed.'
The listings are OCR text which contain many errors, and there are no images from the original magazines — but the project does allow users to submit corrections (or notice of changes to the original schedule).
Read about the BBC's Genome at the About the BBC blog
1505. Orwell, George. "Young Writers." Review of New Writing and Daylight (Summer 1943), edited by John Lehmann. Spectator (30 July 1943): 110.
Orwell says of "The End of an Impulse," Reed's criticism of the Auden-Spender school of poetry, 'Henry Reed's essay contains some valuable remarks on the dangers of group literature.'
The Cadbury Research Library
at the University of Birmingham, for Henry Reed's centenary, has very thoughtfully made available some selections from the Reed's papers on their Flickr page: Henry Reed: Behind the Scenes
. There are scans of some of Reed's early writings from the University magazine, The Mermaid
, photographs, and letters (slideshow
One of the more important items (or, at least, important to me), is a letter Reed wrote to his sister Gladys (affectionately called "Babbis," married to Joe; Henry, is of course, Prince "Hal" to his family). This letter was quoted by Professor Jon Stallworthy for his Introduction to Reed's Collected Poems
(Oxford University Press, 1991; Carcanet, 2007), and was written at nearly the same time as another (similar) letter to John Lehmann
: during the summer of 1941, during the Birmingham Blitz and close on the heels Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union, whilst Reed is in the midst of his basic training, expecting to be sent into combat and doubtful of his effectiveness:
Address etc. as beforeMy dear Babbis,
July 10th, I think
Thank you for writing; you have no idea how much one longs for letter here, even brief ones; and I should be very glad if you would always drop me a note, or get Jane to, every morning after a raid. We always know when there has been one — among our other duties is fire-watching — and it is worrying of it has been over Birmingham.
We have begun departmental training — which means that army training has to be concentrated into 5/8 of the day, and is therefor increasing in savagery. This blitztraining is, to my mind, absurd. The R.A.O.C. lost 10% of its personnel in Belgium, through being noncombatant. They aim, therefore, at making us combatant, in 9 weeks; at the end of that time we are expected to be able to shoot accurately, to manage a bren gun, an anti-tank gun and various other kinds, to use a bayonet, to throw hand-grenades and
whatnot and to fire at aircraft. I do not think the management of a tank is included in the course, but pretty well everything else is.
Our departmental training, some of which is an official secret, known only to the British and German armies, has consisted mainly of learning the strategic disposition of the R.A.O.C. in the field: this is based, not, as I feared, on the Boer War, but on the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. It is taught by the lecturers who rarely manage to conceal their dubiety at what they are teaching. But it is restful after the other things, and we are allowed to attend in P.T. 'kit'. This is nicely balanced by the fact that we attend P.T. wearing all our 'kit', except blankets. (I will never call a child of mine Christopher.)
Please let mother have the £1, as I know how much greater her need is than mine; I do assure you that I have, so far, all the money I need. I get £1 every Friday, and should get more, were it not for some compulsory
voluntary deduction which they make; and I don't seem to spend even £1. I am still too tired to go out much at night, the beer here is undrinkable and I am having to give up smoking, as my lungs will not stand the strain of smoking and the other things they are called upon to do. So, I am comparatively well off; I should be glad of some more cheques: as this will be my last chance of paying much to my debtors I thought I'd better pay them all a little bit. This, I'm afraid involves a lot of cheques, and if you could let me have another half dozen, it would greatly help me.
I should be glad to have the New Statesman, if that is possible; it comes out on Friday, and if I got it by Saturday that would be marvelous.
I hope a good deal from Russia, of course, but rather joylessly: the scale of it all is beyond my grasp, and it is terrible to see a country
which, with all its faults, has been alone in working to give the fruits of labour to the people who have earned them, thus attacked; I think you should think about Russia very seriously, and try to learn something about her, and try to find why she can perhaps do things that we cannot — things that France, for example, could not. Stalin and Molotoff may be bureaucratic villains: I don't know. But if they are, they are only the passing evil which cannot wipe out what the period of Lenin gave. While we — we are only beginning to turn up a little doubtful virtue in our rulers, after decades of Chamberlain big business. And big business still can stifle the efforts at wise government here, as any workman you meet on a train will tell you. The British people are fighting a battle on two fronts, at home and against Germany: so far we have only been able to hurt Italy, who is fighting a battle on three: against us, against the banker-princes,
and against Germany also; Russia has fought, and largely won, her battle against capitalism. She is only fighting Germany now. That is why she may win; without that earlier victory, her enormous size would avail her nothing in these days. And when she is secure against fascism (which isn't confined to Germany and Italy) perhaps the horrible side of Russia will fade away more rapidly than now seems possible.
I don't know what to say about Joe. It is clear that an officers' mess is a decadent place, even if there are in it people as gallant and intelligent as Joe and a few of my own friends who have recently got commissions; I gather that an officers' mess is boring and dull, and therefore easy to set up expensive forms of distraction in; and I suppose most of Joe's companions were regular commissions officers, who are usually stupid and illiterate (our Lieut-Col. told us we were now fighting alone, last
week, since France failed us; I suppose he hadn't heard about Russia) and they may lead him astray, which could happen very easily, I think, knowing Joe. If you think telling him about the O.D. would shock him into remorse, do so; I think this would be the best way. It means great inconvenience to you, always to shoulder Joe's burdens like this, but eventually it ought to aruse his conscience. The time for a general settlement will be after the war is over; everybody will be so shatteringly poor then, that things will probably settle themselves, even overdrafts.
The enclosed is a present (not a repayment — not yet) from me; I am keen on its being divided thus, and thus only: 5/- for mother (for her birthday), 1/6 for Jane (because why should she have any more than that) and 13/6 for you (to be spent as "pocket-money"
on oddments, meals and so on, because by now you ought to be learning what it feels like to have 13/6). Please do this arrangement for me, as faithfully as if it were a will.
And write again soon.
All my fondest love to you all.
I hope to find time to transcribe more of these letters from Henry. Click here to see the University of Birmingham Special Collections' catalog record
for Henry Reed's letters to his family.
1504. Ludwig, Jennifer. "Lessons of the War: Henry Reed." In vol. 2, Literature of War: Experiences, edited by Thomas Riggs. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 2012. 359-361.
A relatively lengthy assessment of Reed's influences, position, and the impact resulting from his famous sequence of poems, Lessons of the War.
My efforts to track the poet Henry Reed through his early decades of the 1930s and 40s are often frustrated by the constant manifestations of another semi-famous "Henry Reed": a popular British band leader who seems to have made nearly daily appearances on the radio during that time. This doppelgänger's career only begins to fade out in the mid- to late-1940s, just as our poet's begins to rise.
It was probably owing to the overwhelming multitude of the Pretender's radio appearances which led me to overlook this article from the Manchester Guardian, in September, 1937
: a first-person report—narrative, really—from the annual Piedigrotta music festival
For a brief moment I feared it had been written by the musician, but before I even finished the first paragraph I realized it must be the Literary Reed: the ghost of Leopardi materializes; a paraphrase of Baedeker's Italy
is inserted; there is a struggle with Italian dialect; Pompeii; and lastly—the clincher—there is a repetition of "to-morrow. To-morrow. To-morrow...".
Reed sounds very close to his subject here. So very close, the music is still ringing in his ears; so I think we shall have to update his timeline/map
to include a visit to Naples in the first week of September, 1937:
The Piazza di Piedigrotta in Naples is never properly to be called quiet, except occasionally between two and four in the morning. In the first week of September, while people are restlessly waiting for the Popular Song Festival, even this intermission is ignored. On the night of the festival itself one is not especially conscious of enormous noise, for it seems by this time that one has never known silence. Not far away from the radiant tunnel of lights in which the musical competitions take place Virgil lies in his mythical tomb, and in another direction, Leopardi lies in his real one. Do they ever turn in them on this night, one wonders?
The festa once had a ceremony, a ritualistic splendour, but it is not to be supposed that its participants today know that, or bother much about it, though they are happily conscious that their revels are tolerantly presided over by Santa Maria di Piedigrotta in the near-by church. The cook at the pizzeria has never heard of Charles III. The old man who even at this time tries to sell you bootlaces cares nothing for Charles's victory at Velletri in 1744. The tenor who sings the new songs might perhaps be interested to hear that Charles commemorated Velletri by instituting the festival at which he earns whatever he eats instead of bread and butter, but more probably he would merely smile and murmur during the introduction of the second verse that it would have happened anyway. And the information that "this huge fair was held every year with considerable magnificence till the fall of the Bourbon dynasty in 1859" would be greeted with huge derision. Considerable magnificence? Has not M------, the singer, introduced a perfectly splendid and gratuitous high D into the song of the year, a note it was thought would not be heard from a man in our lifetime? Are not the fireworks louder and brighter and longer and cheaper than ever before? Have not more new combinations of instruments been evolved this year than it was ever believed possible? Did you ever think to hear a trumpet and harp duet before? Magnificence?
Every one of us has a Chinese lantern or an impossible nose or a paper hat. We all have those things that you blow out in other people's faces, or those things that you shake round in other people's ears. If you have unlimited money there is unlimited food. Over certain gelaterie there are still old-fashioned flaming gas-jets, but their noise cannot be separately heard as we feverishly lick huge slabs of ice-cream under them. For three singers are I passing in a cart, accompanied by a string octet. To me the words are unintelligible, though I am glad to hear the dialect word "Scetà," which comes in every Neapolitan song, I should think, and means "Wake up." I am deeply impressed and unnecessarily give the waiter a tip. As we hurry away I am severely rebuked for this extravagance by young Neapolitan friends. Arguing furiously, we all step with care over a happily sleeping tramp. I explain that I am not entirely penniless and that it is a season if not of peace on earth at least of goodwill to men. This is considered a silly remark, and after another debate shouted over the noise of bagpipes (bagpipes!) we go on. But the youngest of our party has disappeared. He comes panting up three minutes later, having, by what miracle of cajolery or menace I cannot find out, recovered my penny from the waiter. He gives it to his eldest brother to keep for me.
The tunnel cut through the hill of Posilipo is brightly lit, and one can dance in it, since no automobile will be allowed to pass through it until to-morrow. The wise will have, learned the words and tunes of the songs from the leaflets that have been going about for the last few weeks. Anyone would have taught you the tunes on the violin or the guitar (there is, it appears, no piano in Naples). Then you can join in when the carts containing their little bands come round to catch your approbation.
There is no doubt about which is the best song. Surely a finer librettist than Di Giacomo has arisen in—what is his name, did you say?—the poet who has been so inspired as to mention all the islands in the bay in the same song, and the ghosts of dead lovers at Pompeii as well. And even Tagliaferri could not produce phrases more yielding to the individual choice of vocal ornament than those that M------ is embellishing with his brilliant "mordenti" at the moment. (They say he really comes from Baia, but that is only just round the corner, and it is more than likely that his grandmother came from Naples.)
One must, of course, discriminate with care. The song of the year may be one of those that will not just circle the bay and die after a short excursion to Rome. It may be another "Funiculi, funicula," and go round the world for years and years. But even if nothing historic emerges the individual conscience need not worry. For it will all be a good racket while it lasts. The night will grow louder and louder, and we shall meet more and more new people, who Will remember you because you are English and odd, though you cut them to-morrow.
To-morrow. To-morrow everyone is a bit hoarse. The lights are kept up the next night, for there is a natural attempt to make a good party last as long as it can. But it is rather a hopeless one, and the piazza next day has rather the aspect of an untalking film. In the reaction from the unspeakable recklessness that has led you the night before to embark upon ices, melons of all kinds, lemonade, several "veri vini," and great late figs you have become cowardly, and sit with your companions under the tawny lights of the fountain chewing monkey-nuts. They have forgotten the festa and are reverting to a game of more permanent exhilaration, that of trying to teach you to say "Vedi Napoli e poi muori" in the dialect. "Vega Nabul' u puo' muo'" it sounds like. The last two words are especially hard, and you create much amusement by them.
1503. King, Francis. Yesterday Came Suddenly: An Autobiography. London: Constable, 1993. 79-80.
Mentions Henry Reed and Angus Wilson making fun of the Bletchley Park Writers' Circle.
In his 1991 autobiography, Swann's Way
, the composer Donald Swann
takes the time to say a few kind words about collaborating with Henry Reed. Swann composed and conducted the music for all the radio plays in Reed's (in)famous Hilda Tablet saga, beginning with A Very Great Man Indeed
in 1953, through Musique Discrète
in 1959, seven plays in all. Swann and his musical partner, Michael Flanders
, even had on-air cameos as a Russian interrogators in Not a Drum Was Heard: The War Memoirs of General Gland
It's time I mentioned my work with Henry Reed. He's known to many as a poet, particularly a very fine war poet — many will remember 'Naming Of Parts' , and 'Unarmed Combat', I'm sure. As well as being a fine poet, he had a true gift for radio. He was commissioned by Douglas Cleverdon
in the mid fifties to write a series of features for the Third Programme.
It is important to say something about Douglas, a gentlemanly, witty and extremely literate book publisher and radio producer, to whom respects and tributes have recently been pouring in after his death. Having published David Jones
, and commissioned Dylan Thomas to write Under Milk Wood
for radio, he had a similar galvanising effect on the poet Henry Reed and on all of us who worked for him. For many, he enshrined the very epitome of the Third Programme, now Radio 3.
The series of seven features Henry and Douglas collaborated on arose from a putative biography of a man called Richard Shewin, which included a cast of some fifteen characters connected with his life. Each feature presented a new development of this satirical and often very erudite story. One of the characters was a 'composeress' called Hilda Tablet. She was a bit of a send-up of Elizabeth Lutyens
and, although a female character, of Benjamin Britten. Mary O'Farrell played Hilda Tablet and I was given the chance of 'realising' Hilda's music. Eventually, she nearly hijacked the whole series. She was an eccentric character who always wore tails for her main concerts. Henry got very keen on her and wrote another feature called The Private Life of Hilda Tablet.
I wrote and played songs and piano music for the radio series, but when Hilda Tablet composed an all-woman opera at Covent Garden called Emily Butter,
I actually chalked up about twenty minutes of an operatic score. I did have a few problems with the music: Hilda Tablet wrote largely twelve-tone music
, and I experienced some difficulty writing an atonal and twelve-tone score. Henry was most obliging and altered the story so that in the middle of this purported Covent Garden opera, the Consolidated Musicians' Union goes on strike, therefore leaving nothing but one piano. This suited me fine and the actors began to sing very melodic music because they couldn't stand Hilda Tablet anyway. He arranged it so that I could get back to my comfortable middlebrow style. This was a very fruitful episode for me and it has been a lasting experience. We were treated with the greatest respect by the BBC and there were constant repeats of the series. Humphrey Carpenter
has revived it at a recent Cheltenham Literary Festival.
I used to beseech Henry to stop writing for radio and write a really good libretto for a musical. If anyone could do it, it would be him. But he loved broadcasting and I can understand this because there is something about radio which is quite different from the theatre. I'm just incredibly pleased that I had such a good collaboration. As well as the pleasure of working with such an outstanding cast of actors, it brought me through to the point where I had explored all that I could do with that imitative style.
That, my dear friends, is class
. To get a taste of what Swann had to work with, here's his piece from the aforementioned Not a Drum Was Heard
, "Rangoon March
," featuring Deryck Guyler as General Gland, Mary O'Farrell as Hilda Tablet, and Marjorie Westbury as Elsa Strauss. Impatient Swann fans should note there's about four minutes, thirty of introduction before the piece begins:
1502. Reed, Henry. Poetry Reading. The Poet Speaks. British Council recording, no. 1636. 12 March 1970. Co-sponsored by the British Council and the Woodberry Poetry Room in the Lamont Library of Harvard University. TAPE ARCHIVE PR6035.E32 A6 1970x, Woodberry Poetry Room, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Henry Reed reads a selection of his poems for the British Council series, The Poet Speaks.
Today I am dredging up a review from The Listener from November 28, 1946
. In the "New Novels" column, Henry Reed considers two books which are distinctly post-war: Arthur Koestler's Thieves in the Night
, based on Koestler's experiences setting up a kibbutz
in British-ruled Palestine; and Henry Green's Back
, regarding a wounded British soldier returning from a German POW camp. Reed also has a few favorable words for Tom Hopkinson's Mist in the Tagus
, "a story of two heterosexual girls in love with two non-heterosexual young men."
Reed is disappointed in both Koestler and Green (though he gives Green's prose high marks), whose preceding works were so much more enjoyable and filled with promise, but surprisingly his biggest complaint about Hopkinson's novel is that it is too brief:
Thieves in the Night. By Arthur Koestler. Macmillan. 10s. 6d.
Back. By Henry Green. Hogarth Press. 8s. 6d.
Mist in the Tagus. By Tom Hopkinson. Hogarth Press. 7s. 6d.
In almost every way, Mr. Arthur Koestler's new novel is profoundly depressing. It depresses one on his behalf because he has suffered what he describes; on behalf of the Jews he writes about because a solution to their problems seems almost unimaginable; and on behalf of the readers who normally admire his work because Thieves in the Night is a poor book. Mr. Koestler seems indeed to be not very interested in making it any better, and I felt while reading it that the contempt he appears to feel for most groups of people had somehow invaded his attitude towards novel-writing, and — less pardonably — his attitude towards his readers.
Thieves in the Night could doubtless have been a worthy successor to Darkness at Noon; one could forgive it for being less objective, since Mr. Koestler has himself been more deeply involved in what he describes. It is a story about a group of Jewish immigrants to Palestine. They arrive on a night in 1937; the book tells about their building of a settlement; it carries us through their days of achievement, setback, and hardship, up to the time of the 1939 White Paper. It ends with another small batch of immigrants arriving in Palestine in the same year. Threaded through this chronicle of events is the personal story of Joseph, a half-Jew who has joined the Zionists; the girl he loves is murdered by Arabs, and this turns the scale for him so that he throws in his lot with the terrorists. I do no think we are to assume an identity between Joseph's views and Mr. Koestler's, though I see that this has been promptly taken for granted in some quarters. What he shows us is an example of how 'those to whom evil is done do evil in return'; and he convinces us that a sober and dignified effort towards a good life has become transformed by frustration and betrayal into lawless violence. The plight of the Jews is described thus:
We are homesick for a Canaan which was never truly ours. . . . Defeated and bruised, we turn back towards the point in space from which the hunt started. It is the return from delirium to normality and its limitations. A country is the shadow which a nation throws, and for two thousand years we were a nation without a shadow.Mr. Koestler has summed up the tragedy in that unforgettable last image; and it is obvious that his subject is a great one. It is here that one's cause for depression rises: rarely can such a subject have been so dully and so mechanically treated. We are given many illuminating facts; but during scarcely more than a dozen pages does the book come alive as an original story; these are page after page of discussion, of would-be satirical portraiture which I feel any novelist anxious to do a good job would have seen to be commonplace and flat. No readers enjoy more than do English readers satire about themselves abroad; but A Passage to India, to say nothing of other books, has set a standard in this sort of writing which one cannot ignore.
And, alas, Mr. Koestler tends more and more to become a publicist. He is perhaps not to be blamed. It is an easy line, and doubtless it is justifiable. I can imagine that tolling in his ears is the death-knell of civilisation. Art seems increasingly crowded on to a narrowing littoral and facing an incoming sea. I think a critic is called upon to understand and sympathise with this point of view; he is also called upon to say that straight polemical writing is more readable than the casual dramatisation found in Thieves in the Night. It seems idle to suggest that, with his gifts, Mr. Koestler could have developed his characters to a point where they become interesting, and cease to be merely a set of wooden objects asking the reader for pity. We know that if Mr. Koestler cared to try, he could force the pity from us. We know that he could also make us laugh, but here, as in his play, 'Twilight Bar', he prefers facetiousness. The solemn importance of the subject prevents one from ignoring the book; but it is a great disappointment.
So many intelligent novelists in recent years have eschewed the use of plot and substituted what may be charitably called 'theme' that the sight of sort of plot emerging from a novel goes to a reviewer's head. The position is much the same with wines. Years of tormenting abstinence deaden one's judgment. Plots and wines return, and at first it seems in both cases that any blessed thing will do. The excitement of wanting to know what will happen next leads one to murmur preliminary words of extravagant praise. Then the plot falters, the wine doesn't turn out as well as you expect, and your words of praise have to be withdrawn. Thus with Mr. Henry Green's new novel, Back. It starts an attractive story about a man named Charles Summers returning with a peg leg from a prison camp; Rose, his former mistress, the wife of a friend, has died. By a curious contrivance Charley is introduced to her illegitimate half-sister, Nancy; he cannot believe she is not Rose herself with her hair dyed. It is part of the nightmare quality of being 'back'. I do not object to an improbable plot. But Mr. Green's plot totters; it too is peg-legged and has to have a long rest in the middle. Its end is convincing and beautiful, but by the time it comes we have slightly lost interest.
If you know Mr. Green's other novels, its curt title will suggest to you at once that he has chosen a good 'theme' for himself; there is the intensity of feeling found in Caught and Loving. The ideas that he implies in his titles are for him poetic ideas, as summer or winter might be to a poet. It is this that makes Mr. Green one of the most striking and original of modern novelists. To me he seems also one of the best. He does something new and good. I can see that his curious style may be an irritation to some readers; me it normally charms. Adaptations of highly mannered authors are always dangerous; but Mr. Green seems to find genuine kinship with the sad, wistful mood of the earlier Bloom chapters in Ulysses. His echoing poetic images, recurring and transformed like musical phrases, are to him a natural and not an artificial way of seeing and feeling; and they reproduce something real in our own sensitivity. His new novel contains ay fine passages; its comedy is excellent. If it is less of a success than its two immediate predecessors, it is nevertheless something one will keep with Mr. Green's other books and take down from time to time.
Mr. Tom Hopkinson's second novel, Mist in the Tagus, has a fault staggeringly unusual in contemporary novels: it ought to have been longer. The people and emotion he deals with demand greater space for their proper emergence than he has allotted them, so that relationships which should have been dramatised are often merely described: there is a felling that some of them have been unduly potted. It is a story of two heterosexual girls in love with two non-heterosexual young men. It occupies the week or fortnight of an English girl's holiday intrusion into a leisured small group of people who have drifted down from Europe into Portugal. The feeling of rapidly shortening time as the girls attempt to accomplish their desires is excellently achieved; so is the sense of inevitable failure which pervades their efforts. Everything in the book is well conceived and well ordered; the actual succession of events and disclosures shows a most intelligent and perceptive writer at work. But the final feeling one is left with is that one has seen it all through the wrong end of a telescope. Today this seems like being given an ounce of best butter in place of a pound of common marge. One hardly knows whether to be grateful or not; it is another aspect on the plot and wine situation referred to above.
You can read the original New York Times review
for Thieves in the Night
on their website.
1501. Reed, Henry. Interview with Peter Orr. The Poet Speaks. British Council recording, no. 1638. 11 June 1970. Co-sponsored by the British Council and the Woodberry Poetry Room in the Lamont Library of Harvard University. TAPE ARCHIVE PR6035.E32 Z5 1970x, Woodberry Poetry Room, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Henry Reed speaks with Peter Orr of the British Council, as part of the series The Poet Speaks.
The University of Arizona Poetry Center
has a terrific exhibition of vintage posters for poetry readings
sponsored in the 1960s and 70s, for such acclaimed poets as Marvin Bell, Elizabeth Bishop, Louise Bogan, John Ciardi, C. Day-Lewis, W.S. Merwin, Delmore Schwartz, Karl Shapiro, and James Tate. The silkscreen posters were created by art students at the university, the results of a competition vying for the best design, and they are wonderfully inventive and vibrant.
In the spring of 1966, Henry Reed was visiting from London as an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Washington, Seattle. While there, he apparently accepted an invitation to give a reading at Arizona's Poetry Center (then the Ruth Stephan Poetry Center) on April 27, 1966, and in the exhibit we find a marvelous publicity poster for "the noted British poet" made specially for the event:
The "PMM AUD" mentioned in the poster was the auditorium in the old Physics, Mathematics, and Meteorology building
at the university. I e-mailed the Poetry Center with a question about the date of the reading, and to my dismay they informed me that Reed cancelled at the last minute. Typical Henry. There are hints that he had to take on Elizabeth Bishop's classes
in Seattle when she came down with the flu, and his drinking habit was getting the better of him.
You can also view the University of Arizona's vintage Poetry Center posters (and many, many more goodies!) in the Arizona State Library's online repository, the Arizona Memory Project
1499. Times (London), "Broadcasting Programmes," 18 June 1964, 6.
Reed's translation of Buzzati's play, "The American Prize," premieres tonight on the Third Programme.
(1914-1986). Born: Birmingham, England, 22 February 1914; died: London, 8
Education: MA, University of Birmingham, 1936. Served: RAOC
, 1941-42; Foreign Office, Bletchley Park, 1942-1945.
Freelance writer: BBC Features Department, 1945-1980.
A Map of Verona: Poems
The Novel Since 1939
Moby Dick: A Play for Radio from Herman Melville's Novel
Lessons of the War
Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio
The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio
The Auction Sale
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