I tweeted this a while back, but never posted it here. A reading and re-enactment of Reed's "Naming of Parts," from the Channel 4 series, Arrows of Desire, produced by Optic Nerve, circa 2004. The episode this clip is from is described as:
A selection of well-known poets read and discuss two classic poems—"The Flea" by John Donne and "A sight in camp in the daybreak gray and dim" by Walt Whitman—as well as two modern ones: a letter from Marie Curie" by Lavinia Greenlaw and "Naming of Parts" by Henry Reed.
The videocassette label lists:
...interpretations and discussions by W.N. Herbert, John Kinsella, Clare Pollard, Owen Sheers, Michael Donaghy, Patience Agbabi, Greta Stoddart, Paul Muldoon, John Stammers, Andrew Motion, Rod Mengham, Tom Paulin, Jamie McKendrick, Roger McGough, Sophie Hannah, Jean Binta Breeze, Matthew Sweeney, Kenneth Koch, Matthew Hollis, Jerome Rothenberg, Jane Hirschfield, Wendy Cope, P.J. Kavanagh, Imtiaz Dharker, Iain Sinclair, Lavinia Greenlaw, and Charles Bainbridge.
I'm curious if anyone recognizes the reader/narrator in this clip? I'm dying to know who it may be!
A recent excursion to a local university afforded me the opportunity to access a database I wouldn't normally have access to: the Sunday Times. Reed appears less frequently than you might expect, and mostly late in his career: a few scattered book reviews between 1965 and 1970.
Here we have a prime example of why you wouldn't want Henry Reed to review your book. He simply disassembles the author, Hugh D. Ford, and then settles in to attack his book, A Poets' War: British Poets and the Spanish Civil War (1965), and wraps up with a quick assay of the subject matter:
Spain, '36-'39: no art out of war A POET'S WAR: British Poets and the Spanish Civil War
by Hugh D Ford/Oxford, for the University of Philadelphia 48s By Henry Reed
ONE of the major traditions in the English departments of American universities is the ritual production, by advanced students, of a PhD thesis. It is a further tradition, only rarely broken with, that the basic subject of the thesis shall be of microscopic dimensions and even smaller importance; the test for the student appears to be how far he can make it stretch, either by irrelevant digression, or by simple repetition. All being well, his thesis is accepted, the PhD achieved.
By this time the ex-student has become an obsessional: after a little pause he returns to his subject, and decides that a few extra chapters might not come amiss. He adds not only these, but also a forty-page bibliography consisting largely of books unreferred to in the text, and a three-page preface giving separate thanks to pretty well everyone he has met since the age of five, ending with his wife, whom he refers to in expressions of tender gratitude which must sometimes come as rather a surprise to her. The result is a book.
Mr Ford gives us a book. Of the two stretching-methods I have referred to, Mr Ford prefers simple repetition. The basic materials he selects are, after all, extremely scanty: two dozen or more inoffensive poems about the Spanish Civil War, few of them with any particular merit, and many by names that have never been seen outside the journals of the time. These writers are of course fairly distinct from each other: all they have in common, apart from their allegiance to the Republicans, is an incapacity for memorable speech. Most of their authors would probably not even bother to own the poems by now. Yet Mr Ford contrives to blur any distinctness that may be discovered in them, by ruthlessly submitting to each and every one of them the same examination paper.
He conducts this as a viva voce with no replies allowed except his own: Is such-and-such a poet sacrificing personal sincerity to politics? Is he writing propaganda? Doesn't the reference to so-and-so in stanza two introduce too personal a note if complete identification with Communism is the aim? I can't believe that anyone can possibly care about this. There are roughly 150 pages of it; and the unfortunate poems are up to the neck in it.
From the later stages of this morass, which grows denser with repetition, there rise up with an unexpected look of genuine durability about a dozen poems by names well known before the war in Spain. These include Auden's "Spain," which its author has recently described in print as "trash," half a dozen well-controlled poems by Spender, a few pages of deceptively casual vividness by MacNeice, three or four lyrics by Herbert Read, and Day Lewis's narrative poem "The Nabara."
These poems, and possibly a few others, have survived the epoch in which they were written, and this, I gather, Mr Ford, after much cautious mumbling and bumbling, concedes. Some of them—Spender's subdued elegies, for examples—seem in some odd way better than they did when they first appeared. There seems no point in re-inserting any of these distinguished works into their historical context; just as, in reverse, there seems no longer any point in isolating the Spanish War from the years of ever-spreading Fascism that led to it, and the world war which Franco's success perhaps made inevitable. To those who followed its fortunes, the Spanish War had a particularly sharp and saddening taste, which we may on occasion suddenly recall: a true imaginative and creative gesture might still be made from memory of it. But on the subject of the gestures made at the time, half a dozen succinct pages should by now be enough.
Robin Skelton reports that W.H. Auden referred to his own Spanish Civil War poems as 'trash' in the preface to Poetry of the Thirties (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1964). This issue of the Sunday Times also contains a review of Vincent Brome's The International Brigades: Spain 1936-1939, by Stephen Spender.
Periodically, I browse listings for used (and sometimes rare-ish) books on AbeBooks.com, looking for items by, or relating to, Henry Reed. My best find, I think, was turning up Reed's personal copies of Moby Dick and Tristram Shandy at a used bookstore in Birmingham, UK.
An amazing new treasure has appeared for sale, but one that leaves me conflicted as a poor, armchair researcher: a listing for a presentation copy of William Plomer's second collection of poems, The Family Tree (London: Hogarth Press, 1929), inscribed on the front endpaper to Henry Reed. These are the relevant parts from the bookseller's description:
Presentation Copy from the author to Henry Reed. 8vo. orig pink paper-covered boards printed in black, 106 pp. + "advertisement" (i.e. excerpts from reviews) page "of Mr. Plomer's Previous Volume of Verse, Notes for Poems"... First edition, limited to 400 copies, Leonard & Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, London, 1929. This is a very special copy, inscribed to Henry Reed from William Plomer on f.e.p. William Plomer has also made some important alterations to text in purple pen with another long inscription on blank p.10 commenting that he will not reprint "The Family Tree" as it is of no interest as poetry... A wonderful unique copy. William Plomer CBE, 1903-1973, poet, novelist, literary editor; editor of some of the James Bond books for Cape, and librettist for Benjamin Britten.
Reed and Plomer didn't know each other at the time the book was published, in 1929. If had to wager, I'd guess Plomer gave the book to Reed sometime between 1945 and 1949. Durham University Library has 11 letters from Reed to Plomer from during that time. Reed mentions having read Plomer's autobiography, Double Lives, in 1946, and reviewed an edition of Melville's Billy Budd in 1947 with an Introduction by Plomer. Plomer was a reader at Jonathan Cape in London, and was probably responsible for getting Reed's A Map of Verona: Poems published in 1946.
The bookseller is in Knighton, Wales, west of Birmingham, so the book has stayed in — or drifted back to — Henry Reed country. It is, indeed, a "very special," "wonderful unique copy," but the asking price gives me pause, however, as it's about the same amount as a month's rent for me. It would, however, give me a third book from Reed's personal library, which would be pretty exciting.
M.L. Rosenthal was an American contemporary of Henry Reed, born in 1917 in Washington, D.C., he taught at New York University for more than 50 years. Rosenthal was a poet, editor, and critic, and is credited with attributing "confessional" to the Confessional Poetry movement.
An early review by Rosenthal, "Experience and Poetry," appears in the New York Herald Tribune for October 17, 1948: Rosenthal reviews Henry Reed, Laurie Lee's The Sun My Monument, E.J. Pratt's Behind the Log, Louis O. Coxe's The Sea Faring, Robert McKinney's Hymn to Wreckage, and Four Poems by Rimbaud, translated by Ben Belitt.
Experience and Poetry
A MAP OF VERONA AND OTHER POEMS.
By Henry Reed. . . . 92 pp. . . . .
New York: Reynal and Hitchcock. . . . $2.50.
Reviewed by M. L. Rosenthal
HENRY REED shares with Laurie Lee, another young English "war poet," a kind of hurt pacifism and the familiar irony that sell so cheaply of late. They share, too, in that unhappy vice of young intellectuals—a certain blandness of which the ever-simple irony is a symptom and which allows them, at a moment's notice, to discuss everything as though it were nothing and vice versa. But Reed has the more inclusive sensibility, and he has been able to protect it by skills of craft, fashioning an armor of rhythmic, stanzaic, and musical structure. Despite their common conviction that the world is flat, Reed has written more verse in the rich "lyric-contemplative" mode and has used mythological themes from Homer to Melville to help him get his bearings. He is further into his art: such places as "Judging Distances," "Sailor's Harbor," and the title-poem achieve something fine and honest, with a dramatic tension that resolves itself by a narrowing of focus from general to intimate personal awareness: "reversal" with the true tragic shock of painful realization.
Rosenthal published two popular poetry books in 1967: a book of criticism, The New Poets: American and British Poetry since World War II (London: Oxford University Press); and and anthology, The New Modern Poetry; British and American Poetry since World War II (New York, Macmillan). As far as I can tell, however, Reed doesn't appear in either.
In 1950 and 1951, there was a series of broadcasts on the BBC's Home Service, produced by Brandon Acton-Bond, wherein three travellers would make the same journey separately, and record their impressions.
There were four programs, in all: "Pictures of a Road: Coleford to Newnham through the Forest of Dean" (June, 1950, with Audrey Russell, Henry Reed, and Ralph Wightman); "Pictures of a River: The Dart from Dartmouth to Totnes" (August, 1950, William Aspden, Georgie Henschel, and Johnny Morris); "Pictures of a Railway Journey: Plymouth to Princetown" (May, 1951, Georgie Henschel, Ralph Wightman, and Johnny Morris); and "Pictures of a Ferry-Boat Journey: Lymington to Yarmouth (Isle of Wight)" (June, 1951, Audrey Russell, Charles Causley, and Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald).
The first program, broadcast on Sunday, June 18, 1950, was apparently not well-received by the locals. It featured Audrey Russell, Ralph Wightman, and Henry Reed walking through the Forest of Dean from Coleford to Newnham, and resulted in this criticism of their reporting in the Gloucester Citizen for June 22, 1950:
Foresters angry about broadcast "NOT A TRUE PICTURE"
THERE was sharp criticism in the Forest of Dean yesterday of the B.B.C. broadcast about a walk that Audrey Russell, Ralph Wightman and Henry Reed took from Coleford to Newnham.
"If the purpose of the broadcast was to convey a true picture of the district they traversed," said the vicar of St. Stephen's, Cinderford (the Rev. D .R Griffiths) in an interview, "then the descriptions given were very unfiar and misleading.
"Henry Reed said that when he got into sight of Cinderford he found stretching out in front of him for miles a place of 'grey and pink hideousness.' We can allow poets to indulge in any amount of license, but to use 'hideous' as a term of Cinderford is an exaggeration.
"Ralph Wightman said that St. Stephen's Church is just as 'Victorian and ugly as the huge chapels in the main street! Mr. Wightman doubtless knows a lot about pigs, poultry and sheep, but we cannot take his judgment on church architecture as possessing any value. The church was built just over 60 years ago, designed by a fine architect named Lingen Barker. The design was approved by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Building Board of that time which had a panel of 13 architects. St. Stephen's church cannot be described as beautiful, but it is not ugly."
Said Henry Reed of Coleford "I didn't think Coleford had looked after itself very well. The cottages on its outskirts were horribly dilapidated; its church tower had no church; the little Town Hall, with its blue egg cosy on top, was one of the oddest buildings I've ever seen. I was only persuaded that it WAS the Town Hall by the backs of five uncomfortable-looking chairs in a first floor bow window."
Audrey Russell noticed that when the town clock struck the hour the hands were two minutes to.
Said Mr. C. E. Gillo (chairman of the Coleford Parish Council): "The Forest of Dean has suffered at the hand of the B.B.C. I am tired of people coming here and running down the place. We are painfully aware of the lack of amenities and the ugly blots, but the Forest of Dean has suffered years of industrial depression and was often governed by men with a retarded outlook.
"We are now trying to catch up on what we have lost. We are not helped by those who come here and condemn. It is grossly unfair to be measured by what might be called the municipal yardstick."
Imagine my delight, when perusing the travelled route through Google Street View, to find that Coleford's church tower still has no church.
Gregg calls the Hilda Tablet plays "the funniest and most sustained piece of social comedy written for radio," and expresses concern over the ephemeral medium of "aural" art such as radio, arguing that Reed's plays should get the same treatment as Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood, and be released as recordings.
Hilda Tablet and Others — four pieces for radio
by HENRY REED. BBC: £2.10.
The Streets of Pompeii and other plays for Radio
by HENRY REED. BBC: £3.15.
All Third Programme listeners please note that the plays of Henry Reed you so enjoyed between 1949 and 1958 are now in print—a permanent memorial of the radio drama which otherwise has no permanent life.
As Reed says in a most interesting foreword to The Streets of Pompeii, 'They were not for the most part written with any idea that they might appear in print. When it was suggested that they should, I was naturally delighted: it seemed to imply that they had not entirely gone in one ear and out of the other'.
I have just taken up knitting and when reading the pattern I have tried to visualise the finished article. Possibly knit two together through back loops creates a picture for the experienced knitter but even so it remains for most of us simply a code. In the same way the printed word is a poor substitute for radio drama. 'Cross-fade rapidly' needs a great deal of aural imagination.
Hilda Tablet and Others consists of four pieces from what many regard as the funniest and most sustained piece of social comedy written for radio. They are A Very Great Man Indeed, The Private Life of Hilda Tablet, A Hedge, Backwards, and The Primal Scene, as it were. The productions were all by Douglas Cleverdon, with music by Donald Swann and the casts include most of the great BBC repertory names: Hugh Burden, Carleton Hobbs, Gwen Cherrell, Mary O'Farrell, Marjorie Westbury . . . (dear Marjorie Westbury as Steve in Paul Temple — there's nostalgia for you) . . . the list is endless and very well-loved. The plays arise out of the research by Reed's alter-ego Reeve into the life of Richard Shewin, novelist.
The Streets of Pompeii on the other hand contains those plays which have Italian themes and settings. They are Leopardi in two parts: The Unblest and The Monument; The Streets of Pompeii, Return to Naples, The Great Desire I Had, and Vincenzo. Again the productions were by Douglas Cleverdon with a cast which sounds like Who's Who in Radio.
The BBC are of course quite right and to be commended for publishing Henry Reed's radio plays but now, before they disappear aurally altogether, may we have them recorded? After listening to the record of Under Milk Wood recorded by Argo with the cooperation of the BBC, I am convinced that there is a market for radio plays on record.
I note with some dismay that a quick search of the British Library Sound & Moving Image Catalogue reveals no recordings of A By-Election in the 'Nineties (1951), The Great Desire I Had (1952), A Hedge, Backwards (1956), The Primal Scene, As It Were (1958), or Musique Discrète (1959). Perhaps, however, the current Save of Sounds project might turn a few up.
On the inaugural International Dylan Thomas Day, Twitter turns up treasure! @DylanThomasNews posted a programme for a May 14, 1946 poetry recital performed for the Queen (and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret) at Wigmore Hall, organized by the Society of Authors and featuring everyone who was anyone in mid-century poetry and theater:
Poems were introduced by David Lloyd James, with readings by John Masefield (Poet Laureate at the time), Edith Evans, John Gielgud, John Laurie, Flora Robson, Edith Evans, Dylan Thomas, Valentine Dyall, C. Day Lewis, Walter de la Mare, T.S. Eliot, Edith Sitwell, and Louis MacNeice.
The organizing committee consisted of George Barker, Walter de la Mare, John Lehmann, C. Day Lewis, Louis MacNeice, none other than Henry Reed, Denys Kilham Roberts (Chairman), Vita Sackville-West, Edith Sitwell, Dylan Thomas, and Lawrence Whistler.
Previously, we posted about how this particular poetry reading impacted the career of Vita Sackville-West.
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).
(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 (1946) The Novel Since 1939 (1946) Moby Dick: A Play for Radio from Herman Melville's Novel (1947) Lessons of the War (1970) Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio (1971) The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio (1971) Collected Poems (1991, 2007) The Auction Sale (2006)