Two videos have appeared, with former poet laureate Robert Pinksy using Henry Reed's famous parody of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets as a teaching tool, in Boston University's Art of Poetry Video Repository.
In the first, Pinsky delivers an excellent reading of "Chard Whitlow" (written by Henry Reed in 1941 and subtitled "Mr. Eliot's Sunday Evening Postscript," after this poem), and then compares it with a selection from Eliot's "East Coker":
Followed up with this conversation with some first-time Reed (and Eliot) readers:
Pinsky's point being that effective parody is more than just kidding around: it can help the reader appreciate or even understand the source material better. "Chard Whitlow" is possibly the best example of this, because it can be backed up with Eliot's own statement (also read by Mr. Pinksy):
Most parodies of one's own work strike one as very poor. In fact, one is apt to think one could parody oneself much better. (As a matter of fact, some critics have said that I have done so.) But there is one which deserves the success it has had, Henry Reed's "Chard Whitlow."
• Dramatic Verse. Add MS 88984/6/34: 1963, "Contains correspondence and papers relating to a Festival session of specially commissioned dramatic verse. Includes correspondence with Ted Hughes, Christopher Logue, Henry Reed, Vernon Scannell, and Michael Baldwin."
• Reed, Henry. Add MS 88908/8/6/5: 1948, "Reed to Tambimuttu (manuscript, Cyprus, 21 April, 1948), declining, without 'the books that might help me' and unable to 'squeeze an appropriate verse or two out of my head'" (Part of T.S. Eliot: A Symposium: Correspondence and Original Materials).
This last is another heartbreaking no-show; a result of Reed's seemingly endless writer's block.
This week marks the 70th anniversary of the BBC's Third Programme, which broadcast from September 29, 1946 until April, 1970, when it was replaced by BBC Radio 3. Too short a season.
Radio 3 is running 70 days of celebrations to mark the anniversary, including "Three Score and Ten," 50 episodes of poets reading from their work and others, a play(!) dramatizing the start of the Programme, "The Present Experiment," as well as rebroadcasts of Humphrey Carpenter's 1996 history, "The Envy of the World." Henry Reed's Hilda Tablet plays are mentioned in episode two of Carpenter's documentary, "Rudely Truncated."
Andy Walmsley is doing a much better job of covering the anniversary over at Random Radio Jottings. For my part, I thought I would bring out this summation of Henry Reed's early contributions to the Third Programme by Douglas Cleverdon, published in the Radio Times on April 1, 1955: "A Henry Reed Season," billing a series of repeat Reed programmes from the first half of the 1950s:
A Henry Reed Season
Any young author who aspires to write for radio cannot do better than study the various programmes Henry Reed has written.'
DOUGLAS CLEVERDON, who has produced many of them, introduces the series of revivals beginning in the Third Programme this week
MILLIONS of regular fans look forward to Take It From Here, The Archers, The Goon Show; a very much smaller number of listeners tune in with an even more fervent devotion to any programme written by Henry Reed. For Henry Reed is that rarest of birds, the creative writer who finds in radio his most fruitful medium of expression.
His reputation as a poet was founded on a single volume published nearly ten years ago—A Map of Verona. His only other book is his broadcast version of Moby Dick. His contributions to radio, however, consist of about thirty scripts and seventy talks. Such talks as Towards 'The Cocktail Party' have revealed his critical insight: and the incisive comments he was accustomed to make as a member of 'The Critics' proved his fearlessness in judgment.
But it is principally through the scripts written for the BBC Features Department that he has secured his increasingly appreciative audience. His first work, broadcast from the Midland studios, was a jeu d'esprit on Noises. Then, in January 1947, came his first major work for broadcasting, a radio play based on Herman Melville's Moby Dick, with linking narration in verse a recording of the second production (with Sir Ralph Richardson as Captain Ahab) will be broadcast on April 29. Pytheas (May 1947) was followed in 1949 by The Unblest and The Monument, two dramatic studies in verse of the Italian poet Leopardi, a recording of the 1950 production of The Unblest will be broadcast on April 15.
The Inspiration of Italy
The love of Italy seems to be a permanent element in the English literary tradition; and in Return to Naples (to be re-broadcast on April 5), Henry Reed nostalgically recalled a series of visits to a family in Naples before and after the war. For this autobiographical piece he evolved a simple but elegant variation of the usual radio narration, causing the narrator to address not the listener, but the author himself. A By-Election in the 'Nineties (1951: to be repeated on April 11) was a purely comic documentary, based on contemporary newspaper reports of a Dorset by-election.
Then followed two more programmes on Italian themes: The Streets of Pompeii, which was awarded the Radio Italiana prize for 1953 (a new production will be broadcast on April 22); and The Great Desire I Had, based upon the fancy that towards the end of the sixteenth century Shakespeare visited Italy and fell in with the players of the Commedia dell' Arte.
Then followed the group of satirical comedies, A Very Great Man Indeed, The Private Life of Hilda Tablet, and Emily Butter, with their highly sophisticated wit and exuberant characterisations. As all three have been broadcast fairly recently, none will be repeated during the coming weeks; but many listeners hope that they will form part of the Third Programme's regular repertoire. Henry Reed's latest work, Vincenzo, was broadcast last week as a precursor to the present series of repeats.
I wish I knew where that quote from Douglas Cleverdon used as the epigraph comes from.
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.
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)