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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 entire life.

Read "Naming of Parts."

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Henry Reed, ca. 1960


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Cold Comfort Farm: Sensible Flora Poste moves in with her eccentric country relatives.
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Posts from December 2011

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

31.7.2014


The Pindar of Wakefield

Henry Reed was very much in demand in 1973. He made at least three public appearances that year: the first, in May, was "Poets in Person" with Édouard Roditi, at the Poetry Society. In October, Ian Hamilton organized "The Poetry of War" at the Mermaid Theatre, with Charles Causley and Roy Fuller.

On Tuesday evening, September 25, 1973, we find Reed at a reading hosted at The Pindar of Wakefield pub, bringing with him an "unpublished war poem" to share. This announcement appeared in The Observer on September 23:

Pub Poets

The Pindar of Wakefield could boast of being established in 1517, although the current building was constructed after a fire in 1878. A pinder (or pinner) was a person employed to impound stray cattle and to look after the pound. The pub takes its name from a traditional ballad about a mythical Wakefield pound-keep who resisted Robin Hood. As an underground music venue, its stage has been graced by the likes of Bob Dylan in 1962, The Pogues in 1982, and Oasis in 1994. In 1986 it became The Water Rats Theatre Bar, and it's now the Monto Water Rats:

Monto Water Rats
[Water Rats Theatre Bar, St Pancras,
WC1, by Ewan-M.]

The International Who's Who in Poetry (1972), has this entry for The Cool Web:

Organizer, Hugh Dickson, The Pindar of Wakefield, 328 Grays Inn Road, Kings Cross, London. The Cool Web is a platform for good verse from all sources to be presented in a relaxed atmosphere. A small group of experienced readers, all professional actors, select a programme and are joined by a well-known poet. The guest poet is invited to use one part of the evening in any way he likes: to read his own poems or other people's, to make critical, political or polemical points, to involve the actors, or to integrate with the rest of the programme.

Successful programmes have already taken place, featuring Alan Brownjohn, George MacBeth, Peter Porter and Anthony Thwaite. Some time is also set aside for readings from the audience.

The group meets at 8 pm every Tuesday at the above address and is organized by Hugh Dickson, 4a Colinette Rd., SW15, and David Brierly, 1 Zenobia Mansions, W14.

"The Cool Web" comes from a line in the Robert Graves poem with that title: "There's a cool web of language winds us in...".

Given Reed's affinity for the stage (and for actors), it sounds like a staggering (and interactive) evening. The "unpublished war poem" can be none other than the last addition to his Lessons of the War sequence, "Psychological Warfare." The notes to his Collected Poems (1991), edited by Jon Stallworthy, indicate that Reed probably worked the poem for several decades, adding and updating several drafts:

(?1950—1970). Typed draft with autograph emendations, 7 ff.; autograph note at head: "USE THIS COPY but v. pp. 6 & 7 of the other", is in shaky late hand. Earlier (?) typed drafts show minor variants. A number '5.' preceding the title would seem to indicate that this poem was once intended to form part of the sequence Lessons of the War of 1970—indeed, the author in conversation in the 1970s mentioned that such an afterpiece had been composed.
[p. 163]

It would seem Reed intended, or at least, hoped, ultimately, for "Psychological Warfare" to be inserted before "Returning of Issue," the closing poem in the series. "Returning of Issue" was published in 1970 both in the Listener and the collected Lessons of the War (New York: Chilmark Press), although a version was included in a reading of "The Complete Lessons of the War" on BBC radio in 1966. In fact, in this archive of radio scripts produced by Douglas Cleverdon, there are two unscheduled "Complete Lessons" listed (is a recording implied?), one of which includes "Psychological Warfare" as early as 1965:
Box 4     F223     unscheduled [1965]     Reed, Henry.     The Complete Lessons of the War. I. Naming of Parts, II. Judging Distances, III. Movement of Bodies, IV. Unarmed Combat, V. Psychological Warfare, VI. Return of Issue. Read by Reed and Frank Duncan. TLO 531/697
The poem remained unpublished in Reed's lifetime, and did not appear in print until 1991, when the London Review of Books published it to herald the arrival of the Collected Poems. An acquaintance of Reed's from Birmingham (and later, Bletchley Park), however, wrote to the LRB when the poem appeared to suggest that work on "Psychological Warfare" had actually been begun before the end of the Second World War (previously). In any case, it survives as a masterpiece of Reed's inability to self-censor or cut from his work. The Lessons of the War progress from "Naming of Parts," at 30 lines long, to this 21-stanza monster of 253 lines. I can't imagine reading the entire poem to a live (or radio) audience, despite how funny it may be.



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 Wall


The place where our two gardens meet
Is undivided by a street,
And mingled flower and weed caress
And fill our double wilderness
Among whose riot undismayed
And unreproached, we idly played,
While, unaccompanied by fears,
The months extended into years,
Till we went down one day in June
To pass the usual afternoon
And there discovered, shoulder-tall,
Rise in the wilderness a wall....
Henry Reed's poem "The Wall," set to music by Professor Emmy van Deurzen. "The Wall" first appeared in The Penguin New Writing, in 1943. Emmy accompanies a bunch of poems with guitar on her YouTube channel, including Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," and Louis MacNeice's "A Prayer Before Birth" and "Sunlight on the Garden."

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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.


Kippled

Ages ago, back in 2007, I had a post about the critic and Eliot scholar, Dame Helen Gardner. Henry Reed had been a student of Gardner's at the University of Birmingham in the 1930s, and had introduced her to Eliot's poetry when he sent her a copy of "East Coker" in 1940. Gardner had credited Henry Reed in an article she wrote for the Summer, 1942 New Writing & Daylight on "The Recent Poetry of T.S. Eliot," saying that Reed had pointed out to her that some of the sea imagery in Eliot's "The Dry Salvages" may have come from the works of Herman Melville, and that 'the voice of Mr. Eliot's seabell is certainly like the sound of the Liverpool bell-buoy which Redburn heard as he sailed in to the Mersey.'

This last is, of course, entirely incorrect.

How do we know it's not true? Because Eliot tells us so. In her book, The Composition of Four Quartets (Oxford University Press, 1978), Gardner states:

After the publication of Little Gidding I wrote to Eliot, wishing to let him know how much these poems had meant to me, and told him that Mr. Lehmann had passed on his remarks. He replied saying my article had given him 'great pleasure' and went on
Only two very small points occur to me. The first is that I have no such connection as you suggest with the house at Burnt Norton. It would not be worth while mentioning this except that it seemed to me to make a difference to the feeling that it should be merely a deserted house and garden wandered into without knowing anything whatsoever about the history of the house or who had lived in it. ... The other point is that I have never read or even heard of the book by Herman Melville.24 American critics and professors have been so excited about Melville in the last ten years or so that they naturally take for granted that everybody has read all of his books, but I imagine that bell buoys sound very much the same the world over.
24 I had suggested, with acknowledgement to Henry Reed, that a passage from Redburn lay behind the close of Part I of The Dry Salvages, Eliot mistakenly assumed Henry Reed was an American Professor of that name.
[p. 37]

Silly Helen, foolhardy Henry. What did Eliot expatriate for, if not to avoid reading American literature? "Little Gidding" was published in December 1942, so Eliot's reply to Gardner must be circa 1943. The implied professor is Henry Reed (1808-54), Wordsworth's American editor.

Still, there is a tiny bit of redemption from Gardner's footnotes in The Composition of Four Quartets. Just a few pages further, attempting to attribute the sources for "Burnt Norton," she relays the following from Eliot:

In a letter to John Hayward, 5 August 1941, quoted in the heading to this chapter, Eliot mentioned three other sources: his own poem 'New Hampshire'; Kipling's story 'They', which he only recognized as having contributed to his poem when, five years later, he was re-reading Kipling for his anthology A Choice of Kipling's Verse; and a 'quotation from E.B. Browning'. Many years ago I suggested that 'the image of laughing hidden children may have been caught from Rudyard Kipling's story "They", since the children in that story are both "what might have been and what has been", appearing to those who have lost their children in the house of a blind woman who has never borne a child'.28

28 The Art of T.S. Eliot (1949), 160. The suggestion was made to me by Henry Reed.
[p. 39]

So we shall comfort ourselves with one Reed footnote to Eliot scholarship, instead of two.

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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.


Lamb Guildhouse Association

Here, in an announcement from the Manchester Guardian from November 5, 1945, we find Henry Reed a good deal north of his normal environs, giving a lecture on modern poetry near Withington, outside Manchester proper:

Lamb Guild House

The Lamb Guild, according to their website, was founded in 1938 by the University of Manchester's department of Extra-Mural Studies to make residential continuing education available to local adults through lectures, conferences, and field trips.

The location given in the ad on Palatine Road is the Holly Royde mansion, which you can still see today via the magic of Google Maps.

«  Biography Manchester  0  »


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.


The Reeve's Tale

In 1971, the BBC issued two collections of Henry Reed's plays for radio: Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio, and The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio. The Hilda Tablet volume collects the plays A Very Great Man Indeed (1953); The Private Life of Hilda Tablet (1954); A Hedge, Backwards (1956); and The Primal Scene, As It Were (1958), including restoration of some "indelicate" scenes which had been censored or changed for broadcast.

To mark the publication of the plays, Reed was interviewed by Christopher Ford for an article in the Guardian, "The Reeve's Tale" (Herbert Reeve was the bumbling biographer in the Tablet plays, you see). A retrospective of the plays and their broadcasts, the article features this wonderful photograph of Reed (poorly scanned, sadly), taken by staff photographer Peter Johns:

Henry Reed

Reed's quotes for the article amount to just a few paragraphs. Prodded about rumored accusations of libel from (the unnamed) composer Elisabeth Lutyens for his Hilda Tablet character (voiced by Mary O'Farrell), Reed deflects:

As long as the characters are funny it doesn't matter who you're getting at.... In fact I'm not 'getting at' anyone, only myself—there's a good deal of aboriginal Hilda Tablet in me.

The big revelation in the article is that Reed was actually working on an eighth Hilda Tablet script as late as 1968 (in his dedication for Hilda Tablet and Others, Reed says "Altogether, they totalled seven. The number is sometimes given as nine; but people exaggerate"):

I was writing another, it was going to be called 'After a Certain Age'—I was writing it one night and the next morning Douglas Cleverdon, the producer, came round for some other reason and had to break the news that Mary O'Farrell was dead. She was a sine qua non. So it was never completed, but Hilda was going to be the reason why Skalkottas had suppressed his music all his life. We were going to be make out that this was on Hilda's advice.

Mary O'Farrell died on February 10, 1968, more than eight years after the last play in the Hilda Tablet saga, Musique Discrète.

The article closes with a hilarious anecdote of Reed still having trouble coming to terms with his place in the canon of literature and broadcasting, even at the age of 57:

I saw the Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations in a shop. I remember thinking 'I've got 150 sleeping tablets at home, and if I'm not in that I'll take some of them with a large Pepsi-Cola.'

Ford reports more than three columns were devoted to Reed in the 1971 edition.

«  Radio Plays Guardian  0  »


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.



1st lesson:

Reed, Henry (1914-1986). Born: Birmingham, England, 22 February 1914; died: London, 8 December 1986.

Education: MA, University of Birmingham, 1936. Served: RAOC, 1941-42; Foreign Office, Bletchley Park, 1942-1945. Freelance writer: BBC Features Department, 1945-1980.

Author of: 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)


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