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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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Reeding:

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.
The Sparrow: A Jesuit-led mission to a newly discovered planet.


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Posts from March 2006

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

18.9.2014


Question

This is an inexplicable tragedy. Why is there not yet a Collected Letters of W.H. Auden?

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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.'


Fuller Says to Symons

Roy Fuller was a British poet and novelist, born in 1912, who was trained as a solictor, and worked most of his life for a home mortage company, the Woolwich Equitable Building Society. During World War II, Fuller served with the Royal Navy. Fuller's name often comes up as one of the most significant English poets of WWII. His books of poetry include Poems (1939), The Middle of a War (1942), A Lost Season (1944), Epitaphs and Occasions (1949), Counterparts (1954), and Brutus's Orchard (1957).

The Cushing Memorial Library, which houses Texas A&M University Archives, Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts, has a collection of Roy Fuller's correspondence with Julian Symons and Jack Clark, from 1937-1992.

Julian Symons was a British novelist, historian, critic, and poet (also born in 1912), best known for his crime and detective fiction. He founded and edited the literary journal Twentieth Century Verse, and wrote biographies of (among others) Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This, despite having left school at 14. Symons reviewed Reed's Collected Poems in 1991 for the Times Literary Supplement.

Box 1, folder 1480 of the Roy Fuller Correspondence contains a wartime letter which mentions Henry Reed:
1-1480: RF to Julian Symons. ALS, 1 leaf. Re: Henry Reed, visit to London, photograph to be made, illness. June 16, 1944.
What is the mysterious "Re:" in reference to? Did Fuller meet Reed? Did Symons? Did they correspond? In 1944 Reed would have still been with the Foreign Office at Bletchley Park, but it seems perfectly reasonable they could have met up in London.

There's an excellent article on Fuller's early poetry in Poetry Nation, no. 6 (1976).

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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.


A Single Day's Haul

Here's an example of an hour's labor after work, typical of a take I bring home a couple of nights a week:
  • How the Heart Will Endure: Elizabeth Bowen and the Landscape of War, by Heather Bryant Johnson (University of Michigan Press, 1992). Quotes Reed's review of Bowen's "Everything's Frightfully Interesting" (also known also "Careless Talk," which makes fun of self-important men doing top secret work for the War Office), from her collection of short stories The Demon Lover.

  • Sursum Corda! The Collected Letters of Malcolm Lowry, v. I: 1926-1946, and v. II: 1947-1957, edited by Sherrill E. Grace (University of Toronto Press, 1995-1996). Lowry apparently wrote a radio adaptation of Moby Dick in 1945, but after eight months hadn't heard back from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, by which time Reed's version had been produced by the BBC.

  • The Eighth Lively Art: Conversations with Painters, Poets, Musicians, and the Wicked Witch of the West, by Wesley Wehr (University of Washington Press, 2000). Wehr remembers Elizabeth Bishop teaching at the University of Washington in the mid-1960s, the same time as Reed.

  • Skeptical Music: Essays on Modern Poetry, by David Bromwich (University of Chicago Press, 2001). Mentions Reed's poem "Hiding Beneath the Furze" appearing in Robin Skelton's 1964 anthology, Poetry of the Thirties.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go fill out index cards for this evening's bounty.

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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.


Edgar Allan Poe & The Jukebox

Dumbfoundry points us to a New Yorker slide show (Flash) of poetry editor Alice Quinn discussing the release of a collection of previously unpublished Elizabeth Bishop poems, drafts, and fragments: Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke Box. The slide show is full of terrific photographs, illustrations, and revealing images of (the reluctant) Bishop's handwritten drafts. If you like, you can skip right to the end, where Quinn reads four selected poems.

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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.


Mystery, Ecstasy, Sublimity, Cheese

"Whoever reviewed current verse in your July number is a nincompoop." This, in response to a 1946 book review of Reed's A Map of Verona, in the prestigious and estimable Poetry Review. I'm tempted to add the entire Donnybrook to the Henry Reed pages, since the cheesy defense is longer than the original salvo. From The Poetry Review 37, no. 3 (June/July 1946):

Poets and Pretenders
The crux of any critical assessment of poetry is that it is not possible to make an exact definition of it, and in consequence it is difficult to determine what qualities, technical, aesthetic, and spiritual, should be found in it. Nevertheless, we recently listened to a lecture by an eminent Doctor who had placed his considerable talent for scientific research at the service of this problem. His analysis had indicated to him that the prime ingredients of good poetry were three, which he most aptly described as vitamins. These qualities were mystery, ecstasy and sublimity, and the distinguished lecturer expressed the view that verse could not be considered to have achieved a poetical standard unless one or more of these qualities was present in it....

A Map of Verona, by Henry Reed (Cape, 3s. 6d.) would be difficult to criticise upon the tri-une basis of mystery, ecstasy and sublimity. If it be judged upon its capacity to move the reader, or to inspire any one of these three states, it should delay us not at all; from which it will be gathered that we are presented by it with so little to praise or blame that we are amost debarred from comment. Take the first stanza from a poem called "Envoy".
"Whatever sort of garden
You, I, or we shall build,
Neglected much, or cared for,
And all its great designs
Fulfilled or unfulfilled:
Built over ruined shrines,
Where others have loved and worshipped,
Or built on virgin ground:
Shaped or disorderly,
Let it at least be
Different from this",
or look where you will, and there is the same incapacity to come to grips with anything real or vital such as could shatter the dull crust of the reader's wonted composure or banish for one beautiful moment the boredom of living.

And the answering justification, appearing in The Poetry Review 37, no. 4 (August/September 1946):

The Reviewer Answers a Critic
"Whoever reviewed current verse in your July number is a nincompoop. His dismissal of Henry Reed's Map of Verona is unjust, and his critical method pompous, inefficient, and absurd."

Thus begins a letter from a correspondent who has obviously more energy than sense, or he would have abstained from prejudicing his case so grievously at the outset. There is a certain antique piquancy in receiving abuse from one who can advance no better reason for it than a difference of opinion, and Mr. Henry Reed, the bone of contention, might well wish to be saved from such a friend. Our correspondent quarrels too with out eminent doctor's theory of poetic vitamins and proceeds to adduce examples of great poetry which he alleges are starved of all three, which our readers may remember are mystery, ecstasy and sublimity. We gravely doubt his perception. He asserts, truly enough, that there are many kinds of poetry and argues somewhat triumphantly, as one making an unanswerable point, that we do not admonish Camembert for not being Stilton; but surely our correspondent is in some confusion here, since Camembert and Stilton both in their separate ways have the character of the best cheese, and indeed may both be said to possess ecstasy and sublimity, and more than a little touch of mystery. We insist upon uniformity as little in poetry as in our food. In both, however, there must be edibility, digestibility and nourishment, and we must feel when we have consumed them that we are the better for it. In any case, it is not the poetry, nor the cheese, which we admonish, but rather the person responsible for it; in the case of cheese we should be furious at any misdescription of the article, hailing the miscreant guilty of the deception before a magistrate. Unfortunately the written word enjoys an immunity which permits it to call itself what it will. On the other hand, we too have equal freedom and may speak our mind concerning it.

Lastly, our correspondent offers us three mere literary virtues in exchange for our bright trinity of poetic qualities. These are clarity, conciseness and penetration, and all the dull deliberation of this denial of the spiritual quality of poetry is really the last straw. Our correspondent signs his letter; but since it was written in heat and apparently without proper reflection it would be inconsiderate to give his name.

I'm not sure who to hold accountable here. The unnamed, vitamin-preoccupied theorist? Or the anonymous reviewer, for quoting a theorist who attempts to reduce poetry to three elemental qualities? (Can anyone venture a guess as to who this "eminent Doctor" of poetic theory might be? Who wrote the "nincompoop" letter in defense of Reed?) I think the Poetry Review should be held responsible. Not for a 60-year old, unfavorable review, necessarily. I have plenty of tepid-to-scathing reviews on the website, already. But cheese? Poetry Review! I implore you!

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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.


Where Are the War Poets?

The question everyone was asking in the late 1930s and early 1940s was "Where are the war poets?" There was no Brooke, no Sassoon, no Owen. John Lehmann asked it. Wilfrid Gibson asked it. Robert Graves asked. C. Day Lewis asked, and answered:
They who in folly or mere greed
Enslaved religion, markets, laws,
Borrow our language now and bid
Us to speak up in freedom's cause.

It is the logic of our times,
No subject for immortal verse—
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse.
Rather, I prefer E.M. Forster, who frankly declared, "1939 was not a year in which to start a literary career."

An addition to the Criticism pages: an excerpt on Reed from Linda M. Shires' British Poetry of the Second World War (New York: St. Martin's, 1985). Shires has written one of my favorite lines in summarizing "Naming of Parts": 'The speakers are soldiers, yet the most important feelings in Reed's poem are not spoken, as though the private man has no voice worth hearing compared with man-as-soldier' (p. 82).

It's a fine piece, which I had actually acquired over a year ago but failed to transcribe, time lost to obsessive tinkering with the database, trying to get the bibliography to sort properly. One thing is bothering me, however, and that's the epigraph to the chapter entitled "Where Are the War Poets?" Shires has credited Reed with the line "To fight without hope is to fight without grace."

At first, I thought this was part of the Lessons of the War series — "Unarmed Combat" perhaps — or some draft I had seen but not taken sufficient note of. To fight without hope is to fight without grace. Is it from an article in The Listener? A radio talk? I can't find that line, not anywhere.

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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.


Something Amis

I stopped off at the big library on the way home from work today, to check out a reference to Reed in the letters of Kingsley Amis. It's been a grey day today — grey with an 'e', not an 'a' — hovering just above freezing and raining a cold, cold mist. Campus was mostly deserted but for a few umbrellas, and the library was warm and welcoming.

Kingsley Amis is one one of those folks I always get confused with someone else: either his son, the novelist Martin Amis, or the long-time editor of the New Statesman, Kingsley Martin.

Until tonight, the only connection Reed had to Kingsley Amis (that I knew of) was the fact that Reed's parody "Chard Whitlow" was collected by Amis for the anthology The New Oxford Book of English Light Verse (Oxford University Press, 1978). But I had seen mention of Reed in one of Amis' letters to the poet Philip Larkin, so I decided to check it out.

The Letters of Kingsley Amis, edited by Zachary Leader (HarperCollins, 2000), safely qualifies as a tome, I think, weighing in at 1,200 pages. It contains over 800 letters from Amis, and the size of the index (in tiny typeface) hints at the range of topics and names he draws on for his recipients. I was delighted to discover that the letters themselves are informal, funny, and full of in-jokes, puns, cryptic abbreviations, and plays-on-words. The editor even thoughtfully reproduces Amis' naughty doodles.

In a 1949 letter to Larkin, Amis is afraid of sounding too much like Reed when discussing Larkin's first novel, Jill:

After it [Jill] I read A man [Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man] by Jas. Joyce: it is in some degree a source-book for the other, no? His favored time of day is evening, too, and both books have the same typical epithet: soft ("a softly lighted hall", "bones showed through softly"). I know that sounds rather Henry Reedsh, but I did feel it. [p. 194]

Rather "Henry Reedsh"! Reed had delivered a lecture to the Oxford University English Club that was published as "Joyce's Progress" in 1947 (Orion, no. 4).

Reed is mentioned several times in passing, invoked as some sort of analogy or code. Amis seems to use Reed's name in order to conjure up a certain imperious tone or critical voice. Reed is another of his elaborate abbreviations. When he talks with Larkin about W.H. Auden, later in 1949, he apologizes: 'I'm sorry to sound like Henry Reed or somebody, but... [t]he sooner he gets to be a Yank the better.' This is possibly a reference to Reed's 1947 review of For the Time Being, Auden's first book of poems from America (Penguin New Writing, no. 31).

Then, at last, Amis reveals the real reason he included Reed in The New Oxford Book of English Light Verse, in a letter to the poet Roy Fuller in 1976:

H.S. Mackintosh and J.K.S. [Stephen] are in, must look up the R.L.S. [Stevenson] things. The main strategy is going to be heavy reliance on the obvious... with enough sudden dashes into the understandably obscure to trick the reader into thinking I've worked my head off: — Walter Raleigh, Henry Reed, Earl of Rochester, G.R. Samways — at least, I hope you haven't heard of him. [p. 804]

Reed was just obscure enough, apparently. George Richard Samways (1895-1996), it turns out, didn't make it into the NOBLV.

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1495. Reed, Henry. "Proust's Way." Reviews of Marcel Proust: A Selection from His Miscellaneous Writings translated by Gerard Hopkins, and The Two Worlds of Marcel Proust by Harold March. Observer, 16 January 1949, 4.
Reed says, 'Proust, like Shakespeare, should be read as early in life as possible, and should be read entire.'


Old Edwardians

George D. Painter, OBE, wrote the famous, standard biography of novelist Marcel Proust (London: Chatto & Windus, 1959-65), the first volume of which he dedicated "For Henry Reed." Reed would later would return this honor by dedicating his collection of radio plays, Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio (London: BBC, 1971), to Painter. It's no coincidence that Reed chose to dedicate his book to Painter, considering that the Hilda Tablet plays concern a young, idealistic biographer researching a famous (infamous, it turns out) author. Reed had given up writing his own biography of Thomas Hardy, after years of impossible perfectionism.

Walter Allen was a critic and novelist, and was a close second in reviewing Reed's collection of poetry, A Map of Verona: Poems, in 1946 (The Listener's anonymous review was printed just two days earlier). Allen's own poetry appeared in The Penguin New Writing in the 1940s, later spent a stint as an editor of The New Statesman and Nation, and frequently chaired the 1960s BBC radio programme, "The Critics."

What did these men have in common? What did they share in common with Henry Reed? All three were graduates of King Edward VI Grammar School, Aston, Birmingham.

That Allen and Reed shared a Birmingham connection I already knew, but it was not until I happened upon Jim Perkins' extensive personal website that I discovered Painter had been there, as well. Mr. Perkins was a member of Aston's class of 1950, and he has an exhaustive section devoted to his love for KEGS Aston, including an "Alumni Achievements" page, which has brief sections on Reed, Painter, and Allen. Aston Old Edwardians, all.

Mr. Perkins thoughtfully provides a database of graduates (in MS Works or Excel), with their dates of admission, "an alphabetical list of the 11,500+ lads who went to Aston between 1883 and 1997." This list pegs down the year of Reed's entrance to King Edward VI Grammar School as 1925, the same year that Painter was admitted. They were both 11 years old. (Allen was already there, since 1922.) I am deeply indebted to Mr. Perkins for these facts.

Many of Reed's biographies mention that, after graduating from the University of Birmingham, he tried teaching for year, "at his old school." I e-mailed Mr. Perkins to thank him for all the information he provides, and he rather selflessly forwarded my curiousity on to his fellow Aston Old Edwardians. One gentleman was kind enough to drop me a brief note, which reveals:

I remember being taught in an English class by Henry Reed in 1940/41 while at the school, which had been evacuated from Birmingham to Ashby [link mine] during WW2. I think he was teaching there for a short time before joining the army. We had classes in the Manor House [also mine] in the town which was also used as accomodation for some of the boys. I lived in Ashby for three years with a couple who had no children and was well treated.

So, Reed was teaching in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in 1940 and 1941. If he was taught for seven years at King Edward VI, he would have matriculated to the University of Birmingham in 1932. The facts of which match perfectly with Stallworthy's introduction to the Collected Poems. Assuming Reed traveled to Italy for the first time after university in 1936, and again in 1939, we're left only with a troubling gap for the years 1937 and 1938, during which he had poems published in The Listener and New Statesman and Nation, and wrote at least one article for The Birmingham Post. Where was he writing from?



1494. Reed, Henry. "Rates for Reviewing." Author, Playwright and Composer 57, no. 4 (Summer 1947): 64-68 [67].
'The whole rackety business is a microcosm of human weakness and wickedness,' Reed says.


What Would Hardy Read?

'The aim of this project has been to reconstruct as fully as possible the contents of Thomas Hardy’s library at Max Gate, his Dorchester home, at the time of his death in January 1928.'

"Thomas Hardy’s Library at Max Gate: Catalogue of an Attempted Reconstruction," by Michael Millgate. I especially enjoyed the debacle of the bookplates. (Index.)

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1493. Simon, John. "Are You Illiterate about Modern Poetry?" Vogue 138, no. 8 (1 November 1961): 124-125, 174, 177-180 [177].
Simon mentions Reed's "Naming of Parts," and alludes to "Chard Whitlow."


Handy Man

I fixed my kitchen sink tonight. The faucet stem was leaking from the swivel that allows it to move back and forth over the two split sinks, and it was dripping in the cupboard underneath, wreaking wet havoc on my collection of plastic grocery bags.

I am not the handiest of men. Still, I have a few rudimentary tools—a wrench, pliers, screwdrivers, a claw hammer—and just enough confidence to believe I can reassemble a faucet, leaving it (at least) no worse off than it was before I took it apart. I know that turning a water cutoff valve to the right should turn it off (righty-tighty, lefty-loosey), and I religiously watch "This Old House".

So, a little Teflon plumbing thread tape and an hour later, I have a decidedly undripping, non-leaky kitchen sink.

Kitchen sink

A truly handy gentleman to have around would be someone like David G. Kendall, Professor of Mathematics and Fellow of the Royal Society of London. He has published his theories on such diverse topics as queueing ("Some Problems in the Theory of Queues." J. Roy. Statist. Soc. Ser. B 13 [1951] 151-185), comets ("The Distribution of Energy Perturbations for Halley's and Some Other Comets." Proc. Fourth Berkeley Symp. Math. Statist. Probab. 3 [1961] 87-98), and bird migration ("Pole-Seeking Brownian Motion and Bird Navigation." J. Roy. Statist. Soc. Ser. B [1974] 36 365-470).

In a paper on seriation (a common archeological tool used to date objects by arranging them in a chronological series), I discovered a reference to, of all things, Reed's "Naming of Parts": 'The arable fields are not shown, and a large-scale pre-enclosure map of Whixley is one of those things, which, in our case, we have not got (Reed, 1946)' ("Recovery of Structure From Fragmentary Information." Philos. Trans. Roy. Soc. Ser. A 279 [1975] 562. Italics mine).

After scanning the paper (and understanding about one paragraph in four), I was more surprised that "Judging Distances" was not the poem quoted from A Map of Verona. I imagine Professor Kendall would have taken special delight in the duelling lines "Maps are of place, not time," and "maps are of time, not place...".

A contemporary of Reed's, Kendall was posted to the PDE (Projectile Development Establishment, "Please Don't Enquire!") in the west of Wales during World War II, where he helped develop rocket technology as a statistician. In 1946, he returned to academic life, teaching mathematics first at Magdelan College, Oxford, followed by an appointment to the University of Cambridge in 1962 (picture).

A truly absorbing interview with Professor Kendall (contains link to .pdf file) was printed in the journal Statistical Science in 1996. Astronomy. Rocketry. Mountaineering. Everything but the kitchen sink.



1492. Bogan, Louise. Works in the Humanities Published in Great Britain, 1939-1946: A Selective List. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1950. 78.
Reed is placed among "new names of interest and importance" in poetry.


Language Distances

Last year, I blogged about a gentleman sharing with me a Hebrew translation of one of Reed's poems. I was attempting to parse the characters back into a webpage, right to left, by hand. I failed miserably!

How do I know this? Because here is Henry Reed's "Judging Distances," translated into Hebrew by the artist, architect, and town planner, Nahoum Cohen.

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1491. Thomson, R.W. "Entre Nous." Expository Times 58, no. 2 (November 1946): 55-56 [56].
Reviews of recent poetry mentions publication of Reed's A Map of Verona, and quotes from his poem, "Iseult la Belle."



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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