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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.
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 April 2010

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

31.10.2014


War Poetry Contest

You still have just over a month to submit a poem or poems to Winning Writers' ninth annual war poetry contest. They're offering a $2,000 first prize for up to three poems, not to exceed a total of 500 lines in length. The entry fee is just $15, and the (postmark) deadline is May 31, 2010.

For more information, see their "Advice from the Judge," or read previous winners from 2002-2009. Last year's prize winners were Robert Hill Long, Timothy Tebeau, and Susan McCabe.

For writing a winning poem, Winning Writers recommends reading Sassoon, Owen's "Greater Love," the work of Elisha Porat, and that 'masterpiece of irony and understatement,' Reed's "Naming of Parts."

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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.'


Happy 5th Birthday

This month marks the fifth birthday—anniversary, really—of the Reeding Lessons research blog. The flagship post was in April, 2005, and since then I've managed 350 entries, give or take. That works out to almost six posts per month, if I divided correctly, and is a surprising average, to tell the truth.

Happy Birthday Blog!

Since I started, the bibliography (pictured above) has slowly and steadily grown; I've visited a dozen libraries (including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution's horticulture library), and uncovered at least half that many reviews of Reed's work; I've been privy to 50-year-old jokes; I've held rare library treasures in my own hands, found over 60 locations that Henry Reed personally visited, and been shown his home in Birmingham; I've seen visits from professors, librarians, poets, students, artists, archivists, and even the likes of Ken Russell; and, most importantly, the site has helped three scholars (that I know of) publish critical works on Reed and his life and work. Which was the whole idea in the first place.

Many items posted here wouldn't have been possible without the occasional prodding from the occasional (or occasionally regular) Reeder, so wish yourselves a happy happy, too!

Thank you.

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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.


Soldier to Poet

Carol Muske-Dukes, the poet laureate of California, has been holding an extended conversation over the past five months with Lieutenant Colonel Edward Ledford, U.S. Army, and posting the exchanges over at The Huffington Post. Colonel Ledford is stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan, and has been taking the time to share his thoughts on war, poetry, and the poetry of war.

In the first part, "Soldier to Poet: An Exchange," we meet Lt Col Ed Ledford (photo), and learn that in addition to flying helicopters and jumping out of airplanes, he has taught English at the University of Alabama and the United States Military Academy at West Point. Prompted by Muske-Dukes, Ledford talks about the romanticism of war, cowardice and conscience, and by turns, Hamlet.

In Part II, they cover Wilfred Owen and the old lie, "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."

The latest exchange, Part III, finds the pair going over "Naming of Parts." Ledford considers April, and spring in Afghanistan, and says:

The first lines point me back to the creation myth and allegorical Eden. Adam 'gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field.' He was on the verge of something: shortly after — the temptation, the fall, the migration to a world of pain, suffering, and death.

And those first lines do put us on the verge of something — today we name; tomorrow is 'what to do after firing.' Between today and tomorrow, we're firing the weapons, and that means one thing — engagement, combat, casualties. These are apparently new troops in training, one could argue that the firing will be at a rifle range, harmless.

But let's not fool ourselves: the firing at the range is a cold rehearsal of killing, firing at paper or plastic silhouettes of the human form — flat, faceless, nameless, anonymous representations of the innumerable and unnameable casualties, very many of whom will suffer agonizing deaths or agonizing lives.

(See also Major Edward F. Palm's explication for Masterplots.)

Ledford procedes to uncover the language of "Naming of Parts," camouflaged in a Q&A which took place between Donald Rumsfeld and American soldiers on the eve of the Iraq War, turning the hollow-sounding responses into a found poem:
As you know, you go
to war

with the Army you have.

They're not the Army
you might want

or wish to have
at a later time.

If you think
about it,
you can have
all the armor
in the world
on a tank
and a tank
can be blown
up.

It is something
you prefer not to have to use,
obviously,
in
a perfect world.

It's been used

as little as possible.
Lt Col Ledford is contributing to "Crossing State Lines, an American Renga," a conversation-poem between 54 poets, part of the America: Now + Here project—a mobile, cross-country exhibition of artists, writers, and musicians—scheduled for spring, 2011.

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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.


Letters to the London Review of Books

In 1991, a veritable flurry of articles and letters relating to Henry Reed appeared in the London Review of Books, leading up to the publication of the Collected Poems. Owing to the efforts of editor Jon Stallworthy, it began in the spring of that year with a sneak peek at the only unpublished poem in Reed's Lessons of the War sequence, "Psychological Warfare" (March 21, 1991, pp. 14-15). The LRB website has an excellent search function, and I found several references to Reed I would not have been able to locate, otherwise.

Cover

The appearance of "Psychological Warfare" prompted L.W. Bailey to write in to the LRB, suggesting that Reed began the poem not in the 1950s, as Stallworthy proposes, but as early as 1944, while the two were serving at Bletchley Park (April 25, 1991):

At the time he and I were stationed at Bletchley, he as a civilian and I as a soldier, and having been acquainted as fellow students at Birmingham University, we saw a great deal of each other. His civilian billet was a welcome refuge where I spent many congenial evenings during which he would read me extracts from work in progress, including the war poems. Some parts of the rather lengthy poem you have published seem familiar, though I could not swear to that: but I do know that he would write verse over long periods, sometimes years, before feeling he could do no more with the poem in question. I certainly think he would have revised and drastically shortened 'Psychological Warfare': but by 1950 I am sure he had put his wartime experiences well behind him.

Reed's "civilian billet," we recall, was a rooming house let by a Mrs. Buck (the mathematician Jack Good was assigned to the same house).

Lionel W. "Bill" Bailey was a well-known member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, and published a book of essays and observations, The Scandal Behind the "Scandal" and Other Attacks of Sherlockhomania (available from The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box). Bailey died in 2004.

In September of 1991, with Reed's Collected Poems on the verge of publication, the LRB printed Reed's poem "L'Envoi," amidst a version of Stallworthy's Introduction, "A Life of Henry Reed" (September 12, 1991, pp. 18-19). This prompted two responses. The first came from the editor James MacGibbon, who provided an example of Reed's astounding, editorial memory ("Henry Lets Her Have It," October 10, 1991):

Henry, knowing he needed some kind of psychiatric help, had read and admired the works of Melanie Klein ('Eine Kleine Nachtmusik' was the felicitous title, I think, of one of the Hilda Tablet radio series). When I told him, teasingly, that I was going to the theatre with her he asked to join us, and he did. After the performance she invited us back to her flat for coffee and little Viennese cakes. Almost before we were seated, Henry, a shy man, said: 'Mrs Klein, I want to tell you how much I admire your books.' She, who had a good sense of humour, replied, wagging a finger in amusement: 'Young man, people are always telling me that and then I find they haven't read my books!' Henry then reeled off one or two misprints with page numbers. A happy evening ended with great success!

(We shall have to add Klein's flat to our list of places Reed visited.)

This was followed closely by Ed Leimbacher, who penned a lovely reminiscence of his family's friendship with Reed, which began in 1964 when Reed was hired as a Visiting Professor at the University of Washington, Seattle ("Henry's Friends," October 24, 1991, p. 4). It remains one of my favorite discoveries.

After the publication of the Collected Poems, the critic Frank Kermode contributed a very personal review, recollecting time spent with Reed both in Seattle and London ("Part and Pasture," December 5, 1991, p. 17). Kermode makes a small but crucial error in his article, reversing Reed's substitution of "duellis" (battles) for Horace's "puellis" (girls) in the epigraph to "Naming of Parts." The mistake was caught by the historian Frank W. Walbank, though he did not realize a transposition had occurred ("Vidi," December 19, 1991).

Kermode's (corrected) article eventually became the Preface to the paperback edition of Henry Reed's Collected Poems, published by Carcanet in 2007.



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.



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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