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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."

Henry Reed Henry Reed
Henry Reed Henry Reed
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 May 2006

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

1.9.2014


Wedding Guest (One of Three)

When I heard my cousin was getting married in Baltimore, the first thing I did was call my brother and ask if he wanted to find some time to do a little local sightseeing. "We could make the pilgrimage to the grave of Edgar Allan Poe!" I said. Still on the phone, he did a quick check with his significant other: "She's making a face, I'm guessing that's a 'No Poe.'" I was disappointed, but didn't have my heart set on it, so we settled on the American Visionary Art Museum for the day after the wedding.

I'm not a Poe fanatic, but I'm certainly a fan. I had an English teacher in Middle School who read us "The Black Cat" and other stories during study period. This probably led to someone giving me a complete collection of Poe, which I read cover-to-cover. Who can forget the first time they read "The Cask of Amontillado," or "The Tell-Tale Heart"? The first time you heard "The Raven" read out loud?

Poe's story "The Gold Bug" has always been a favorite of mine. It's a ripping yarn, in which a secret code leads to the discovery of pirate treasure. The hero of the story breaks the simple substitution cipher by counting the number of appearances of each letter or symbol, and swapping them for the most frequently used letters:


Now, in English, the letter which most frequently occurs is e. Afterward, the succession runs thus: a o i d h n r s t u y c f g l m w b k p q x z. E predominates so remarkably, that an individual sentence of any length is rarely seen, in which it is not the prevailing character....

Let us assume 8, then, as e. Now, of all words in the language, 'the' is most usual; let us see, therefore, whether there are not repetitions of any three characters, in the same order of collocation, the last of them being 8. If we discover a repetition of such letters, so arranged, they will most probably represent the word 'the.' Upon inspection, we find no less than seven such arrangements, the characters being ;48. We may, therefore, assume that ; represents t, 4 represents h, and 8 represents e — the last being now well confirmed. Thus a great step has been taken.

This discovery led to my circle of friends corresponding at school in messages written entirely in ciphers of our devices. We even checked out library books on creating and breaking codes. Oddly enough, when I discovered The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, I successfully used Mr. Poe's letter frequency table (plus a few cribs from the text) to decipher and translate the Elvish inscriptions in Tolkien's illustrations (many of which are English written in Tengwar script).

End digression. At the wedding, in full-on Ancient Mariner's wedding guest regalia (not to mix poetic allusions), I went straight from the receiving line to the bar, and armed with a vodka-rocks-olives, sought out my brother. "Dude," he stoppethed me. "You have got to see this."

The wedding was at Westminster Hall, a deconsecrated church restored by the University of Maryland Law School, and rented out for teleconferences and social events. It's a steep, towering building of dark brown brick, prickling with gothic detail, not ten blocks from Baltimore's Inner Harbor (Google map).

It also happens to be Edgar Allan Poe's final resting place.

Edgar Allan Poe memorial

Right there, at the wedding! Edgar Freaking Allan Poe! (Technically, Poe's original gravesite is around the corner, back in the main burying ground.) My brother and his girlfriend felt they were being shamed by a benevolent, intelligent universe. Oh, and by the way, the American Visionary Art Museum is closed Mondays.

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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.'


The Library Oscar Goes To...

If libraries gave out Oscars, I'd nominate The Da Vinci Code for Best Picture.

I thought the film was plenty fun, but had the same flaws as the book, including weak dialogue. At a critical point, aboard a public bus in downtown London, Tom Hanks actually exclaims: "I have to get to a library! Fast!" (Google News. Technorati.) I laughed aloud, and would have cheered, had it not been for the utter sanctity of darkened theatres.

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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.


Thingology

I never got much further than cataloging the dozen-or-so Henry Reed books on my LibraryThing bookshelf. LibraryThing, however, continues to grow.

They now have a part-time librarian, as well as a second blog: Thing-ology.

Thing-ology is intended as LibraryThing's "ideas blog": "the place where we'll talk about the meanings, methods, and debate around LibraryThing and its features." MetaLibraryThing! Sweeet. Whereas the original LibraryThing blog remains the spot for announcements of new features, plans, and news.

Check out the announcement of Subject Headings (re-)added to LibraryThing, and then the ideas behind the new feature.

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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.


Bambi, a Bore

Did you know that the first publication of Reed's "Naming of Parts" was the same day as the UK premiere of Disney's Bambi? The poem appears directly below a panning review in the August 8th, 1942 New Statesman and Nation (link to .pdf document).

There aren't nearly enough laughs in Bambi, and when we stop laughing at a Disney creation it begins to look commonplace [....] The voices are all straight; Bambi's Ma is a bore with fairy-tale intonations; the Great Stag of the Forest is a terrible bore; and heavenly choirs chant interminably, without a tune one remembers.

My photocopy was a particularly poor one, as it was taken from a bound volume of New Statesmans, and I spent several hours washing out the shadows in the page-well to make that .pdf legible. There it is: Bambi, followed by "Naming of Parts."



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 Lure of Library Surplus


Chalkboard
Salvaged library chalkboard, put to good use.
Cat provided for scale.

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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.


Unappearing Poems

I'm itching to read Stuart Kelly's The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You'll Never Read, stories of famously lost manuscripts, burned or misplaced drafts, abandoned subjects, suppressed works, and uncompleted novels.

Kelly's book is an inventory of the greatest works of literature ever written which neither he, nor anyone else, will ever possess. "The entire history of literature was also the history of the loss of literature." From the 'Arthurian epics contemplated by both Dryden and Milton but never written,' 'Laurence Sterne's never completed "Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy,"' as well as the novel Sylvia Plath was working on before her suicide.

My own list of great works of lost literature would include Henry Reed's phantom collection, The Auction Sale and Other Poems.

As late as 1977, Reed was still contemplating publishing a follow-up to his first collection of poetry, A Map of Verona. Indeed, his entry in Who's Who (.pdf) from that year lists The Auction Sale and Other Poems among his published works. The title poem is arguably Reed's strongest post-War verse. But the book failed to materialize in print. As Jon Stallworthy states in his introduction to the posthumous Collected Poems, 'As a perfectionist, [Reed] could not bring himself to release what he must have recognized would be his last book until it was as good as he could make it, and it never was.'

The Collected Poems includes many of the drafts and fragments which would have gone into Reed's second collection, so in a way, nothing has been lost. But I dream of parallel, mirror universe, in which there is a copy of The Auction Sale on my bookshelf, with a version of Reed's "Northwest" poem in the imaginary table of contents.

The New York Times calls Stuart Kelly's Book of Lost Books 'clever and highly entertaining.' Here's Chapter 1, for perusal.

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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.


Touchgraphs, Sparklines

Two supercool gadgets have appeared in the last week, which manipulate the information available in the BBC Programme Catalogue: a touchgraph applet and a sparkline comparator.

The touchgraph tool is the creation of Alf Eaton of HubLog. It's a Java applet which takes advantage of the FOAF data accompanying each contributor's record in order to produce a dynamic, relational graph: an expandable tree of who's connected to whom in the Catalog. You can double-click each name to extend a node, or click the little green "info" flag for a link to that person's record, and explore away!

Here's Henry Reed's touchgraph (click to open applet):

Touchgraph

(Tip: if the links to the Catalog aren't working, reconfigure your browser's options to allow popups!) There's even a handy bookmarklet to launch the applet from inside the Catalog. Thank you, Alf!

The sparkline comparator is a Greasemonkey script for Firefox which enables you to overlay two different sparklines in the Catalog for comparison: the little graphs displaying the frequency of a person's contributions to the BBC. Everything you need to get started using the comparator is available from its author, Phil McCarthy, over at chimpen.com.

This is how Henry Reed's sparkline looks (in black), superimposed with that of his frequent producer, Douglas Cleverdon (red):

Sparkline comparison

You can see the spikes for the majority of Reed's radio plays coincide with a jump for Cleverdon's productions. Isn't that neat? Thanks, Phil!

Now, what the hell is SPARQL?

«  BBC Gadgets  0  »


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.'


Sitwellisms

Henry Reed wrote several critiques of Edith Sitwell's verse during his career, including a lengthy article for the Penguin New Writing in 1944 ("The Poetry of Edith Sitwell," no. 21: 109-122), and a 1946 review of her collection The Song of the Cold for the New Statesman and Nation ("Pity and Terror," v. 31, no. 779 (26 January): 69).

So I wasn't too terribly surprised to discover the record for a letter Reed had written to Dame Edith in the Manuscript Collection of the Harry Ransom Research Center, at the University of Texas, Austin. And not just a single letter, but a copy of Sitwell's response, and what appears to be a typescript of a 1946 BBC radio program. All three manuscipts are in the Dame Edith Sitwell Collection, 1904-1964. None are dated, and the only references are to box and folder numbers.

Reed's letter appears under the "Index of Correspondents" as Reed, Henry, 1914- --99.2 (Box 99, Folder 2). The section heading states, 'Index entries with no notation (except box and folder numbers) indicate the person listed sent correspondence to Edith Sitwell.' Sitwell's response to Reed appears under the section "Index of Works" as Answer to Henry Reed--1.1. Without some indication of the date, however, it's impossible to divine what the two poets may have corresponded about, although Sitwell did write to John Lehmann in 1944, expressing concern about Reed's article in New Writing (Edith Sitwell: Selected Letters, 1919-1964. Edited by John Lehmann and Derek Parker. New York: Vanguard Press, 1970. 121).

I felt sure that two letters was more than one could hope for, but in doing a for "reed," I found yet another entry, under "Third Party Works": Reed, Henry, 1914- . Broadcast of The Poet and his Critics--110.4. This sent me into a tizzy of searching: the bibliography, the BBC Programme catalogue, WordAloud.com. No joy!

Finally, after trying several possible keyword combinations for London Times radio schedules, I discovered Sitwell (or Texas) had gotten the title slightly wrong: it's "The Poet and His Critic," singular. The serial, a "survey of contemporary verse," ran on the BBC's Third Programme for a brief time from late 1946 to early 1947. Poets included such estimable subjects as C. Day Lewis, W.J. Turner, Dylan Thomas, and Stephen Spender, with critics like L.A.G. Strong, Gerald Bullett, T.W. Earp, and Roy Fuller.

A good, old fashioned Google search put me dead on the money: in the Cleverdon Manuscript Collection at Indiana University's Lilly Library are scripts from Cleverdon's time as a producer at the BBC. Box 18 contains another script for the program in the Sitwell collection, but this one is labeled The Poet and His Critic--The Poet: Edith Sitwell, The Critic: Henry Reed. Nov. 9, 1946.



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.



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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