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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.

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«  Letters to the London Review of Books  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

22.8.2014


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 Owing to the efforts of editor Jon Stallworthy, it began in the spring of that year with a sneak peek at the only unpublished poem in Reed's Lessons of the War sequence, "Psychological Warfare" (March 21, 1991, pp. 14-15).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.


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What is Henry Reed's first name?

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.'



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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