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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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Henry Reed, ca. 1960


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Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

7.5.2021


More from Elizabeth Bishop

Published last October, Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (edited by Thomas Travisano and Saskia Hamilton, Farrar, 2008), finally reveals both sides of a conversation I discovered last spring, in The Letters of Robert Lowell (Hamilton, ed., 2005).

Book cover

Bishop and Lowell first began exchanging letters in 1947, after meeting at a party given by Randall Jarrell. In the mid-60s, Bishop met Henry Reed when they were both teaching at the University of Washington, Seattle. Here are the relevant excerpts from the Bishop-Lowell correspondence, which include several classic Reed witticisms, expressions of Bishop's admiration and concern for her new friend, and even a mention of Reed's desire to expatriate to the United States (!):
June 15, 1965
Dearest Elizabeth,

I rather hope you'll take in the Washington job. You'll like the landscape and the relative quiet for America, and I think [Robert] Heilman, the head of the department, will shape the conditions [to] suit you. He did marvels with Ted Roethke and has since had such unacademic shy people as Henry Reed and Vernon Watkins. Everyone seems terribly excited for your arrival...[.]

   All my love,
      Cal
(p. 576)


Apt. 212, 4135 Brooklyn Ave., N.E.
Seattle, Washington, 98105
Washington's Birthday
[Feb. 23, 1966]
Dearest Cal:

I don't know where to begin. You are much admired here and several of my "students" ) I have to keep putting everything in quotes because none of it seems quite real to me, even now) are using you for their term-papers . . . you are being compared (to his discredit) frequently with Eliot, I think—Henry Reed is here—a bright spot in my life, I must say. I had dinner with him last night and he told me how he had heard a beautiful reading of SKUNK HOUR in England—and was reported in the papers as having said in a loud aside, "That's the only poem worth a damn this whole evening." He was sorry not to have met you here and would very much like to when he goes to New York.—I'm not sure when. He is extremely funny—referred to Olivier in OTHELLO as "The Nigger of the Narcissus," to give you an idea of his wit. I shall make so bold as to give him your address. He has done a few beautiful poems since "Naming of Parts" ("to which I owe my livelihood," he says) he has shown me—but I think writes really very little...[.]

Well, I was never meant to be a teacher and would never like it—but I do like the "students" (children, I call them to myself)—even if they seem awfully lacking in joie de vivre and keep telling me about their experience with LSD and "pot" etc., and (2 girls) how they are "on the PILL"—I think this was to convince me they are serious about writing! The boys are all over six feet—some girls are, too—and the girls have huge legs—& have blue eyes; one left-handed—what is this high percentage of left-handedness, I wonder? Henry said he'd been warned about the bosom in the front row—but not about the large bare knee that starts creeping up over the edge of the table . . . [.]

   Love,
      Elizabeth
(pp. 598, 599)


Samambaia, September 25th, 1966
Dearest Cal:

I might see Henry Reed in London. He was a wonderful comfort to me in Seattle—and I think I was to him, too. He is a sad man, though, perhaps because he hasn't been able to work for so long—I don't really know—but funny as can be at the same time. We cheered each other up through exams by midnight telephone calls telling each other the best things we'd found. He was teaching "Romeo & Juliet" to about 60 freshman, poor dear. My favorite of his was a girl's paper that began "Lady Capulet is definitely older than her daughter but she remains a woman." One boy: "Romeo was determined to sleep in the tomb of the Catapults" . . . etc.—Henry is going back for the winter term of the job I had, again. He wants to settle in the USA, being very romantically fond of it, I think, although he's seen nothing at all except some of the west coast. I think he is a wonderful teacher—too good, really for Un. of W.—if you have any ideas of a course he could give somewhere else I wish you'd let me know . . . I think I'll write Dick Wilbur. I know nothing of the Wesleyan things, but perhaps when my grant is over and that book is done, I might apply for one. I think it would do both Lota and me a lot of good to stay in Connecticut for a few months!—seeing New York, but not IN it. I don't think I'll ever feel tough enough for New York again, somehow...[.]

   —Much much love,
      Elizabeth
(p. 608)


October 2, 1966
Dearest Elizabeth:

How lovely to hear from you again in all your old leisurely fullness. Sorry that Seattle was a grind and that Lota has had so much too much work. I have to fly up to Harvard soon for my weekly classes there, so will just dash off this letter, trying to answer and comment on your letter. The man in charge of Wesleyan is Paul Horgan, a Colorado or Arizona novelist. We know him quite well, and will get in touch with him, if you and Lota & Henry Reed are really interested. It's a queer place, about a dozen people in residence, some with wives, some without, an office, rooms or a house. Lizzie and I were offered about $20,000 to stay there a year, but so far have held off, not wanting to change Harriet's school, preferring to be in New York. It can be rather melancholy, but all depends on who is there—usually several people from Europe, ages older and more uniformly distinguished than Yaddo. The I.A. Richards are there now, later the Spenders are coming. Always someone. No duties, though it's suggested that you informally meet students. It might be perfect for you both. Let me know, and I'll start writing and calling people...[.]

I'd think a lot of places would like to have Henry Reed. Everyone speaks well of him, and he is quote famous and admired for his one book. He's a great friend of our friend the actress Irene Worth...[.]

   All my love,
      Cal
(pp. 609, 610)


August 28th, 196[8]
Dearest Cal:

Since I am being so gossipy—I loved your account of yr. visit to Mr. Rubberheart (as Henry R calls him). Much worse than my simple evening sallies here . . . It was particularly funny since I had just had a letter from him—Mr. R [poet Richard Eberhart]—I received two copies of his last book and felt I had to say something honest, I thought. In return I got a long letter all about people I never heard of with names like Tricksy and Adam . . . Grandma and Mrs. Crosby "both 79," etc, etc...[.]

   With much love always—
      Elizabeth
(p. 648)
While I'm certain Reed's anecdote about his overly-loud commentary on Lowell's poem is true, I think the fact that he was quoted in the London newspapers is probably an exaggeration. Bishop's letter of September 25, 1966 is likely the source of Brett Millier's mention of Reed and Bishop's late-night Seattle telephone conversations, in Elizabeth Bishop: Life and the Memory of It (University of California, 1995). The American actress, Irene Worth (pronounced i-REE-nee), starred in Reed's adaptation of Ugo Betti's The Queen and the Rebels, staged in London's Haymarket Theatre in 1955.


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What is Henry Reed's first name?

1531. Henderson, Philip. "English Poetry Since 1946." British Book News 117 (May 1950), 295.
Reed's A Map of Verona is mentioned in a survey of the previous five years of English poetry.



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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