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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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«  Read, Reed, Stokes (and Reid)  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

18.12.2017


Read, Reed, Stokes (and Reid)

Adrian Stokes was an eminent British art critic, and a painter and poet in his own right. Born in 1902, educated at Oxford, Stokes met Ezra Pound during a trip to Italy, and it was Pound who persuaded T.S. Eliot at Faber & Faber to publish Stokes' first collections of essays: The Quattro Cento: A Different Conception of the Italian Renaissance (1932), and The Stones of Rimini (1934). Later works include Smooth and Rough (1951), and Michelangelo: A Study in the Nature of Art (1956).

In his 2002 introduction to Stokes' Michelangelo, the late Richard Wollheim begins:

In his lifetime Adrian Stokes achieved the kind of fame that has nothing to do with success. No book of his sold more than five hundred copies, but his prose, fiercely difficult by the standards of the time, seized the imagination of some of the most interesting and creative minds of his age. They included sculptors, painters, poets, architects, critics of the arts: Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Henry Reed, Colin St John Wilson, William Coldstream, Elizabeth Bishop, Lawrence Gowing, Andrew Forge; the list could go on.

That's one heck of a fan club. I was curious about how Wollheim compiled this list, and a quick search turns up an official Adrian Stokes website (caution! pop-up ads).

There we find Dr. Stephen Kite, a Stokes scholar, quoting a letter written to the Times Literary Supplement in 1965, "signed by eighteen prominent thinkers and artists — including Coldstream, Moore, Hepworth and Wollheim — claimed Adrian Stokes as amongst 'the most original and creative.... writers on art.'" A-ha! That's three of the critics on Wollheim's list, as well as Wollheim himself. Thankfully, Kite provides footnotes for his references.

Going to the TLS for August 12, 1965, we find the letter Kite refers to: a response to a list of important books of the first half of the decade, in the July 29 issue. Here is the letter, reproduced in its entirety:

Sir,—The list of "English Books of the 1960s" in your special number, "Sounding the Sixties", includes, under various headings, more than twenty volumes concerned with aspects of art. During the 1960s Mr. Adrian Stokes has published his Three Essays on the Paintings of our Time, Painting and the Inner World, and The Invitation in Art. None of them gets a mention in your list. Although, as you say, 'the list does not pretend to completeness', it seems to us unfortunate that it should exclude a writer who has claims to being the most original and creative living English writer on art.
   ALAN BOWNESS, WILLIAM COLDSTREAM, ANDREW FORGE, JOHN GOLDING, LAWRENCE GOWING, STUART HAMPSHIRE, BARBARA HEPWORTH, FRANK KERMODE, R. B. KITAJ, ROBERT MELVILLE, HENRY MOORE, JOHN PIPER, HERBERT READ, HENRY REED, NORMAN REID, JOHN RUSSELL, DAVID SYLVESTER, RICHARD WOLLHEIM.
(p. 697)

With the addition of Bishop, Nicholson, and Wilson, that fills out Wollheim's list. I wonder why he mentions Reed in his introduction, and not the better-known Herbert Read? There are other connections, too: both Stokes and Reed were influenced by the psychoanalytic theories of Melanie Klein (Stokes was a patient of Klein's), and at least three of the artists and writers who signed the letter to the editor knew Reed personally: art critic Robert Melville, from Birmingham (brother of the painter John Melville, see below); Frank Kermode, whom Reed knew in London and Seattle; and, of course, Elizabeth Bishop.

Adrian Stokes died in 1972. A selection of his poetry can be found on the Adrian Stokes website, and many of his paintings can be viewed online through the Tate Gallery.


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What is Henry Reed's first name?

1513. Hodge, Alan. "Thunder on the Right." Tribune (London), 14 June 1946, 15.
Hodge finds 'dry charm as well as quiet wit' in "Judging Distances," but overall feels Reed is 'diffuse and not sufficiently accomplished.'



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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