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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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I Capture the Castle: A girl and her family struggle to make ends meet in an old English castle.
Dusty Answer: Young, privileged, earnest Judith falls in love with the family next door.
The Heat of the Day: In wartime London, a woman finds herself caught between two men.


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«  Spirit Above Wars  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

16.12.2017


Spirit Above Wars

I've been trying to tidy up around here: index cards have begat unsorted piles out-of-boxes; Xeroxes are backing up into heaps the cat perches upon, unstapled and unread; and I've been neglectful in answering Reed-mail. One of these days I gotta get myself organizized.

Long, cathartic hike to the library today, which paid off in several citations to track down. The university library is about three miles' worth of sidewalk away, on the other side of a good-sized hollow, down and up again. My path crosses the edge of a small lake, and there are herons, ducks, and sometimes even a bald eagle. Bonus points today for taking a side-trip to the bookstore for coffee, an extra two miles. (I'm working at getting over my irrational fear of ordering frou-frou espresso drinks from cafe baristas.)

Today's agenda was to read a bit on British poetry movements from the first half of the twentieth-century. Reed defies classification, and doesn't usually get grouped with anyone except "Poets of the Second World War." Browsing, I found a book on war poetry called Spirit Above Wars (Macmillan Company of India, 1975), by A. Banerjee. The title is taken from a 1917 letter Robert Graves wrote to Wilfred Owen:

For God's sake cheer up and write more optimistically—The war's not ended yet but a poet should have a spirit above wars.

A general chapter on the poetry of World War II brings up, once again, the question which was asked many times from 1939 to 1945: "Where are the war poets?" (see "A Call to Arms", previously). Cited are several articles: "Where Are Our War Poets?" (Horizon, January 1941), "War and the Poet," by W.D. Thomas (Listener, 1 May 1941), and Stephen Spender's and Robert Graves' thoughts on "War Poetry in this War" (Listener, 16 and 23 October 1941). Reed is referenced as having attempted to answer the question before the war's end, in a set of two articles written for The Listener: "Poetry in Wartime: The Older Poets," and "Poetry in Wartime: The Younger Poets" (18 and 25 January 1945).

The Horizon, Spender, and Graves are articles are exciting, but the best part is a quote from a letter to the editor in response to Reed's "Poetry in Wartime" essays, which highlights the contention about the differences between the poems of the First and Second World Wars:

When Henry Reed [....] picked out men like Vernon Watkins, Alun Lewis and Sidney Keyes as the significant poets who had emerged since the start of the Second World War, one correspondent asked, in earnest solemnity:
Now I would like to ask, in a purely scientific-objective spirit, whether there is a single four-line sequence (leave alone an entire short poem) to the credit of any of the poets mentioned by Mr. Reed which has in the same way struck the popular imagination and become property, as did, say, several poems of Rupert Brooke on publication?
To this Henry Reed made the blunt rejoinder that Rupert Brooke 'was a poet for the thoughtless; and there is no fundamental difference between his war poetry and the present-day song beginning "There'll always be an England"'.

Oh, schnap! The correct answer to the correspondent's question is, of course: "Today we have naming of parts...." The letter to the editor appears in the February 1, 1945 Listener, and Reed's retort is in the issue of February 15. Two more index cards for the pile, another batch of Xeroxes for the cat to perch on.


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Notation for "Spirit Above Wars":
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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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