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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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Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

15.12.2017


Birmingham Under the Blitz

Between August 8, 1940 and April 23, 1943, the city of Birmingham in England's West Midlands suffered 77 separate bombing raids by the German Luftwaffe. The city endured a total of 365 air raid alerts. The intended targets were the region's indispensable aircraft, transportation, and arms industries. All told, German air attacks destroyed 12,391 homes, 302 factories, 34 churches, halls and cinemas, and more than 200 other buildings. The human cost of the "Birmingham Blitz" (Wikipedia) was a total of 9,000 casualties, of whom 2,241 were killed. This is second only to the damage inflicted on London during the war.

There is an excellent slideshow depicting the aftermath of the attacks on the Birmingham Air Raids Remembrance Association (BARRA) website.

BARRA logo

In a 1996 interview, the Surrealist painter Conroy Maddox (previously) mentions two incidents when he took shelter with Henry Reed during the Birmingham air raids, once in a public bathroom, and again at Birmingham Town Hall:

Well, I suppose the significant moments were dodging the bombs as you fought. Henry Reed, the poet, was in Birmingham at that time, and lots of other people, and I remember being with him once, we were walking near Aston, and suddenly we heard bombs falling around, the alarm had already gone off, so we went down to a public lavatory. And of course women did as well, to get out of... it seemed a fairly safe place. But it was a bit embarrassing for the women, you know. But, we just sat on the books we had. And I always remember the book I had, which was Nicolas Calas's "Confound the Wise" (WorldCat), which is a glorious study of course, and I remember sitting on that on these cold slabs, you know, for hours on end until the alarm, the all-clear went off. Henry Reed and I once, a lot of people sheltered in the town hall under the arches, but we decided not to stay with the crowd but went up on the balcony and sat there. It wasn't until the light came that we realised it was a glass skylight, which wasn't very safe. But, no, I mean, the other thing of course was, you didn't know what was going to happen, I mean you just, you went to parties one night, you stayed up, or lounged around all night; you had to work the next morning, and you would go to another party the next night, you know. (F6321B, page 24)

The interview was conducted by Robin Dutt at Maddox's home in London, as a part of the National Life Stories collection: Artist's Lives project, and is available through the British Library's Archival Sound Recording service. There is a full transcript of the interview (208 page .pdf), but audio is only available in the U.K., and requires an Athens ID.

Maddox had been "reserved" from military service during World War II, as he was working in the engineering and design industry, so I'm not entirely sure what he meant by "dodging the bombs as you fought". In the interview he remembers thinking: 'I don't really want to be in the Army, all this walking the troops that, you know, soldiers do. Flying I didn't believe in, you know, and as for the Navy, well you know, they still had that idea of women and children first. I wasn't in favour of any of these things' (F6321B, page 21).

It's easy to see why Maddox and Reed were friends. I wonder what book Reed was sitting on, in the loo?



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.'


Surrealism in Birmingham

The artist Conroy Maddox (Guardian obituary) discovered Surrealism in 1935, when he was twenty-two, browsing through a book on European painting in the Birmingham City Library: Wilenski's The Modern Movement in Art (1927, rev. ed. 1935). Maddox had been born in Ledbury, Herefordshire in 1912, but his family settled in Erdington in 1933.

Painting
The Strange Country, by Conroy Maddox (1940)

Although he eventually outgrew the city, Maddox was inspired by urban Birmingham—with its libraries, theatres, and art galleries—after a youth spent in the countryside. In his (impeccably illustrated) biography of Maddox, The Scandalous Eye, Silvano Levy quotes generously from conversations and correspondence with the artist. These insights from Maddox provide a context for Henry Reed's social life in Birmingham before the war:

During that time, I began to explore the possibilities I discovered in collage which questioned the innocence of all images and the allusiveness of reality. Evenings were spent with in talk with Robert and John Melville, the poet Henry Reed, and Dorothy Baker. On Sundays, we would go to the Film Society and saw for the first time the works of Eisenstein, Cocteau, Pudovkin, Fritz Lang and others. Afterwards, we would talk either about the film or more imaginatively. (p. 45)

Reed, of course, was raised in Erdington, and from 1932-1936 he was studying at the University of Birmingham. Robert Melville would later become the art critic for the New Statesman. His brother, John Melville, was an artist also interested in Surrealism, who had occasion to paint a rather more traditional portrait of Reed (popup window). Along with Emmy Bridgwater, William Gear, and Stuart Gilbert, this circle of artists became the Birmingham Group. But Maddox's group of friends and followers was not not limited to painters:

The entourage included George Painter, Harry Browne and Philip Troutman, who were literary scholars; Cornelius Russell, an art historian at the university; his wife Jane; Dorothie Hewlett; Edward Lowbry [sic], a microbiologist and poet; Roy Knight, a modern languages academic who had unsuccessfully tried to teach Maddox some French; Dorothy Baker, a writer; and the poet Henry Reed, who, whenever the opportunity arose, would introduce his 'heterosexual friend Conroy Maddox'. (p. 98)

Reed's openness (and humor) about his sexuality never ceases to surprise me.

This litany of Birmingham's intellectual A-list will keep me busy for weeks, hunting the library stacks for biographies and collected letters, sliding my digitus secundus down the "R" pages of indexes, looking for references to Reed (is that why it's called the "index" finger?).

George Painter, the Proust biographer, had attended secondary school with Reed (see previous post). My Granger's Index lists five poems of Edward Lowbury which appear in various anthologies. His poem on the Hiroshima bombing, "August 10th, 1945—The Day After," appears on the Salamander Oasis Trust website. Lowbury's Collected Poems was published in 1993 (Contemporary Review 263, no. 1535 (December 1993): 329-330).

The two mentions of Dorothy Baker are especially intriguing, as she appears to have been a native of Missoula, Montana. What she was doing in England at that time, I haven't the faintest idea. Baker's debut jazz novel, The Young Man with the Horn (1938) was adapted into a film starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, and Doris Day, in 1950. She was the wife of the American poet and novelist Howard Baker, whom she had married in Paris in 1930. (I think I have entirely the wrong Dorothy Baker! This is the right Dorothy Baker.)

A severely limited preview of Levy's The Scandalous Eye: The Surrealism of Conroy Maddox is available from Google Books (the copyrighted images appear to be restricted). I have a library copy here beside me, and it's a beautiful, glossy-paged book. I'm astute enough (but only just) to detect the influence of Picasso, Magritte, and Dali in Maddox's work, but I fear I have been forever spoiled for his googly-eyed collages by the Spongmonkeys (Flash, audio, weird).



1512. Reed, Henry. "The Case for Maigret." Reviews of Maigret Hesitates and The Man on the Bench in the Barn, by Georges Simenon. Sunday Times (London), 2 August 1970: 22.
Reed reviews two translations of George Simenon's fiction.



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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