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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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Reeding:

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

20.8.2017


How to Read and Understand Poetry

Here's a clip of Professor Willard Spiegelman of Southern Methodist University, talking on Henry Reed's "Naming of Parts" part of The Great Courses lectures, How to Read and Understand Poetry (1999):


Spiegelman uses "Naming of Parts" as an example of "irony as dialectic", and brilliantly even spends a minute to explain Reed's switch of "duellis" (battles) for "puellis" (girls) in the poem's epigraph from Horace.

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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.'


Unhappy Vice

M.L. Rosenthal was an American contemporary of Henry Reed, born in 1917 in Washington, D.C., he taught at New York University for more than 50 years. Rosenthal was a poet, editor, and critic, and is credited with attributing "confessional" to the Confessional Poetry movement.

An early review by Rosenthal, "Experience and Poetry," appears in the New York Herald Tribune for October 17, 1948: Rosenthal reviews Henry Reed, Laurie Lee's The Sun My Monument, E.J. Pratt's Behind the Log, Louis O. Coxe's The Sea Faring, Robert McKinney's Hymn to Wreckage, and Four Poems by Rimbaud, translated by Ben Belitt.

New York Herald Tribune

Experience and Poetry
A MAP OF VERONA AND OTHER POEMS.
By Henry Reed. . . . 92 pp. . . . .
New York: Reynal and Hitchcock. . . . $2.50.


Reviewed by M. L. Rosenthal

HENRY REED shares with Laurie Lee, another young English "war poet," a kind of hurt pacifism and the familiar irony that sell so cheaply of late. They share, too, in that unhappy vice of young intellectuals—a certain blandness of which the ever-simple irony is a symptom and which allows them, at a moment's notice, to discuss everything as though it were nothing and vice versa. But Reed has the more inclusive sensibility, and he has been able to protect it by skills of craft, fashioning an armor of rhythmic, stanzaic, and musical structure. Despite their common conviction that the world is flat, Reed has written more verse in the rich "lyric-contemplative" mode and has used mythological themes from Homer to Melville to help him get his bearings. He is further into his art: such places as "Judging Distances," "Sailor's Harbor," and the title-poem achieve something fine and honest, with a dramatic tension that resolves itself by a narrowing of focus from general to intimate personal awareness: "reversal" with the true tragic shock of painful realization.
Rosenthal published two popular poetry books in 1967: a book of criticism, The New Poets: American and British Poetry since World War II (London: Oxford University Press); and and anthology, The New Modern Poetry; British and American Poetry since World War II (New York, Macmillan). As far as I can tell, however, Reed doesn't appear in either.

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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.


Speech and Drama Review

In the Spring, 1972 issue of the journal of the Society of Teachers of Speech and Drama there appears an argument for the release of recordings of Henry Reed's radio plays. Jane Gregg reviews two collections of Reed's plays produced for the BBC Third Programme, published in 1971 by BBC Publications: Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio, and The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio.

Gregg calls the Hilda Tablet plays "the funniest and most sustained piece of social comedy written for radio," and expresses concern over the ephemeral medium of "aural" art such as radio, arguing that Reed's plays should get the same treatment as Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood, and be released as recordings.

Advertisement

Hilda Tablet and Others — four pieces for radio
by HENRY REED. BBC: £2.10.

The Streets of Pompeii and other plays for Radio
by HENRY REED. BBC: £3.15.

All Third Programme listeners please note that the plays of Henry Reed you so enjoyed between 1949 and 1958 are now in print—a permanent memorial of the radio drama which otherwise has no permanent life.

As Reed says in a most interesting foreword to The Streets of Pompeii, 'They were not for the most part written with any idea that they might appear in print. When it was suggested that they should, I was naturally delighted: it seemed to imply that they had not entirely gone in one ear and out of the other'.

I have just taken up knitting and when reading the pattern I have tried to visualise the finished article. Possibly knit two together through back loops creates a picture for the experienced knitter but even so it remains for most of us simply a code. In the same way the printed word is a poor substitute for radio drama. 'Cross-fade rapidly' needs a great deal of aural imagination.

Hilda Tablet and Others consists of four pieces from what many regard as the funniest and most sustained piece of social comedy written for radio. They are A Very Great Man Indeed, The Private Life of Hilda Tablet, A Hedge, Backwards, and The Primal Scene, as it were. The productions were all by Douglas Cleverdon, with music by Donald Swann and the casts include most of the great BBC repertory names: Hugh Burden, Carleton Hobbs, Gwen Cherrell, Mary O'Farrell, Marjorie Westbury . . . (dear Marjorie Westbury as Steve in Paul Temple — there's nostalgia for you) . . . the list is endless and very well-loved. The plays arise out of the research by Reed's alter-ego Reeve into the life of Richard Shewin, novelist.

The Streets of Pompeii on the other hand contains those plays which have Italian themes and settings. They are Leopardi in two parts: The Unblest and The Monument; The Streets of Pompeii, Return to Naples, The Great Desire I Had, and Vincenzo. Again the productions were by Douglas Cleverdon with a cast which sounds like Who's Who in Radio.

The BBC are of course quite right and to be commended for publishing Henry Reed's radio plays but now, before they disappear aurally altogether, may we have them recorded? After listening to the record of Under Milk Wood recorded by Argo with the cooperation of the BBC, I am convinced that there is a market for radio plays on record.
JANE GREGG.
I note with some dismay that a quick search of the British Library Sound & Moving Image Catalogue reveals no recordings of A By-Election in the 'Nineties (1951), The Great Desire I Had (1952), A Hedge, Backwards (1956), The Primal Scene, As It Were (1958), or Musique Discrète (1959). Perhaps, however, the current Save of Sounds project might turn a few up.

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1511. William Phillips, and Philip Rahv, eds. New Partisan Reader: 1945-1953 London: Andre Deutsch, 1953. 164-171.
Collects Reed's poem, "The Door and the Window," published in the Partisan Review in 1947.


Henry Reed in Arena

An antipodean appearance of Henry Reed, in the Wellington, New Zealand literary magazine Arena (Noel Farr Hoggard, ed.), from March, 1958, where Roy MacGregor-Hastie wrote a contentious, four-part series of articles on the state of poetry, titled "The Poet in His Workshop."

Arena cover

MacGregor-Hastie first mentions Reed in Part 2 of his series, "The Vertical Men" (from the Auden poem, "Let us honour if we can / The vertical man, / Though we value none / But the horizontal one"):
There is little of the morbid, though a great deal of the introspective in the writing of Henry Reed, who I should have liked to have included in this article as a vertical man. However, he is at an angle of ninety degrees to himself, so I shall leave him for the Miscellaneous section of this series, and deal with Alexander Tvardovsky, a contemporary Soviet poet.
Arena, no. 46 (March 1957): 18.
The promised Reed finally arrives in Part 4, "The Great Unclassified," where MacGregor-Hastie places Reed in a European miscellany, after Alfredo Panzini, Giuseppe Ungaretti, and Joaquín de Entrambasaguas (I can only guess: MacGregor-Hastie has written "Juan de Estrembasagua"), but only after thoroughly bashing the old guard—Auden, Eliot, Stephen Spender, and C. Day-Lewis—for their complacency and selling-out:
In England the work of any poet who is unfortunate enough to be under thirty is ignored completely, anyway by the larger publishers; if in the nineteenth century poets had to be both famous and dead before they were owned by their families, in the twentieth century, after the pre-war flood of slim volumes of garnered fancies, publication of verse has dried up. Only the little magazines can guarantee to the dedicated poet any frequency of publication, and their solvency is not always as great as one would wish; the Listener, the New Statesman and Nation, the Times Literary Supplement—these are the major media now and only publish the sort of verse you would expect....

There is probably only one man who remains cheerful through it all and unperturbed by the commercialism and disinterest he finds in the world of the Arts. His name is Henry Reed and he is sui generis, unclassified and unclassifiable. He published a collection of poems in 1946 called the 'Map of Verona', which established him in English Literature as perhaps the only living poet who could have written Lawrence's 'Innocent England' and write more; he published in this collection a series of poems about the war itself and the duality of experience of the sensitive soldier, his preoccupation more with the trivial detail of Army life than with the consequences to some other person's family of his firing the rifle—he is at such pains to be clean in the regulation way. In one of these poems, 'Naming of Parts' he shows his extreme sensitivity and ability to approach the emotional through the every day experiences of the world of trivia. He is being taught the names of the parts of his rifle, and the beauty of his surroundings intrudes into the lesson:
. . . . rapidly backwards and forwards
the early bees are assaulting the flowers;
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
if you have any strength in your thumb:
like the bolt and the breech and the cocking piece, and the point of balance,
which in our case we have not got; and the almond blossom
silent in all of the gardens, and the bees going backwards and forwards
For today we have naming of parts.
And that is my epilogue. The most valid commentary on this our civilisation so-called, which tries to live without the Arts, which are its flowers—
the point of balance
which in our case we have not got.
Arena, no. 48 (March 1958): 12-13.
MacGregor-Hastie's respect and appreciation for Reed is laudable, if a bit idealized: Reed, even as early as the late 1950s, was hardly remaining 'cheerful' and 'unperturbed', and he probably would have taken more than some offense at the author's rough-handling of his friends, Spender and Day-Lewis—not to mention his idols and authorities, Auden and Eliot.



1510. Birmingham Post, "The Merchant of Venice," 5 March 1937.
Photograph of Henry Reed with members of the Birmingham University Dramatic Society's (BUDS) production of The Merchant of Venice. Shylock played by Ian Alexander.


Trewin Review

This review of the premiere of Reed's second installment in the Hilda Tablet series, The Private Life of Hilda Tablet, appeared 59 years ago today, in The Listener for June 3, 1954. The reviewer was J.C. Trewin (later OBE), drama critic for The Observer for more than sixty years.

I began by typing a few excerpts of Trewin's (and Reed's) best bits. The "best bits" turned out to be the article entire.

Hilda Tablet

Sound Broadcasting
DRAMA
Alive and Dead

And now we must have the private life of Stephen Shewin. I can hardly wait for it. Henry Reed, who has discovered these curious people—clearly they have been hovering, in a lather of excitement, to come to the microphone—has just reached the story of Hilda Tablet. A very fine story it is. When it appears in print, if poor Herbert Reeve is still alive, it will run into twelve volumes—though that, as Reeve murmured in the plaintive, melancholy-desperate tones of Hugh Burden, must be years and years ahead. Years and years.

You must forgive me. I may be talking to myself, and you may not have met these people. I hope you have. It is eight months since Henry Reed, in the Third, has had his joke at the expense of the conscientious, burrowing biographer. The resolute Reeve looked for the facts beneath the work of the 'poets' novelist', Richard Shewin, and, in the course of his researches, he met the most extraordinary bevy of personages on and around the comic literary fringe. At the time I liked the 'composeress' Hilda Tablet. Now Herbert, even fainter than before, but still pursuing, has saddled himself with another assignment.

The title, 'The Private Life of Hilda Tablet' (Third Programme), says just what has happened. In seeking Shewin, poor Reeve has found Hilda coiling herself furrily about his neck. He is hers forever, and it is going to be a ticklish journey. As someone observes, it needs tact to write the biography of a living subject. And Hilda is living. Undeniably. Her all-woman opera, 'Emily Butter', 'embraces the whole of music'; she has written a quintet for eight instruments ('a lot of instruments for a quintet, I freely grant you'); and she seems to have a passion for adding to her works: at least, to works about her. The idea is simple when it begins: 'A couple of fellows called Faber and Faber are after my life—only 350 pages by this autumn'. But, a few months on, she has resolved, and Herbert has agreed—could he have done otherwise?—that the biography shall be in twelve volumes. It has to have Epic Scope (no doubt Cinemascope as well, if things go much further).

Once more, Mr. Reed has written with the sharpest, wittiest point. Some of his people are old friends; I plead—see first sentence—for a third installment on Stephen Shewin, who still lives, with his wife, in the cat-filled house, shooting his phrases (thanks to Carleton Hobbs) like poison-tipped arrows. But there are new pleasures also. We meet the librettist, who finds Hilda a trifle vexing. Has she not changed the original story of 'Emily Butter', set in the sixteenth century on a boat anchored off Rimini, to something about the bargain basement of a department store? Then there is the Vicar of Mull Extrinseca ('We rub along, you know'), who is delighted that Hilda's embalmed feet are to preserved in the church—in due course. There is the Duchess who begins every sentence with 'One wonders', and who can wonder with surprising effect. There is the Viennese singer who has not yet said 'Goodnight Vienna', though all her attempts are thwarted.

And there is always, and massively, our old acquaintance Hilda herself (Mary O'Farrell), to explain that 'Music fell for me; I was flirting with architecture at the time', or else that she is neither the marrying sort of girl nor a girl who easily offended. 'Please don't mind my saying it', she begins briskly, and at once a storm-cone is hoisted. Mr. Burden is a dolorous joy: then, most of this effort is a joy, though I think Hilda's speech to her old school goes on too long at the end. We know her reasonably well by then, and some of her effects are expected.

Still, the 'Life', which was produced by Douglas Cleverdon, is a cheerful find for what Mr. Reeve-Burden calls 'the ever-admirable Third Programme'. Now let us have a few more poisoned arrows from Stephen Shewin. And his wife, I am sure, can be helpfully elaborated.
[pp. 983-984]


The Private Life of Hilda Tablet was followed by Emily Butter (1954), A Hedge, Backwards (1956), The Primal Scene, As It Were (1958), Not a Drum Was Heard (1959), and Musique Discrète (1959). The plays were collected (not including Emily Butter) in Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio (British Broadcasting Corporation, 1971). Because of the poor quality of my Listener scan, I have illustrated this post with a picture from the Radio Times for Musique Discrète.

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1509. Reed, Henry, "'Tatty': The Year's New Word," Birmingham Post, 13 October 1937.
Discusses the history and usage of the word 'tatty'.


Seething Vita

I've only just remembered today that I am sitting on a vast hoard of newspaperly gems from The Guardian and Observer, including this small vote of confidence from none other than Vita Sackville-West.

Ms. Sackville-West (you may remember) had a bit of a run-in with the poetry committee of the Society of Authors in March, 1946, in the midst of trying to decide who would read at an upcoming poetry recital for the Queen. If she held any ill-will towards Reed she does not show it in her review of A Map of Verona for The Observer on May 5th ("Seething Brain," p. 3), little more than a week before the recital.

Indeed, she reports being 'much taken with the poem called "Lives," which seemed to express so admirably Mr. Reed's sense of the elusiveness as well as the continuity of life':

Observer blurb

In addition to Reed's A Map of Verona: Poems (Cape) and Durrell's Cities Plains and People (Faber), Sackville-West also reviews (at length): Dylan Thomas's Deaths and Entrances (Dent); Edwin Muir's The Voyage and Other Poems (Faber); Four Quartets Rehearsed by Raymond Preston (Sheed and Ward); Pushkin's Poems, translated by Walter Morison (Allen and Unwin); Modern Czech Poetry translated by Ewald Osers and J.K. Montgomery (Allen and Unwin); and Joseph Braddock's Swanhild (Chaterson).

As for Vita and Henry, well... the poetry committee didn't pick him, either.



1508. Birmingham Post, Obituary for Henry Reed. 10 December 1986.
Reed's obituary in the Birmingham Post.


Torn Chimerical Flowers

Here's a very short critique and quote for Reed's A Map of Verona: Poems (1946). It appears in the Expository Times for November, 1946, in a collection of quick-fire reviews of recent poetry, by an R.W. Thomson (not The R.W. Thomson).

Thomson covers, in rapid succession: Dylan Thomas' Deaths and Entrances; Norman Nicholson's The Old Man of the Mountains; Under T'Hawthorn by Dorothy Una Ratcliffe; Edwin Muir's The Voyage and Other Poems; For Those Who Are Alive (anthology); Sidney Keyes: Poems; Frank Kendon, Each Silver Fly; and C.S. Lewis' George MacDonald Anthology. And, of course, dear Henry's quote:

Cover

Henry Reed, in A Map of Verona (Cape; 3s. 6d.), tells the story of man's struggles, his delusions, and his questionings—

You . . .
. . . tug at the streaming earth to find some spot
In which you may plant your torn chimerical flowers
With a ruined wall to protect them.
[p. 56]

The "torn chimerical flowers" line (a great line) is from a poem in Reed's Tintagel sequence, "Iseult la Belle."

I really should create a page on Henry's site to compile all these short reviews and "recent" mentions. There were a lot of them in 1946 and '47.



1507. Daily Telegraph, Obituary for Henry Reed. 10 December 1986.
Reed's obituary in the Telegraph.


Catholic Herald Radio Reviews

In the 1950s, Joan Newton was the radio and television reviewer for the Catholic Herald. Through the magic of the paper's online archive, it's possible to trace Ms. Newton's love affair with Henry Reed's Hilda Tablet plays on the BBC's Third Programme, starting with A Very Great Man Indeed in 1953:

Catholic Herald

Somebody's guardian angel—mine, I suppose—suggested to me to listen to Henry Reed's "A Very Great Man Indeed," produced by Douglas Cleverdon on the Third. Just before, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra from Edinburgh had been coming through very badly and I was prepared to have to turn off the play as well. I'm glad I didn't.

It was about "the late Richard Shewin, 'the poets' novelist,'" and his biographer, Herbert Reeve (Hugh Burden), was visiting the great man's relations and friends to get an idea of his character.

"Dear me, I've never heard of Richard Shewin," I was thinking as I listened to the beginning. But when the earnest biographer got upstairs to see the permanently bedded brother of the late R.S., and after meeting with the sister-in-law and her cats, I realised that either it was meant to be funny or something had gone wrong somewhere. And funnier and funnier it grew, and more and more enjoyable.

I find it hard to decide which incident I enjoyed most—Mary O'Farrell as the composeress, Norman Shelley being a contemporary novelist, Harry Hutchinson as the Irish poet, or the glorious ending with the late novelist's nephews singing "Don't Hurt My Heart," a very tearful lyric in the Frankie Laine manner. Repeat, please.

"Looking and Listening," September 18, 1953, p. 6


This loss in a few days of almost all the family's chief stand-bys for lighter listening [Take it from Here, Life with the Lyons, Talk about Jones, and Have a Go] was made bearable only by the further repeat of the Third Programme's "A Very Great Man Indeed," written by Henry Reed and produced by Douglas Cleverdon. I had heard this twice before, but laughed as much as ever.

The only jarring note for me was the Graham Greeneish episode about the worried priest at the end, which was an accurate pardoy in style only and not in content, and had too much the air of mischievous afterthought to make an artistic conclusion.

I wonder if the author and producer—and perhaps more especially, the composer, Donald Swann—will be able to repeat their success in "The Private Life of Hilda Tablet," promised us for May 24 and 26. Those who did not hear "A Very Great Man" may like to know that Hilda is a modern composer. They ought to be warned, too, that the play is unlikely to be wholly suitable for children.



Perhaps it was rather much to expect that Henry Reed should hit the bell so definitely with his "Private Life of Hilda Tablet" (Third Programme) as he did with "A Very Great Man Indeed." All the same, it was a splendid entertainment and one still clamours for more of the same kind.

The defects in this second show—they are defects in comparison only—seemed to me to be that the characters had become more familiarly "types" than they were before, that the satire was slightly less sharp, and that some episodes, such as the "drunk" scene at Hilda's school, were rather too drawn out.

Mary O'Farrell as Hilda, the modern composeress, was as hearty and vigorous as ever but not quite as real as before—less Waugh and more Wodehouse. Herbert Reeve, the scholar through whose reminiscences we become acquainted with all these odd people, was still a deliciously wide-eyed and dedicated Boswell; but in the earlier show his approach was more "dead-pan," more Third Programme, and consequently he came out more amusingly in contrast with the astonishing goings-on in which he gets himself involved.

I hope we shall have more of one gorgeous new character, Deryck Guyler as the Rector of Mull Extrinseca.

Donald Swann's clever musical parodies, which naturally had more scope this time, lived up to all expectations. And that brings me on to the unhappy case of Marjorie Westbury, who was so impressive as Elsa Strauss, Hilda's long-suffering singer—'Throw yourself at the note if you like, but for heaven's sake don't hit it!'—that I am now quite unable to think of her as anything else.

"Entertainment on the Third," June 4, 1954, p. 3


This week they [Said the Cat to the Dog] were assisted by "Mrs. Kerry," a cow, but she is, perhaps, a bit too much of a chatterbox and just a weeny bit too "Oirish" for our liking. I mention her specially because she is played by another of those versatile radio actresses, Mary O'Farrell. It's a far cry from her acting a cow to being the energetic Hilda Tablet in the latest of Henry Reed's witty Third Programme diversions, "Emily Butter."

I was looking forward to hearing Hilda's much-publicised opera. Unfortunately, a slight indisposition prevented me, and I only hope that there will soon be a repeat.

"We Like the Familiar," November 26, 1954, p. 3


In all my years of radio listening I have yet to find purer gold than in the Third Programme's set of plays by Henry Reed about the mythical author Richard Shewin. A few weeks ago we had a repeat of the first play, "A Very Great Man Indeed." I do not usually like hearing a play twice, but this I have heard four or five times and have experienced the same delight each time.

At the end of February, "A Hedge Backwards," which is meant to be a final digression on the subject, gave us nearly as much pleasure. Hugh Burden, as the innocent and revering biographer, is perfect and as sordid fact after sordid fact about the "great" author is brought to light our enjoyment increases with his bewilderment. The musical satires by Donald Swann are also perfect and if you have never listened to these plays you must certainly look out for any repeats.

"New on the Radio," March 16, 1956, p. 5


Last Friday, too, on the Third, I heard again the third of the wonderful trilogy about the works of the fabulous Richard Shewin and Hilda Tablet—this being "A Hedge Backwards." I hope these three plays will be offered to us again and again for many years to come.

"An Experiment for TV Drama," August 17, 1956, p. 4


The only fault I found with this collection [From the Third Programme: A Ten Years' Anthology] was that it had not included some of the lyrics, at least, from Henry Reed's masterpieces, "A Very Great Man Indeed" and "Through a Hedge Backwards" [sic]. This is a strictly personal grouse because the editor has included Reed's more serious "Antigone" in this anthology.

"Gems from the Third," January 11, 1957, p. 3


Thursday was, in fact, a happy day on the radio for everyone, for in the evening we heard again the first of Henry Reed's saga about literary people "A Very Great Man Indeed." I have praised this work and its sequels so often that I am afraid of being accused of some queer kind of fixation.

"Looking and Listening," February 21, 1958, p. 5

My favorite bit: '[U]nlikely to be wholly suitable for children.'

Hilda Tablet is 60 years old this year, and 2014 will be the centenary of Henry Reed's birth. Repeat, please.



1506. MacGregor-Hastie, Roy. "The Poet in His Workshop: No 4—The Great Unclassified." Arena 48 (March 1958): 10-13 [12-13].
MacGregor-Hastie shows great respect for Reed in this series on the state of poetry (but little regard for the poets of the 'Thirties).


Hecht's Christmas Bell

In the newly published Selected Letters of Anthony Hecht (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), edited and by Jonathan F.S. Post, we find a letter to fellow poet J.D. McClatchy, reacting to the 1995 publication of Touchstones: American Poets on a Favorite Poem (University Press of New England), to which Hecht had contributed an essay on "Gaze Not on Swans" (attributed to William Strode and Henry Noel).

Book cover

An American contemporary of Henry Reed's, Hecht saw combat in World War II, and was particularly affected by his experience liberating Flossenbürg concentration camp in April of 1945. With few exceptions, he finds little good to say about the Touchstones anthology, and takes a particular exception (Google Books preview) to Marvin Bell's piece on Reed's "Naming of Parts":
December 19, 1995 Washington DC

[To J.D. McClatchy]
Dear Sandy,

I imagine you're away now, either in England or California (I can't keep your travels straight in my memory) but I have just read your excellent little essay on Pope's "Epistle to Miss Blount," and read it not only with delight but with greatly moved feelings. Your essay, brief as it is, seems to me the best thing in the whole book called Touchstones. It is in many ways an odd book. I haven't read it all, and don't think I ever will; but I feel I must surely have covered both the best and worst of it. And these "best" and "worst" fall with astonishing neatness into two distinct camps that are easy to characterize. Let me say right away that I think the "best" are, after you, Wilbur, Justice, Nims (and there may be one or two others as yet unread). The other category is more numerous, and, as I was composing it I began to think I was, as I have long been accused of being, a misogynist, male-chauvinist pig. For my list includes (in no preferential order) Linda Pastan, Maxine Kumin, Erica Jong, Clara Yu, Rosellen Brown, Nancy Willard, Chase Twichell, and (saved by the bell) Marvin Bell.

...All of them, in any case, begin auto-biographically, with a sickening narcissism [and seem] to come to the poem they are ostensibly writing about with some reluctance. They feel all cuddly or martyred about their past, and this is what truly moves them...[.]

But in some ways Bell deserves a special trophy for incomprehension. It's not just that he begins with his own trifling army experience in writing about Henry Reed's "Naming of Parts." It's that there is so much about the poem he fails to grasp, not the least of which being the very clear and touching class distinction between the conscript and the staff sergeant who is lecturing. The difference would be ironically amusing (or mildly offensive) under normal circumstances: the intellectually inferior lecturing his better. But in war time, such roles are either irrelevant or reversed. And the recruit must put up with them not merely because army regulations require his obedience but because his life may depend on knowing what this well-meaning oaf is trying to impart. And all the grounds for resentment are thereby cancelled, and a new, not entirely desirable, basis for existence is established. The wistfulness of the recruit for the pastoral world of harmless nature, and the recollected world of lovers, is juxtaposed, as it was in Hardy's "In a Time of Breaking of Nations," with the familiar irony of war-time brutality.

Anyway, the book is, but for your piece, and one or two others, a silly book, eliciting the worst, the most hopelessly self-absorbed from writers who are far too self-absorbed...[.]

...With warmest and most affectionate wishes for the holiday season and the coming year,

Tony
[pp. 274-275]
It's obvious that Hecht holds Reed's poem with special regard—no doubt from the familiar experience of basic military training—and the comparison with Hardy is both apt and doting. Hecht does not appear to be one to suffer fools lightly, but Bell served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, so perhaps the criticisms regarding the other contributors' narcissism and self-absorption are heavy-handed. As a matter of fact, if you have read the entire letter, it sounds suspiciously as though Hecht may have misunderstood the editors' intentions for the collection.



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.'


Judging Sound and Sense

Perrine's Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry was first published in 1956. Now going on 57 years and updated into its 14th edition, it continues to be a standard text in poetry and literature courses.

Laurence Perrine was born in Toronto, Ontario, and earned his Ph.D. from Yale in 1948. From 1946 until his retirement in 1980, he taught at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where he was appointed the Frensley Professor of English Literature in 1968. In 2007, the estate of Perrine's widow endowed a chair at the university and funded scholarships in her husband's memory.

Sound and Sense provides explanatory chapters on the subjects of imagery, metaphor, allegory, tone, rhythm, and meter, along with exemplary poems both modern and classic, followed by questions for discussion in the classroom. Older editions included Henry Reed's best-known poems from Lessons of the War: "Naming of Parts" and "Judging Distances." Perrine's suggested questions for "Naming of Parts" have been on the Web for some time, so to that let us add his questions for "Judging Distances".

Not everyone agrees with Perrine's personal approach to judging poetry; all writing which has risen to the status of a religious text risks satire. Sound and Sense holds the honor of being the inspiration for the work of the fictional critic and authority, Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, expertly lambasted in the film Dead Poets Society (1989):


(Notice how the "B" of Byron and "S" for Shakespeare conspire to create the accepted abbreviation for "bullshit".) In the chapter "Bad Poetry and Good," Perrine similarly states:

In judging a poem, as in judging any work of art, we need to ask three basic questions: (1) What is its central purpose? (2) How fully has this purpose been accomplished? (3) How important is this purpose? The first question we need to answer in order to understand the poem. The last two questions are those by which we evaluate it. The first of these measures the poem on a scale of perfection. The second measures it on a scale of significance. And, just as the area of a rectangle is determined by multiplying its measurements on two scales, breadth and height, so the greatness of a poem is determined by multiplying its measurements on two scales, perfection and significance. If the poem measures well on the first of these scales, we call it a good poem, at least of its kind. If it measures well on both scales we call it a great poem.
[p. 198]

There's a lot of good in Sound and Sense, but damn. How do you construct a counterargument to refute Dead Poets Society?



1504. Ludwig, Jennifer. "Lessons of the War: Henry Reed." In vol. 2, Literature of War: Experiences, edited by Thomas Riggs. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 2012. 359-361.
A relatively lengthy assessment of Reed's influences, position, and the impact resulting from his famous sequence of poems, Lessons of the War.


Greenville Reads Reed

A review of the American edition of Reed's A Map of Verona and Other Poems appears in a most unlikely place: the Delta Democrat-Times of Greenville, Mississippi, from October 12, 1947. Doubly unusual because the book was only just published on October 8th, so the reviewer must have received an advanced copy. Greenville, I was quick to discover, has a vast and rich literary pedigree, and produced nearly one hundred published writers in the 20th century.

Doris Karsell (1922-2010), was a Denver artist and muralist, educated at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center. She lived and worked in Greenville while her husband was managing editor at the Delta Democrat-Times (owned by Pulitzer Prize winner Hodding Carter), setting up a studio with the illustrator Elizabeth Calvert and advertising personalized book plates, portraits, and murals. Apparently, Doris was affectionately known as "Dodo". You can see a free preview of her review, "New Poet Now Mature," on NewspaperARCHIVE.com:


Karsell begins by chiding another reviewer (Walter Allen?) for attempting to place Reed outside or above the rest of the Eliot-imitating oeuvre ("It is an act of great inaccuracy to preclude"), and then rules the book "the exception and the good." She admires Reed's style, finding "each line in the collection has been cut and finished with precision. One believes that no other form or words could have been used." She discovers a strange kinship with the poet:

As if the words were sent to the receiving system by strings, and breath through hollowed wood, one is made to climb out of the box of his own limitations. One is given the long ribbon of time in its three phases. It is a clever thing that the beginning sketch establishes partnership. For the reader knows he himself has written the first verse which Henry Reed has borrowed. He knows that he is the sole one to experience it.

Most of the rest of the review is pedestrian walking-tour stuff, going through the book chapter-by-chapter, like describing rooms to a houseguest. But Karsell concludes strongly, advising, "Read the whole volume aloud, even should you read it alone," and then finally, prophetically: "It is possible we shall remember Henry Reed."

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1503. King, Francis. Yesterday Came Suddenly: An Autobiography. London: Constable, 1993. 79-80.
Mentions Henry Reed and Angus Wilson making fun of the Bletchley Park Writers' Circle.


UNZ.org

Here's an useful resource for researchers of all walks: UNZ.org, which is billed as "A Free Website for Periodicals, Books, and Videos" provided for "purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research."

The site is well-organized and easy to use (if not looking a little bit like the Internet circa 1996). A quick survey of the 1930s and 40s delivers works by W.H. Auden, C. Day Lewis, Louis MacNeice, and Stephen Spender.

And what of Henry Reed? Turns out there's lots! Including Reed's answer to "The Cost of Letters" questionnaire in the September, 1946 issue of Horizon; G.D. Klingopulos' review of A Map of Verona in the December, 1946 Scrutiny; the first appearance in print of Reed's poem, "The Auction Sale," from the October Encounter of 1958; and Geoffrey Strickland's review of Reed's collected Lessons of the War in the May, 1971 issue of Encounter. Plus, dozens of other mentions of Reed in other journals and periodicals to be sieved through.

Give your favorite author- or poet-of-interest a search, yourself.

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1502. Reed, Henry. Poetry Reading. The Poet Speaks. British Council recording, no. 1636. 12 March 1970. Co-sponsored by the British Council and the Woodberry Poetry Room in the Lamont Library of Harvard University. TAPE ARCHIVE PR6035.E32 A6 1970x, Woodberry Poetry Room, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Henry Reed reads a selection of his poems for the British Council series, The Poet Speaks.


Tomorrow Review

Yet another review of the American edition of Reed's A Map of Verona and Other Poems turned up in Google Book Search recently, this one by the poet, editor, and translator Babette Deutsch.

It appears in the Books section of the October, 1948 issue of Tomorrow. Tomorrow was a literary magazine published by the Creative Age Press in New York from 1941 to 1951, devoted to 'creative living' and to printing 'the real experiences of those who have adjusted themselves to new countries and new processes of living.' It was founded and edited by the Irish medium Eileen J. Garrett (1893-1970), who was once 'probably the best-known and most reliable psychic in the world,' according to Life magazine. She had run a labor hostel in London for wounded soldiers after World War I, and in her memoir Adventures in the Supernormal (1949), she claims 'after the first World War, I was among those who helped gather together the posthumous writings of the young poets.'

In addition to Tomorrow, Mrs. Garrett also established the Parapsychology Foundation of New York in 1951, publishing the International Journal of Parapsychology. This issue of Tomorrow sports critiques of Graham Greene and Aldous Huxley, but also includes a review of Dr. Jan Ehrenwald's Telepathy and Medical Psychology (New York, 1948). As woo-woo as this all sounds, the contributors and writing seem top-notch.

Babette Deutsch was born in New York City in 1895, and was the author of ten books of poems, four novels, and several books of criticism, as well as a respected translation of Eugene Onegin. She lectured at the New School for Social Research and Columbia University, which awarded her an honorary doctorate in 1946. She was married to the translator Avrahm Yarmolinsky, who was the head of the Slavonic Division of the New York Public Library.

Cover

Deutsch reviews Richard Wilbur's The Beautiful Changes and Reed's A Map of Verona, both published a year earlier, in 1947. Wilbur's gift, she feels, is 'to change what his poetry touches back to wonder'; whereas Reed is more 'an unwilling pupil [of Eliot] rebelling against his master,' who 'has not learned his lesson well.'

The Lessons of the War she describes as 'arresting,' and possessing a 'restrained power'; some of his other pieces exhibit a 'melancholy loveliness.' But on the whole, she finds Reed's volume lacking. His verse is 'cloying' in its melodiousness; 'curiously middle-aged' and Georgian; 'soporific' and colorless. Deutsch compares him unfavorably with Aiken, Ransom, and finally Wilbur. All this in one paragraph of 220 words.

To give credit where credit is due: I never would have found Deutsch's review if two-thirds of it weren't devoted to singing the praises of Richard Wilbur. It had been dutifully and lovingly cataloged by Wilbur's biographers and bibliographers.

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1501. Reed, Henry. Interview with Peter Orr. The Poet Speaks. British Council recording, no. 1638. 11 June 1970. Co-sponsored by the British Council and the Woodberry Poetry Room in the Lamont Library of Harvard University. TAPE ARCHIVE PR6035.E32 Z5 1970x, Woodberry Poetry Room, Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Henry Reed speaks with Peter Orr of the British Council, as part of the series The Poet Speaks.


Henry Reed in Canadian Poetry, Eh?

A brief review of the 1946 Canadian printing of Henry Reed's A Map of Verona appears in the March, 1947 issue of Canadian Poetry Magazine, which alludes to "Naming of Parts" and "Chard Whitlow," but lingers on Reed's monologues from Greek myth:

Journal cover

Reed, Henry: A Map of Verona; Clarke Irwin, Toronto (Cape, London); 59 pp.; $1.00.

In the section called Preludes, Mr. Reed shows a neat wit and humanity in parodies of army instruction and of T. S. Eliot in his oracularly non-committal vein. The more serious poems, through a variety of vividly realised images and legends, explore for the most part problems of personal responsibility and activity, and the individual's relation to the life of the community. The prevailing images are of sea and shore, under extremes of heat and cold, the mood strenuous and the expression tense and forceful. The last poems, which deal dramatically, through the figures of Electra's sister Chrysothemis, and of Philoctetes, with the problem of those who would derive a conscious innocence from a weak amiability, or whom justified resentment might tempt into isolation, combine admirably a sustained relevance to their dramatic situation with a broader reference to problems that are perhaps more pressing and more universal now than they have ever been. The paper is not the best, but the printing and binding compare favorably with Canadian books at double the price.
L.A.M.

This critique was written by Professor Louis MacKay (1901-1982), who was, at the time, with the Department of Classics at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver. Hilariously, MacKay was on the staff of the Canadian Forum in 1938 when a poetry chapbook by John Smalacombe, Viper's Bugloss, was submitted for review. MacKay penned a rather unfavorable review (Smalacombe did not "know a sibilant from a snake in the grass"), to which the author replied with a furious, eloquent rebuttal. The Forum had already published both Smalacombe's self-defense and a counter-attack by MacKay before the editors detected any hanky-panky: Smalacombe was actually MacKay's pseudonym; it was his own poetry (Earle Birney, Spreading Time: Remarks on Canadian Writing and Writers, 1904-1949, 1989).



1499. Times (London), "Broadcasting Programmes," 18 June 1964, 6.
Reed's translation of Buzzati's play, "The American Prize," premieres tonight on the Third Programme.


Bookbinder Review

A critique of the design of the 1947 American edition of Reed's poems, from Bookbinding and Book Production, 1948 (p. 85):

Book cover Page
A Map of Verona
    By Henry Reed. 5¼ x 8½. $2.50.
Publisher: Reynal & Hitchcock, Inc.
Manufacturer: Cornwall Press
Type: Lino. Electra 10/13: 24x38
Stock: Perkins & Squier 60, 2R
Binding: Athol Teralin, light green
Stamping: dark brown ink
Designer: Gerald Gross

The format for this collection of poems is without stimulation. The case is stamped only on the length of the spine in brown ink and the pattern and color of the cloth is uninspired. The book is rough trimmed; my own inclinations are always to trim, unless hand made paper or a deckle edged sheet is used. The presswork-lineup and binding are poor. There is little correlation between the front matter pages and the tenor of the text, and it would seem that the designer didn't have enough time to pay the necessary attention to details. The poetry is nicely set in Electra 10/13 with with heads in 12pt. Roman caps in Bodoni Book. The folios could have been larger than the 8pt. italic: this way they look as though they were trying to hide. The author is a man of considerable verbiage and very often there are one word runovers and where these occur, they are flushed right, directly under the end of the preceding line, it may make for easier carry-over of thought, but I'm not sure that the effect is pleasing when looking at the page. I didn't waste time sending my eye back to the beginning of a new line, but I did fumble at first until I was able to adjust to it.
'[A] man of considerable verbiage.' There's an understatement. If there is a British analogue of this publication, I'd love to see the entry for the 1946 London edition, published by Jonathan Cape.

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1495. Reed, Henry. "Proust's Way." Reviews of Marcel Proust: A Selection from His Miscellaneous Writings translated by Gerard Hopkins, and The Two Worlds of Marcel Proust by Harold March. Observer, 16 January 1949, 4.
Reed says, 'Proust, like Shakespeare, should be read as early in life as possible, and should be read entire.'


Two Short Reviews

Much to my surprise, dragging the seemingly bottomless, boundless ocean of Google Book Search continues to net contemporary criticism of Reed's A Map of Verona: Poems, published in March of 1946. The two most recent catches are short critiques found schooling amidst and amongst much larger book review sections in the magazines Britain To-day and John O'London's Weekly.

The latter was the first to appear, in June 1946: "Poets Worth Praising," by Richard Church, author of the World War I poem, "Mud" ('Twenty years ago / My generation learned / To be afraid of mud. / We watched its vileness grow, / Deeper and deeper churned / From earth, spirit, and blood'). In addition to Reed's book, Church reviews The Golden Year of Fan Cheng-Ta by Gerald Bullet, Talking Bronco by Roy Campbell, London Saga by Stowers Johnson, The Voyage by Edwin Muir, and Vita Sackville-West's The Garden. While he devotes little more than three paragraphs to A Map of Verona, Church's evaluation of Reed is unequivocally positive:

John O'London's

He appears as a man of wry, almost sly, humour, endowed with a shrewd critical mind that gives his first work a matter-of-factness wholly acceptable to the fastidious reader's palate. In that technique of dry statement, sometimes almost categorical, you discover a highly individual poetic faculty. It gives his work a stillness that is startling, like the skies in Dali's queer pictures.

A few months later "A Poet of Sensibility" appears, in the October, 1946 issue of Britain To-day. I had brief hopes that this review had been penned by the pre-eminent critic and scholar, Kathleen Raine (Raine's article "English Poetry Since 1939" appears in this issue), but it turned out to have been written by an obscure poet and critic, A.C. Boyd. Boyd is quick to mention Reed's debt to Eliot, but doesn't find Reed slavish, as many other critics do:

Britain To-day

We know of Mr. Reed's admiration for T.S. Eliot and Edith Sitwell, but he is no slavish imitator of either of them, indeed his talent is unusually original and spontaneous. For sheer invention we can turn to Lessons of the War, in which the poet has reproduced the gabble of the sergeant-instructor on Unarmed Combat and so forth and shot it through with most sensitive observations and a lightning play of wit—a seriocomic fantasia which is a joy to meet.

There is passing mention of "Chard Whitlow," and praise for both the early poems as well as the Antigone monologues, but Boyd concludes by extolling Reed's series of four poems on the Arthurian legend of Tristan and Iseult:

The dramatic monologue, the recounted allegory, here passion, irony, and a critical intelligence and boundless curiosity to explore experience can find full play. But in his use of what one might call the inflected 'voice' he is never extravagantly rhetorical, in fact he speaks often enough in a near-prose murmur; he can be deliberately ingenuous or rise to a tragic intensity all in the same poem. He has equal command of the long, modulated sentence as of the more limpid, short line. Everything in this small book is of interest, but the haunting beauty and sweep of imagination of the Tintagel poems is something to be thankful for in these days of austerity.

Boyd himself is obscure enough that he doesn't even rate his own Wikipedia page. Almost all I can discover about him comes from a 1939 issue of Denys Kilham Roberts' Penguin Parade, which features Boyd's poem, "Death of a Poet" ("Cover the frost-bitten features, the twisted hand; / Straighten the shattered limbs, / And the eyes, icicled, that could not weep"). The contributors' notes state he was born in 1902, and that he was raised in India, where his father was a judge. He was educated at University College, London, and held a diploma in librarianship.

According to A Companion to Pablo Neruda (2008, p. 164), Boyd and his architect brother Andrew were the first to translate the Chilean poet's works into English, Andrew having befriended Neruda in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), around 1936.

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1494. Reed, Henry. "Rates for Reviewing." Author, Playwright and Composer 57, no. 4 (Summer 1947): 64-68 [67].
'The whole rackety business is a microcosm of human weakness and wickedness,' Reed says.


Blurb In The Bell

My excursion to retrieve a review of Happy as Larry was sweetened by an unexpected dividend: a brief review of Reed's A Map of Verona in the June, 1946 issue of The Bell. The Irish poet (and lifelong diplomat) Valentin Iremonger reviews collections by Lawrence Durrell, Edwin Muir, and Geoffrey Grigson:

Checklist

After the acrobatics and posturings of the New Romantic poets in England during the last few years, these books come as a welcome relief. None of these poets is committed to any school, which means that their experiences may be interpreted by them without any preconceived notions as to the significance that must be extracted from them or the slant with their imagery must take. Furthermore, their work is distinguished by a fundamental brain-work (an all-too-rare thing in contemporary verse) and a general acknowledgment that a poem is an intellectual structure, that 'prayer and fasting,' so to speak, are essentials for the poet. [...]

Henry Reed's is one of the most impressive first volumes I have seen for some time. His shorter lyrics (with the exception of 'The Wall') are not very distinguished but there are four long poems in the volume which are really first rate achievements. The poems on two characters from Sophocles, Chrysothemis and Philoctetes show an intuitive understanding of experiences that are among the commonest known.
V.I.
[pp. 263-265]

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1493. Simon, John. "Are You Illiterate about Modern Poetry?" Vogue 138, no. 8 (1 November 1961): 124-125, 174, 177-180 [177].
Simon mentions Reed's "Naming of Parts," and alludes to "Chard Whitlow."


Yes, Mr. Reed, I've Read Your Poem

When an anecdote turns out to be more amusing than accurate, I will usually grant points just for sheer entertainment value. Such is the case with this humorous aside, which appears in Reed's entry in the Encyclopedia of British Writers (New York: Facts on File, 2003). Funny as it may be, it unfortunately perpetuates Reed's reputation as having written only one poem worthy of remembering:

After World War II Reed published A Map of Verona (1946), a book of poetry in five sections. The section called 'Lessons of the War' contains poems based on his brief and unsatisfying experience in the army. One of these poems, 'Naming of Parts,' became widely anthologized and so well known as an antiwar poem that it made Reed famous as a one-poem poet and overshadowed his other work. (On being introduced to him, a person would usually say, 'Oh, Mr. Reed, I've read your poem.')

Now, I was curious as to where this chestnut may have originated; I didn't recognize any of the editors of the encyclopedia, and it appears rather suddenly in the fossil record. Another quick search of Google Books turns up a previous appearance, in Elements of Literature, Sixth Course: Literature of Britain (Austin, Texas: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1993):

Book cover

Henry Reed was born and educated in the industrial city of Birmingham. As an adult, he served in the British army and the diplomatic corps. He then began a career as a journalist in London, where he was well known for his wit and satirical imagination. More limited in output than any other significant poet of his generation, Reed's fame rests entirely on a single work. Constantly anthologized everywhere in the English-speaking world, 'Naming of Parts' has long been one of the staples of modern poetry. (The story goes that a faculty member, introduced to the poet for the first time, said, 'Oh yes, Mr. Reed, I've read your poem.') Excerpted from a longer poem published in Reed's first volume, A Map of Verona (1946), 'Naming of Parts' contrasts gentleness with rude actuality, the voice of a man of action with the musings of a dreamer. In the process, it transcends the fact that, in spite of its Cockney lilt, the language of most of the poems is as flat as the prose of a training manual.

That's a lovely summation, and apparently the source for the story's appearance in the Encyclopedia of British Writers. The Elements of Literature series was edited by Robert Anderson (1917-2009). Anderson was a playwright and screenwriter, best known for his 1953 play, Tea and Sympathy, which was produced as a feature film in 1956, starring Deborah Kerr ("Years from now when you talk about this—and you will—be kind"). Anderson would seem to be a reputable source, so I'll go ahead award him the points he's due. I wonder who the offending faculty member may have been?



1492. Bogan, Louise. Works in the Humanities Published in Great Britain, 1939-1946: A Selective List. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1950. 78.
Reed is placed among "new names of interest and importance" in poetry.


British Poetry Since 1939

The HathiTrust (from the Hindi word for "elephant") is an enormous online repository, a partnership committed to archiving and sharing the collections of nearly 30 university libraries' content, digitized for Google Book Search and the Internet Archive. The collaboration currently includes the University of California system, the University of Chicago, Columbia University, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan State, the University of Minnesota, the New York Public Library, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, the University of Virginia, and Wisconsin. Thus far they have scanned an amazing total of 6,268,067 volumes: 3,677,339 book titles, and 147,898 serial titles. It's an armchair researcher's dream.

Member libraries have full access to the scanned books, but visitors can still search the catalog and receive page references for the appearance of keywords in the full-text, and even some full view titles (see, for example, John Lehmann's 1960 autobiography, I Am My Brother). I've been poking around, looking for references to Henry Reed. To my surprise, I actually turned up a book with a whole 6-page section devoted to Reed, in Bruce K. Martin's British Poetry Since 1939 (Boston: Twayne, 1985), necessitating a trip to town to track down a copy at VCU's James Branch Cabell Library:

Library

In the chapter "Poetry in Wartime: Douglas, Lewis, and Reed," Martin surveys Reed's only volume of poetry, and finds "it is difficult to discern in the mere twenty-four poems making up A Map of Verona any pervasive ideology," though "even the least interesting of Reed's pieces combines a delicacy of tone and prosodic caution generally absent from the work of his contemporaries in uniform writing more realistically" (p. 41).

Furthermore, he sees Reed's tendency toward extended monologue as a natural prelude to his freelance career writing for the BBC: "Reed's less distinguished poems further suggest his gravitation toward dramatic characterization, a trend wholly realized in his later career as a distinguished writer of dramas and radio plays."

While we may regret that Reed has written few poems since the publication of A Map of Verona, his decision to shift his attention as a writer appears in retrospect a most logical and plausible outcome of developments evident in his poetry. Clearly he was moving toward something like drama, as his poetry increasingly came to resemble spoken words determined by the specifics of personality, time, and place. In this Reed resembles Keith Douglas and Alun Lewis, as well as many other wartime poets, for he ultimately shows a distrust of the large-scale statement, empty rhetoric, and vague romanticism that had infected English poetry during the thirties and early forties. That Reed's own solution to such a dilemma was unique makes him no less a representative figure.
(p. 45-46)

One minor point: Martin describes the instructor's exhortation in "Unarmed Combat" that "The readiness is all" as an "unwitting allusion to Lear" (p. 43), referring to Edgar's pronouncement: "Men must endure / Their going hence, even as their coming hither; / Ripeness is all: come on" (Act V, scene ii). Looking to Hamlet, however, we find the Prince of Denmark telling Horatio, directly:
Not a whit, we defy augury: there's a special
providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now,
'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the
readiness is all: since no man has aught of what he
leaves, what is't to leave betimes?

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1491. Thomson, R.W. "Entre Nous." Expository Times 58, no. 2 (November 1946): 55-56 [56].
Reviews of recent poetry mentions publication of Reed's A Map of Verona, and quotes from his poem, "Iseult la Belle."


Old Soldiers

I've never shied from putting up bad reviews of Henry Reed's poetry. It's possible, even, to take some small, secret pride when Randall Jarrell calls Reed, in 1948, "a nap after dinner." Many critics find Reed to be too reminiscent of Auden and Eliot and, with the exception of his parodies, some even think Reed's work is altogether unoriginal, uninspired, or (like Jarrell) just plain tiresome. Still, almost without exception, most critics manage to find one or two poems which they can call insightful, unique, or skilled in execution.

Such is the case with Herbert Lomas, reviewing Reed's Collected Poems for The London Magazine in 1992. Lomas recalls, upon reading A Map of Verona in 1946, that he found Reed "boringly written." He then proceeds to rediscover all the disinteresting adjectives and adverbs, the "clichés and doggerel," and "dim" language. At times, Lomas almost seems to be reviewing the introduction to the Collected Poems, rather than the poems, themselves: everything Stallworthy finds praiseworthy, Lomas finds at fault.

Cover

Herbert Lomas was born in 1924, making him nearly Reed's peer; more so, perhaps, since Lomas served in the infantry during World War II, including two years with the Indian Army's Garhwal Rifles, in the North-West Frontier. At the outset of his review, Lomas admits he "rejoiced" at Reed's "Naming of Parts," which must been repeated like a pop song by well-read soldiers of the Second World War. Indeed, here is a poem by Lomas himself, with a familiar-sounding voice: "Lincoln, Autumn 1943."

Now, lest you think I am attempting some sort of argumentum ad hominem, I will add that Lomas does, in fact, have some very complimentary things to say about Reed's poems. "The Château"—which Lomas quotes at length—"has a plangent cadence, syntactical rhythms, a climactic long trail, and there is potential sublimity in the notion." This is Reed, "at his best." He is "extremely intelligent and gifted," and "no doubt charming," but his serious verse lacks, for Lomas, the smartness and surprising turns to be found in the humorous poems. Altogether, a not-entirely unfair assessment.

Henry might even see the humor in this: a bad review for his birthday.



1490. Radio Times, Billing for Malatesta, 22 February 1952, 27.
Reed's translation of de Montherlant's play is scheduled for February 26, 1952.


True and False

A short review—too short to add to the criticism page, I'm afraid—of Henry Reed's Collected Poems. Rodney Pybus, in the Stand Magazine (Summer 1993), reviews Richard Hugo's Making Certain It Goes On, Thinking of Happiness by Michael Laskey, Threats and Promises by Rosemary Norman, HMS Glasshouse by Sean O'Brien, In the Echoey Tunnel by Christopher Reid, Pierrot by Harry Smart, The View from the Stockade by Landeg White, and Audrey T. Rogers' Denise Levertov: The Poetry of Engagement, as well as providing this assessment of Reed:

Poetry Chronicle II

The Collected Poems (ed. J. Stallworthy; OUP, £20) of the late Henry Reed puts the lie to the notion that he was a one-poem poet ('Naming of Parts') who also wrote a brilliant parody of T.S. Eliot, 'Chard Whitlow' ('As we get older we do not get any younger...'). He wrote some first-rate drama for BBC radio in the great days of the Third Programme (e.g. The Streets of Pompeii, and the famous Hilda Tablet plays). While it is true that he published only one collection during his lifetime, A Map of Verona in 1946, it was still being reprinted twenty-five years later.

Reed is part of post-war English poetry for what he wrote in the Forties and Fifties; it's good to have him in print, and to see 'The Changeling', 'The Auction Sale', and all five of the 'Lessons of War'. He wrote less than he should have done, but he is worth saving for his distinctive note of exclusion from and loss of love, paradise, fulfilment. He turned, as so many of his contemporaries did, to the Mediterranean for all it could offer that England couldn't — 'the Italian landscape of mythologised desire'. It is not only the soldier returning home at the end of 'The Changeling' to a lovely garden at dusk and a young wife in bed, but clearly Reed himself, who feels the force of rejection and disillusion at the close: '"All this is false. And I / Am an interloper here."' (Reed's homosexuality does not entirely account for the strength of his feeling.) This edition reprints his first book, adds about a dozen 'new' poems along with translations (particularly from Leopardi's Italian).

It's nice to see recognition of "The Changeling," published only once during Reed's lifetime, in The Listener in 1950, which is now considered one of Reed's best poems. Stallworthy, in his introduction to the Collected Poems, calls it a 'brilliantly condensed autobiography,' that 'uses the changeling figure (from his mother's fairy-stories) and the family legend of noble descent to articulate a troubling sense of doubleness: true self and false self.'



1489. Times (London), "Broadcasting," 9 April 1951, 6.
Reed's 'play about Leopardi,' The Unblest, is scheduled for this evening.


Copy and Paste

Copy and Paste
Revue des Langues Vivantes, v. 14 (1948), p. 176.

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1488. Williams, Oscar, ed. A Pocket Book of Modern Verse. Rev. ed. New York: Washington Square Press, 1958. 538-539.
Collects the second of Reed's Lessons of the War, "Judging Distances."


Spectator Review

The smallest of book reviews appears in the August 23, 1946 Spectator's "New Poetry". Sheila Shannon critiques Grigson's Isles of Scilly; Talking Bronco, by Roy Campbell; The Voyage and Other Poems, by Edwin Muir; and Henry Reed's A Map of Verona. She begins by invoking the Romantics:

Shelley, in his preface to The Revolt of Islam, defined as one of the most essential attributes of poetry 'the power of awakening in others sensations like those animate in my own bosom.' It is an attribute often overlooked, this power to communicate not ideas or images but sensations, to reach at some moment the heart of the reader; it is not perhaps the most important, but it is an essential one.

Shannon then devotes half a page to Grigson, spends half a page on Campbell, a mere two paragraphs on Muir, and can finally only lend five sentences to Reed, without so much as a quote.

Henry Reed's first book—A Map of Verona—provides (I can only say for me) a great deal of enjoyment. Here is a young poet. All sensation if you like; but sensation springing from imagination with the true poet's gift of making the real imaginary. It is highly romantic, young poetry, but written by someone with an ear and a self-indulgent appreciation of words and their musical and evocative power. At present the obvious influence is T.S. Eliot, but Mr. Reed has a strong enough talent to assimilate in time even so seductive a master.
Sheila Shannon (p. 198)

At least they were most favorable sentences! I particularly relish her turn of phrase, about true poets "making the real imaginary."

Sheila Shannon was married to Patric Dickinson, and was both a poet and editor of poetry. Her poems appeared in the Spectator, Observer, and Poetry London, and were collected in The Lightning-Struck Tower (1947).

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1487. Bailey, L.W. "Writer Remembered: Henry Reed." The Author 106, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 26-27.
Bailey writes a remembrance of Reed's time at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.


The Significance of Poetry London

In 1947, the academician D.J. Enright wrote a scathing indictment of the leading poetry magazine at the time, Poetry London. Founded in 1939 by Tambimuttu, Poetry London established the reputations of many poets of the 1940s, and famously published a "Poets in Uniform" number in 1941, which included the work of George Barker, G.S. Fraser, David Gascoyne, and Alun Lewis.

Cover of Poetry London

Born in 1920, Dennis Joseph Enright taught abroad in Egypt, Japan, Thailand, and Singapore for many years, before returning to Britain in 1970. Enright belonged to The Movement, a loose confederation of poets who were allied against the excessive romanticism of the earlier poetry of the 1930s and '40s, preferring more sober, rational efforts. Enright's article, "The Significance of Poetry London," appeared in the first issue of The Critic, in the spring of 1947. It is an attack on what Enright felt was the magazine's indiscriminate inclusiveness, or "anti-critical" editorial policies. The full text of the article is not available online, but we can piece the gist of Enright's arguments together from different sources:

Since 1939 (in February of which year the magazine Poetry London was inaugurated) something, it would seem, has happened to poetry. To suggest another aspect of the problem we might vary the proposition and say that since 1939 very little of any permanent value has happened in poetry. Never before have poets sprung up so thickly, never before has publication (given the right contacts) been so easy—but hardly ever before has accepted and recognized work shown such a striking uniformity of weakness. The question before us now is: Has the latter fact any connexion with the former facts? Can it, even, be a case of effect and causes?
The Poetry of the Forties in Britain (1985), p. 277

Poetry is fast becoming a drug on the market; if an interesting poet emerges it is more than possible that his individual voice will be drowned in the general clamour; for every person who reads modern poetry without writing any, there are five who write poetry without ever reading any except their own and their friends'; the most influential verse magazine extant has consigned 'the critic' to an unpleasant death and openly disclaimed any principle other than catholicity; what little criticism is permitted has to remember that we are all poets, and poets ought to be one happy family, living together in a kind of pre-fabricated barn called an 'autonymous tradition.'
Civil Humor: The Poetry of Gavin Ewart (2003), p. 277, 15n

And my favorite bit:

There really ought to be a society for the prevention of cruelty to metaphors. These Poetry London poets flog their overworked metaphors mercilessly, force them into the most unnatural postures, pour gallon upon gallon of obscure pathos into them, until they burst—into bathos.

This last comes from Blake Morrison's book, The Movement: English Poetry and Fiction of the 1950s (Oxford University Press, 1980, p. 34), which also provides this tantalizing quote: 'Enright exempted from his criticism only one Poetry London contributor, Henry Reed, whose "Lessons of the War" he admired because "too modest, or too wise, to attempt to deal directly with War"' [sic].

I had previously scanned the wartime issues of Poetry London, looking for an appearance by Reed, but came up empty handed. I'm not sure if Morrison is correct in calling Reed a "contributor" to the magazine, or if he simply inferred it from Enright's praise. The university library's holdings are incomplete, and they have since removed the entire run to Rare Books for safekeeping.

Interestingly enough, in what appears to be a rebuttal in late 1947, Poetry London quotes Enright on Reed: 'The critic then proceeds to find Mr. Henry Reed's Lessons of the War "the best war poetry I have read."'

The Critic published only two issues before it was absorbed into Politics & Letters, making it rather difficult to find. In 1955, D.J. Enright edited (and contributed to) a collection of Movement poets, Poets of the 1950s, comprised of work by Kingsley Amis, Robert Conquest, Donald Davie, John Holloway, Elizabeth Jennings, Philip Larkin, and John Wain. Blake Morrison would later provide Enright's obituary for The Guardian, in 2003.



1486. Perrine, Laurence. Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956. 37-39.
Reprints Reed's "Naming of Parts," and provides sample questions for discussion in the classroom.


Bebbington on Poetry in Wartime

In early 1946, the critic and editor William George Bebbington wrote an article comparing the poetry of the First and Second World Wars: "Of the Moderns Without Contempt" (Poetry Review 37, no. 1 [1946]: 17-28). From the Great War, Bebbington chooses as his examples Rupert Brooke's "The Soldier," and "Battery Moving Up to a New Position from Rest Camp: Dawn," by Robert Nichols. For World War II, the selected poems are "A Wartime Dawn," by David Gascoyne, and "Spring 1942," by Roy Fuller.

In his introductory paragraphs, Bebbington reveals his purpose as championing the arguments made by Henry Reed, whose articles on contemporary wartime poetry for the Listener in January of 1945 resulted in an explosion of vehement letters from readers, which dragged on into March of that year (see "Points from Letters" for the entire exchange). While he calls Reed a "protagonist," Bebbington does not explicitly name the Listener as the source of his inspiration, but trusts that Reed's articles and the ensuing correspondence were well-enough known to his audience:

Poetry Review

Of the Moderns Without Contempt
In a recently published correspondence the intelligibility and popularity of modern poetry have been vociferously discussed, and accusations of considerable ferocity have been made. For instance, phrases like "a great sham, a prodigious bubble and a naïve hoax" have been used. The particular writer who expressed this surprising mixture of denunciations spoke simply of "modern poetry," and so far as he is concerned, therefore, all modern poetry is a naïve hoax and every modern poet is a charlatan. It is indeed a sweeping statement, but, to make matters worse, no analysis of how modern poetry is a sham, a bubble and a hoax was offered: the statement stood alone in its thundering glibness. One remembers how Martyn Skinner described "much modern verse": "vomit, nonsense, or mere deep-sea ink."

If only this particular writer (or Martyn Skinner) were concerned, however, there would be no cause for any modern poet or any student of poetry to be alarmed. But he is not alone. Unfortunately, there are all too many like him to-day making similarly unsupported and vulgar attacks on modern poetry, and all too many idle readers prepared to enjoy the saucy manner in which their attacks are made, and to accept their crude statements as true.

As Henry Reed, a protagonist in the correspondence, observed, such attacks on contemporary poetry are not new: history shows that many an artist's work must wait, often until after his death, for a true public valuation of it. T. S. Eliot's and W. H. Auden's poetry, Louis MacNeice's and C. Day Lewis's, is not inevitably destined to be forgotten merely because it has some noisy enemies to-day; nor does the fact of its present mass unpopularity necessarily mean either that it is not poetry at all or that it will never become widely respected and influential.

But let us not ignore present facts. Our modern poets are not popular, any more than our modern musicians or painters; nor are they even politely spoken of by those who do not read them—and it is this latter fact which is both new and disturbing. The poet as a species has not often been an object of public esteem simply by virtue of being a poet, but at least he has not been abused and rejected as a madman, a hypocrite or a criminal. The public at large may for most of our history have regarded him as at best a harmless fellow, but still it has, almost instinctively, believed in his integrity and the integrity of those who have been so idle as to read his work. To-day, however, the term "modern poetry" has become synonymous in the public mind with such expressions as meaningless doggerel," "cut-up prose" and "prodigious bubble." The publisher's blurb is careful to assure us that Julian Symons commands our attention because he is "one of the least obscure of modern poets"; Adam Fox in English (Spring 1943), writes: "the moderns, of whom Mr. Eliot is the leader and main inspiration, are in process of being abandoned even by serious readers of poetry as too unintelligible and only faintly pleasurable"; and even so discreet a poet and critic as Edmund Blunden does not miss the opportunity to stoke up the fire on which the books of the Moderns must be burnt, when in Cricket Country he writes: "but the author had made his meaning sufficiently clear: I trust that this will not be too much against him at the present time." In short, to be a modern poet to-day is to be a literary pariah dog.

It cannot be denied that a considerable proportion of modern verse demands of its reader much concentration and re-reading, but no sincere student of the art of poetry would consider such a demand in itself unjust; far poetry is not merely entertainment or even a form of recreation, it is an art—and art is not always easy either to create or to appreciate. It cannot be denied also that much modern verse is obscure, but much great poetry of the past is obscure in the sense that its subject-matter is uncommon, its imagery intricate and its vocabulary subtle (the love-poetry of Donne, for example). It cannot be denied that some modern verse is meaningless to a sufficient number of its serious readers to render its publication futile. It cannot be denied that some modern verse is not poetry at all. But to say these things is different from saying that all modern verse is obscure or meaningless or not poetry at all. For it is not the function of the critic to make glib generalisations, but to separate, analytically, the good from the bad, the genuine poem from the false verse or the "cut-up prose."

In the correspondence already mentioned, which originated from two articles written by Henry Reed [Poetry in War-Time: "The Older Poets", and "The Younger Poets"] on the subject of contemporary wartime poetry, Alun Lewis and Sidney Keyes, Stephen Spender and David Gascoyne were forced out of the discussion in favour of Rupert Brooke. It was argued that his popularity during the last war and the fact that a few of his lines are often quoted prove that he was a true poet who poetically expressed the general emotion of his day, whereas the modern poets of to-day are unreadable by any but a select few, and even they are as likely as not only pretending to understand.
W. G. Bebbington. [p. 17-18]
In his conclusion, Bebbington seeks to broker a sort of peace between older war poetry, and the new poetry of man-at-war: 'So their poetry is different, belonging to an older order, expressed in an older idiom, quieter, less severe, less analytical, less subjective. They are our modern cavalier poets, still writing for a court which has by now been almost wholly destroyed. They may not wish to recognise the destruction, but it is real enough to other men who are already seeking to build a new and very different court.'



1485. Duff, Alan. The Third Language: Recurrent Problems of Translation into English (It Ain't What You Do, It's the Way That You Do It). Toronto: Pergamon Press, 1981. 86.
Quotes from Reed's poem, "Judging Distances."


Bogan's New Yorker Blurb

It's always bothered me that Henry Reed's entry in Contemporary Authors lists among his accomplishments: 'Contributor of poetry and criticism to periodicals, including Poetry, New Yorker, Theatre Arts, Nation, Newsweek, and Time.' Articles and reviews which mention Reed, his poetry or translations, do appear in all these publications, but as far as I know, he never authored a poem or piece of criticism for any of the listed periodicals. It's as though some editor lazily flipped through a subject heading card file, or ran a keyword search for his name.

Reed comes up several times in the New Yorker, when his adaptations of Ugo Betti were staged on Broadway in 1955 and 1982, and there's a review for his translation of Buzzati's Larger Than Life, in 1968. So I was surprised to find a reference to "Brief notes on works by Henry Reed and Rolfe Humphries" in a bibliography of the writings of Louise Bogan.

Bogan was poetry editor of the New Yorker for 38 years, from 1931 until her retirement in 1969. But it was difficult for me to believe that I could have missed something as huge as a whole book review for Henry Reed. As it turns out, the American edition of Reed's poetry collection, A Map of Verona, and Other Poems, receives mention in the "Briefly Noted" portion of the Books column in the New Yorker issue for November 22, 1947 (p. 140):

New Yorker blurb

Two sentences barely even qualify as a blurb, but "accomplished", and "one of the few memorable pieces", coming from Louise Bogan? That'll do just fine. (Rolfe Humphries, of course, was later shamefully abused by cronies Reed and Elizabeth Bishop.)

You know those funny little excerpts from small town newspapers that the New Yorker uses as filler at the end of columns? Like "Constabulary Notes from All Over"? The one following Reed's blurb reads like a parody of "Naming of Parts": 'That greenish tinge on October oranges is a botanical peculiarity. It needn't bother you. These oranges are at their sweetest for they have been ripening on the trees since last May. The color does not mean that they are at their sweetest for they have been ripening on the the trees since last May.—Richmond Times-Dispatch.'

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1484. Gross, John, ed. The Oxford Book of Parodies. London: Oxford University Press, 2010. 89-90, 132.
Collects Reed's parodies of Thomas Hardy and T.S. Eliot.


Forster Talks to India

On the evening of December 24, 1944, the BBC Home Service broadcast an anthology of poetry called a "Poet's Christmas," with readings of new work by Laurie Lee, C. Day-Lewis, and Henry Reed. Reed's selection, "The Return," is a an allegory of remembrance and the Second Coming:
Remember on Christmas Eve, as you stand in the doorway there
And regard us as strangers, the forgotten love we bear,

And shall bear it always over the frozen snow
When the door is shut again, and once again we go.

The souls of the forgotten, for whom there is no repose
When the music begins again, and again the doors close,

For whom a thought of yours would come the length
Of a whole dark hemisphere to give us strength.
The "Poet's Christmas" was printed in The Listener on December 28, 1944 (.pdf). "The Return" was not entirely well-received by later critics, including G.D. Klingopulos, who called it 'facile and unfocussed' (Scrutiny, Summer 1946), and William Elton, who described it as a 'hurdy-gurdy of sentiment' (Poetry, June 1948). The Christmas Eve broadcast, however, drew the attention of none other than the novelist E.M. Forster, who composed a letter to Reed that very night in order to commend the poem. Two copies of Forster's letter exist: one in Forster's papers at King's College, Cambridge; the other with Reed's papers at the University of Birmingham. The letter is noted in Birmingham's description of the Papers of Henry Reed (Archives Hub):

Unfortunately, Reed did not keep the correspondence he received; although, interestingly, the collection does contain a photocopy of a letter written to Reed by E. M. Forster and praising Reed's poem The Return which was broadcast on BBC radio on Christmas Eve 1944. To have kept the letter Reed must have highly valued Forster's praise.

In the Collected Poems of Henry Reed, Jon Stallworthy provides the following annotation for "The Return," which quotes from Forster's letter:

E.M. Forster, hearing this Christmas Eve poem on the BBC Home Service on 24 December 1944, wrote to the author the same evening of the poem's connection with 'the idea that the only reality in human civilization is the unbroken sequence of people caring for one another: an idea, Forster said, which 'cannot be prettified into reciprocity or faithfulness, nor is there any such prettification in your poem'. A photocopy of Forster's holograph letter was preserved among HR's papers.
(p. 157)

I had long thought that this was the first (and only) notice Forster had taken of Reed, until the recent publication of a collection Forster's radio scripts, The BBC Talks of E.M. Forster, 1929-1960: A Selected Edition (Mary Lago, Linda K. Hughes, and Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, eds., University of Missouri Press, 2008).

BBC Talks of E.M. Forster

Between 1928 and 1963, E.M. Forster gave 145 talks for BBC radio, on literary topics ranging from Tolstoy's War and Peace, to contemporary Indian novelists writing in English. No fewer than 77 of Forster's talks were broadcast in India on the BBC's Eastern Transmission service. Forster, in fact, preferred the Overseas Services, as his talks were less subject to censorship (though still tightly controlled), and during the Second World War many of his India broadcasts were repeated in Africa, North America, and the Pacific (see B.J. Kirkpatrick's bibliography, "E.M. Forster's Broadcast Talks," Twentieth Century Literature 31, nos. 2-3, [Summer/Autumn 1985]: 329-341).

The BBC Talks reproduces the script of a wireless broadcast Forster gave as part of his monthly series "Some Books," in which he reviewed new books which would be of interest to English-speakers in India. Delivered on April 1, 1942, this particular review deviated from Forster's regular preference for prose, and was devoted to recent poetry. He recommends several new anthologies: The Little Book of Modern Verse (Anne Ridler, ed., Faber and Faber, 1941); Modern Verse, 1900-1940 (Phyllis Jones, ed., Oxford University Press, 1941); The Best Poems of 1941 (Thomas Moult, ed., Johnathan Cape, 1942); and Poems from the Forces (Keidrych Rhys, ed., Routledge, 1941).

Additionally, Forster suggests, '[I]f you take in the BBC periodical "The Listener," be sure you read the poems which appear in its pages: they are usually poems by the youngest generation, and I shall quote from one of them — Henry Reed's "Map of Verona" in a moment' (p. 179). Forster reads from two poems: George Barker's "To Robert Owen" (1939), and then from "A Map of Verona," which first appeared in The Listener on March 12, 1942 (.pdf):

It is a subtle haunting dream which has nothing to do with the war or with any practible peace. It plays with the idea of a map of an unvisited city, which we brood over, and upon which our imagination feeds...[.]

He has visited Naples once, after similar brooding, and knows that a map of a city cannot reveal a city, but his thoughts are of Verona now, and all his talk envisages her, and leads towards her...[.]

The Verona of this poem is not an enemy town, in Mussolini's possession, but a city of the heart, a possession of the imagination. The poem is personal, and since poetry, whether written by the old or the young, should be an individual expression, I am glad to conclude with it.
(pp. 181-182)

There is an unfortunate but all-too-familiar postscript to this story. The notes for the April, 1942, "Some Books" broadcast indicate that the original typescript had the poem's author written as "Henry Green", and while Forster's BBC typist was known for making mistakes based on his handwriting, and Forster frequently improvised from his finished scripts, it seems unlikely the error was noticed before being aired. Forster even makes a point in his introduction that "Henry Green" is not to be confused with the critic, Herbert Read! Despite the misattribution, Forster's selection of Reed's poem is an estimable endorsement.

The BBC Talks of E.M. Forster was reviewed in The New York Review of Books, on August 14, 2008.

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1483. Tiller, Terrence. "1904 and All That." Reviews of Poetry of the Present, edited by Geoffrey Grigson, and Contemporary Irish Poetry, edited by Robert Greacen and Valentin Iremonger. Tribune, 22 July 1949, 18-19 [19].
Tiller is skeptical of Grigson's latest anthology, as it neglects to include Durrell, Reed, or himself.


Viewless Fields of Air

Happy Labor Day, comrades! I am enjoying a much-needed day off, despite the university being in full session, as classes began only last week. I worked twelve days in a row (plus a Pleasant Valley Sunday), and today I get to celebrate the fruits of that labor. I've been trying to get caught up on items which I copied or collected over the summer: tidbits, hors d'oeuvres, and appetizers, mostly; mentions, blurbs, and anthologies.

Two items come from the serial British Book News, a monthly collection of reviews of new books, put out by the British Council between 1941 and 1993 as a purchasing guide for schools and libraries.

The earliest entry for Henry Reed appears to be from July, 1946 (.pdf); a recommendation for Reed's poetry collection, A Map of Verona:

a map of verona. Henry Reed. Cape, 3s. 6d. lC8. 60 pages.

The first book of a distinguished poet and critic. Stylistically, Mr. Reed is considerably influenced by the later manner of T.S. Eliot. In the title poem he muses over a map and its literary and historical associations; in 'Tintagel' he evokes memories of Tristram and Iseult in the ruins of the castle; the more Tennysonian 'Philoctetes' and 'Chrysothemis' take the reader back to the ancient Greek world. There is also an ironical section, 'Lessons of the War'.
(p. 276-277)

Later (much later), in the British Book News for February, 1972 (.pdf), we find an announcement for the publication of Reed's twin collections of BBC radio plays, Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio, and The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio (1971):

British Book News
(p. 153)

The Housman quote, while a lovely sentiment and excellent metaphor for radio, is gotten slightly wrong. It should be 'They sign with conflagration / The empty moors of air' (Google Book Search). (I'm not sure where "viewless fields of air" is lifted from. The earliest I can find is in The Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist, serialized by Charles Brockden Brown between 1803 and 1805.)

Reed also appears in British Book News for his pamphlet of criticism written for the British Council, The Novel Since 1939 (1946).



1482. Karsell, Doris. "New Poet Now Mature." Delta Democrat-Times (Greenville, MS), 12 October 1947, 9.
In her review of the American edition of Reed's first volume of poems, Karsell says 'each line in the collection has been cut and finished with precision. One believes that no other form or words could have been used.'


Echoes of Eliot and Auden

Wilfrid Mellers was a critic, composer, and in 1964, founder of the Department of Music at the University of York. Professor Mellers is world-renowned for his enthusiastic love of all music, but especially for his embrace of folk, jazz, and pop. During his lifetime he produced a flood of books, articles, and original compositions, and was a respected pioneer in the study and teaching of music.

During the 1930s and '40s, while he was a supervisor in English at Downing College, Cambridge, Mellers was writing literary and musical criticism, most notably for the journal Scrutiny (Music & Vision article). One review he produced, notably for us, was for Henry Reed's debut collection of poems, A Map of Verona. The piece appears in the July, 1946 issue of the New English Review. Over the past weekend, I popped over to the James G. Leyburn Library at Washington & Lee University to have a peek:

Library

New English Review

I was surprised to find not simply the blurb I had expected, but a lengthy review in which Mellers perceives the influence of Eliot on Reed, and Auden's influence on Geoffrey Grigson. From "Some Recent Poetry" (.pdf), by W.H. Mellers:

It is this search for formalisation, whether in slight or more difficult work that I find impressive in Reed's poetry. It is true that so far there is a certain limitation of emotional range about his characteristic movement, that the short poems are the more successful, and that the longer free-verse monologues evoke a comparison with Mr. Eliot's mature economy in this manner which no contemporary verse could live up to (even such sober and dignified verse as the vision of the dancers in "The Place and the Person" appears almost garrulous in so far as it suggests a relation to the "Dantesque" passage in "Little Gidding"). But Mr. Reed is none the less a poet and not a verse-maker; one awaits his next volume with lively anticipation.

(Mellers was, apparently, a firm proponent of both italics and a liberal sprinkling of "quotation marks".)

Reed's 'next volume' never appeared, disappointingly (unless you count the five collected Lessons of the War, in 1970), but I have happily added Meller's review to the critical section of The Poetry of Henry Reed—the first major addition to the site in over a year—reviving hope that there are still forgotten book reviews out there, hiding in unvisited libraries, waiting to be rediscovered and reread.

Wilfrid Howard Mellers died on May 16, 2008 (Times obituary), in Scrayingham, North Yorkshire, at the age of 94.



1481. Roberts, Michael, and Anne Ridler, eds. The Faber Book of Modern Verse, rev. ed. London: Faber and Faber, 1951.
The supplement to the new edition adds the work of Kathleen Raine, W.R. Rodgers, F.T. Prince, Henry Reed, W.S. Graham, and others who have emerged during and since the Second World War.


Poets In a War

As afforded me by my time spent working a half-day on Easter Sunday, I was able to sneak out of the last couple of hours of work today, and managed to do something resembling genuine scholarship. There was a book on campus, in the library's Special Collections, which I had discovered hiding in plain sight on Professor Goethal's "Poetry & WW2" page: Poets in a War, by Kenneth A. Lohf (New York: Grolier Club, 1995). The book is a detailed catalog of an exhibition curated by Mr. Lohf, which was displayed at the Grolier Club of New York from December, 1995 through mid-February, 1996.

The Grolier Club is 'America's oldest and largest society for bibliophiles and enthusiasts in the graphic arts' (they are currently showing an autograph manuscript of Robert Burns' "Auld Lang Syne"). From the Club's webpage for Poets in a War:

In observance of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Grolier Club in December 1995 presented an exhibition featuring manuscripts, first editions, drawings and portraits of 130 British poets of the 1940s who served on the battlefronts and home front.

Poets in a War

The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs and reproductions, and I was hopeful that it might contain a picture of Reed. Alas, no such luck, though there is a reproduction of the title page of Reed's 1970 collection, Lessons of the War (New York: Chilmark Press). The text does contains detailed bibliographic information on the Lessons and A Map of Verona (London: Jonathan Cape, 1946), as well as several appraisals of Reed's poetry:

Of the poets who produced one or more memorable poems, F.T. Prince's 'Soldier's Bathing' and Henry Reed's 'Naming of Parts' (the first part of his series of poems, 'Lessons of the War'), stand out because of the ways in which they treated their specific subjects...[.] Like Prince, Reed, who after a year in the Army worked at the Foreign Office for the remainder of the war, had written only one volume of poetry, A Map of Verona (1946), by the time the war ended...[.] Though his participation in the army was brief, his series of poems 'The Lessons of War,' [sic] collected in A Map of Verona, is among the best-known group of poems of the Second World War. Like 'Soldier's Bathing,' 'Naming of Parts,' the first poem in the series, is a meditative poem in which the central conflict is between a recruit's wandering thoughts and an army officer's emotionless voice of instruction in the use of a rifle, a voice with a decided sexual dimension which is lost on the recruit who thinks solely of the beauty and sensuousness of nature. It is the human scale of these poems—both of their speakers are soldiers—that facilitates our understanding of the meaning of war to the men caught in its turmoil. (p. 26)

The library's copy appeared to be in pristine condition, or at least it had been previously handled with the greatest care. I was loathe to ask for photocopies since it would involve putting pressure on the books' virgin spine, so I settled for copying out the relevant passages in longhand, and taking pictures of everything, in case I made any mistakes (more pics on the Reeding Lessons Flickr page). An hour well spent!



1480. Reed, Henry. "Ruth Draper." Radio Times, 11 October 1962.


Spender Defends

An excellent find in the series Poetry Criticism: in the entry for Randall Jarrell is a reprint of a 1948 review by Stephen Spender of Jarrell's collection Losses, from The Nation (1 May 1948). The collection contains many of Jarrell's famous poems which came out of his experiences in the Army Air Force during World War II, including "The Dead Wingman," "Pilots, Man Your Planes," and "Eighth Air Force."

Book jacket

Spender compares Jarrell to Robert Lowell, calling him a "modern" poet in a "certainly" American landscape; but he also compares his language to the Victorian poets:

Mr. Jarrell often reminds me of Tennyson and Browning. Or rather this will not seem strange if I quote from "Orestes at Tauris," which is a long, odd failure, merging into the language of prize poems with which the English Victorian writers once took the stage:
So he looked; and yet in all that press
At Argos or Mycenae, or in all the isles
You never saw her like: a face so fair!
She wet your hair, and smoothed it with her hands,
Water ran down your face, and it looked pale
Under those dark and darkening locks; you shook them free,
And how ghastly it looked—your pale anxious face!
This is Victorian Prize Poetry with a big V and two big P's, and to judge from Mr. Jarrell's remarks about Henry Reed when he does the same thing considerably better, I cannot believe Mr. Jarrell likes it himself.

"Considerably better!" Spender is, of course, referring to a dismissive review of Reed's A Map of Verona and Other Poems in The Nation just a month earlier, in which Jarrell compares Reed to "a nap after dinner."



1479. Gardner, Helen. The Composition of Four Quartets. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. 37, 39.
Gardner credits Reed with two suggestions as to the sources of "The Dry Salvages" (refuted by Eliot, himself) and "Burnt Norton."


Rare, But Not So Old

I had a dentist appointment yesterday, for a checkup and cleaning. I've discovered that the more I hate the dentist's office, the better I take care of my teeth. I was in and out, thankfully. I had a couple of hours afterward before Special Collections at the main library closed at 5:45 pm.

There was a reference to Reed in an old issue of the New Review (Google Book Search) that I was hoping would pan into something. The problem with snippet views in Google is that, while you may have a page number, you often don't know which issue of a periodical that page is in. Or the year. All I knew from the link above was that it was during 1976-77.

The New Review is apparently rare enough to warrant being stored in Special Collections' Rare Books. Rare, but not that old. Hardly new, though. I filled out my callslip for both years. Turns out, New Review was a monthly magazine, so I've got almost twenty-four issues to hunt through. Finally, at nearly five o'clock, I found it: June, 1976.

New Review

Reed appears in a book review of Scannell's Not Without Glory and Banerjee's Spirit Above Wars, by Andrew Motion, "Bard's Army." It was a long hour for a short paragraph:

Sexual deprivation also produced a persistent, nagging eroticism in military life Henry Reed captures its wearying innuendo perfectly in 'Naming of Parts', not only in the title, but in the training process it describes:
And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring.
Fuller similarly speaks with the voice of Everysoldier when he says 'The photographs of girls are on the wall', and the desolation which lies behind his remark is echoed throughout the work of Lewis. It is a far cry from the war poetry that they were brought up on, and a scrupulous account of the replacement of the admonitory patriot by the disaffected conscript.

Special Collections even made the photocopies for me.



1478. Press, John. Review of The Composition of Four Quartets, by Helen Gardner. New Lugano Review 1 (1979): 84-91 [88].
Press feels that there are moments in Eliot's "The Dry Salvages" 'when we are perilously close to Henry Reed's Chard Whitlow.'


Under Siege

Sidney Keyes was a youthful poet killed before he had time to register the impact of warfare; Alun Lewis registered the deadening effect of regimentation and the stimulus of travel, but left no record of the military action it seems it was his destiny to seek. Douglas sought action, found it, recorded it and his fear of its consequences, before he too died. Roy Fuller was excluded by circumstance from action and was able, literally from a distance, to mark the changes that wartime forced on society and the enclosed microcosm of the services. Each is an individual experience, and it is because of the quality of their work that they are accepted as the chief poets of the Second World War. But it is appropriate that none of them wrote the poem of the Second World War. That was written by Henry Reed.

Thus begins Robert Hewison's analysis of Reed's Lessons of the War poems, in the book Under Siege: Literary Life in London, 1939-1945 (Oxford, 1977). Interestingly, Hewison treats the whole sequence as a single work, mentioning, but not lingering on (or even quoting from), "Naming of Parts."

Under Siege

Hewison prefers instead to look at "Judging Distances" at some length. 'In this case the landscape has to be interpreted in formal terms; the distance cannot be judged emotionally, the territory must be seen as a map. But in the trainee-soldier the surviving civilian persists in reading the topography with his own eyes...' (p. 139). Though Hewison has chosen a slightly less famous poem, the resulting commentary is familiar: 'Individuality has to be sacrificed to the needs of the military machine, the landscape reduced to the terms of tactical necessity, but some small item of personality could be retained — the observing eye of the poet' (p. 140).

He then turns to "Unarmed Combat," the last of Reed's Lessons published during wartime, concluding, 'Henry Reed achieves a rare fusion between soldier and poet of the Second World War...' (p. 140).

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1477. Times (London). "Broadcasting." 20 June 1950, 6.
Schedule for Wynford Vaughan Thomas program, "A Day in Naples," which Reed assisted with the production.


Love, Release, the Revelation

I recently added, and failed to note here, Alan Jenkins' 1991 Independent review of Reed's Collected Poems, "In Other Men's Shadows." Jenkins notes the poet's debts to Hardy, Auden, and MacNeice (Reed 'pre-echoes' The Movement poets), but points out

[w]hat is Reed's and Reed's alone is a tonality, an emotional palette, a special feeling for romantic potentiality, the moment before something tremendous happens or after it has receded. The something tremendous — love, release, the revelation of transcendent beauty, all of these at once....

'Properly,' Jenkins says, the posthumous collection 'rescues Reed from the two-poem limbo to which the anthologies... have consigned him.'

Also very recently, I discovered a lovely summary of Reed's poetic influence and influences, in The New Guide to Modern World Literature, by Martin Seymour-Smith (New York: Peter Bedrick, 1985):
Henry Reed (1914) has published only one collection of poems, A Map of Verona (1947), but this is widely read — it remained in print for a quarter of a century. There are a few good uncollected poems. He has earned his living as a translator and writer of radio scripts — including the famous 'Hilda Tablet' series. Reed has written several distinctly different kinds of poem: the metaphysical, influenced above all by Marvell; a narrative, contemplative poetry influenced by Eliot (q.v.); parody — as in 'Chard Whitlow', which was Eliot's own favourite parody of himself; a narrative poem influenced not by Eliot but by Hardy (q.v.) — such as 'The Auction Sale'. Reed's justly famous 'Lessons of the War' sequence is in his metaphysical vein, exploiting double entendre to its limit, varying the tone from the wistful to the broadly comic (as in the third poem of the sequence). The less well known 'The Auction Sale' handles narrative as well as it can be handled in this age. Reed is a poet of greater range than is usually recognized; only his Eliotian contemplative poetry really fails to come off, and even this is eloquent and rhythmically interesting.
That single paragraph comes the closest I've seen to placing Reed solidly in any school of poetry, even though it leaves him straddling Hardy's Naturalism, The Romantics, and the Moderns.

Additionally, I turned up a very nice exploration of the 'military/poetic problem' in "Judging Distances," in Robert Hewison's Under Siege: Literary Life in London, 1939-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), which I hope to be able to post soon. Stay tuned!

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1476. Snagge, John, and Michael Barsley. Those Vintage Years of Radio. London: Pitman Publishing, 1972. 40-41.
Reed is not mentioned, but assisted with the recording of the program "A Day in Naples," in 1951.


The View From 1946

The Annual Register, a "Review of Public Events at Home and Abroad," is a serial survey of history, politics, and the humanities, published in the U.K. since 1758. My campus library has nearly a complete run, parceled between print volumes and short stretches on microfilm. The trick, apparently, is to pay attention to the record in the online catalog, before realizing in the third floor stacks that the year you're looking for is actually on film in the basement, nine flights below.

The Register volume for 1946 delivers a quick criticism of Reed's first volume of poetry: 'In The Map of Verona [sic] (Cape), Henry Reed, one of the younger poets, develops a meditative romanticism not as yet sure of its own direction.'

The fact that his collection received notice at all speaks for Reed's promise as a poet, despite any reservations the editor may have had. The chapter surveying the literature of 1946 mentions several publications which also contain poems written by Reed: John Lehmann's Poems from New Writing, 1936-1946, which collects "Chrysothemis," and "The Wall"; and the journal Orion, which published Reed's "King Mark." Special attention is also paid to Edith Sitwell's The Song of the Cold (which Reed reviewed for the New Statesman in January, 1946), Richard Church's The Lamp, John Pudney's Selected Poems, Theseus and the Minotaur and Poems by Patric Dickinson, Poems from the North by Sir Shane Leslie, Vivian Locke Ellis' Collected Lyrical Poems, C.C. Abbott's The Sand Castle, Laurence Durrell's Plains and People, and Talking Bronco by Roy Campbell, among others.

Also noted is an anthology called For Those Who Are Alive (London: Fortune, 1946), an anthology of fifty of the 'youngest poets,' compiled by Howard Sergeant, editor of the journal Outposts. I wonder if, perhaps, something of Reed's is also collected there?



1475. Advertisement for Marcel Proust: A Selection From His Miscellaneous Writings, translated by Gerard Hopkins. Spectator 182, no. 6295 (18 February 1949): 233.
Ad quotes from Reed's January, 1949 Observer review of Hopkins's translations of Proust.


More of a Force

I have a cartload of old Listener volumes from offsite storage waiting for me at the main branch, which unfortunately closed before I could get there today, due to an unanticipated power outage. But the universe sent me a small concession: my 1947 book review finally arrived from Interlibrary Loan this morning. (Never fails, it'll always show up the day after you claim it "Not received.")

kirkus

I always feel an overwhelming thrill of discovery looking at these old documents and journals: the sense that no one else has read these pages since they were originally published, 50 or 60 years ago (no one except, possibly, the poor library clerk who had to photocopy them).

The Bulletin from Virginia Kirkus' Bookshop Service, back in the day at least, was a somewhat homespun affair: typewritten, mimeographed, and mailed to subscribing bookstores and libraries full of hungry patrons wondering which book to read next. Virginia Kirkus (1893-1980) read publishers' galleys, and wrote the succinct reviews herself.

An inarguably favorable review. Kirkus compares Reed with Richard Wilbur, a (slightly) younger American poet of more considerable plumb and prolificity. Both poets' first volumes of poetry appeared in America in 1947.

Reed if the more intellectual of the two, has a firm grasp of the poetic technique, he is more concrete and more vigorous and has a fine sense of irony. He seems therefore more of a force.

Read the entire, original review, "Two Young Poets" (.pdf).

Interestingly enough, Wilbur started out in cryptography during World War II, and was transferred to combat due to his political leanings (whereas Reed began his service with combat training, and was transferred to cryptography). Wilbur discusses the relationship between cryptography and poetry in these videotaped interviews. Not to be missed is "We need a cryptographer, but if we catch you overthrowing the government—you're out." (Both links to embedded video at People's Archive.)



1474. Reed, Henry. "An Hour In the Hand." Review of Happy as Larry, by Donagh MacDonagh. The Bell 13, no. 1 (October 1946): 76-78.
MacDonagh's play is 'written in a manner which is to-day usually reserved for radio-features,' and 'is probably a better play for the study than for the theatre.'


Serendipitous Discoveries, Snail Mail

I had a couple of days off around the Fourth of July, owing to a governor generous to his overworked state employees, and to an ongoing library construction/renovation project, which left my department almost completely unbuilt for several days.

Unfettered, I snuck over to the other campus library, to snag a 1965 book review written by Reed on Hugh D. Ford's A Poet's War: British Poets and the Spanish Civil War. I was chagrined to discover that our run of The Sunday Times doesn't begin until 1972.

In an attempt to salvage something of my visit, I decided to browse The Offical Index to the Times (London). I discovered, however, that that particular set is arranged by year and subject—which makes perfect sense—but is less helpful than a personal names index. Crestfallen, I was ready to disembark emptyhanded, when the adjacent title in the Index section caught my eye: The Book Review Digest.

Our main library shelves large sets of indexes separately, in their own section, lumped immediately following the bulk of the Reference collection. Somehow, after years of prowling the Reference books, I had overlooked this resource. Volume after volume of nothing but (American) book review citations, arranged by the years they were reviewed, with indications of positive and/or negative reviews, and including short quotations and lengthy excerpts!

I instinctively pulled down 1946, but Reed's poetry collection, A Map of Verona, wasn't published in the States until 1947. Quickly upgrading to the next volume, I found it quite easily: no fewer than four reviews indexed! Two of which I had already seen: Rago's review from Commonweal, and Breit's from The New York Times Book Review. But that left me two, never-before-seen, completely unheard of, reviews of Henry Reed! Two! Two! Two reviews! Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews. I nearly floated to the photocopiers, and exercised enormous restraint as I carefully replaced the Digest volume in its slot on the shelf, afterward, before nearly skipping to the online catalog.

The Kirkus review? Only available online, and only after 1969. Which meant requesting photocopies through Interlibrary Loan. The Library Journal we had, but the less relevant, more aged volumes are stored offsite, which meant I had to place my request and wait a day to see the result. To my dismay, the 50-word blurb had already been quoted in its entirety in Book Review Digest (which should have been painfully obvious, as they thoughtfully provide a word count):

Henry Reed is a young English poet whose work, until now, has been little known in this country. Many of the poems have legendary themes but their meaning is deeply rooted in our own 'age of anxiety.' The final pages are devoted to lyric interludes written for a BBC radio version of Moby Dick.
Library Journal 72, no. 21 (1 December 1947): 1688.

And today was the sixth day since my Interlibrary Loan of a particular Bulletin from Virginia Kirkus' Bookshop was shipped, and still, the U.S. mail brings me no joy. Tomorrow, perhaps?

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1473. Stade, George, and Karen Karbiener, eds. "Reed, Henry." Encyclopedia of British Writers, 20th Century. Vol. 2. New York: Facts on File, 2003. xv, 313-314.
"Naming of Parts" was 'so widely anthologised and so well known as an antiwar poem that it made Reed famous as a one-poem poet and overshadowed his other work.'


Flowers and War

Several weekends ago I made a short excursion up to the state capital, to visit the Richmond Public Library. It was a lazy, rainy Sunday, and I needed, of all things, a 19th-century book on flowers.

The book was the Reverend Hilderic Friend's Flowers and Flower Lore (1883), and I was startled to find that it was not on the shelf. Up and down the folklore section I scanned. A word to the wise scholar: it never hurts to phone ahead.

Luckily, a librarian flew to my rescue, advising that their older texts are kept in closed stacks, downstairs in the basement. Whew! I had Friend's beautiful, leather-bound, two-volume set in my hands, momentarily. In the end, I found that they didn't even contain exactly what I was looking for. Such are the perils of blind librarying.

I consoled myself by browsing the stacks for poetry, discovering that my Dewey Decimals have become almost irreparably rusty. Poetry: 811, yes. English poetry? 821. Oh. They had several anthologies which I had indexed but never seen: notably, Dylan Thomas's Choice (Maud and Davies, eds. New York: New Directions, 1963). Deep into my Ziploc bag of dimes I dipped, to feed the ravenous Xerox machines.

The real boon was a book I had never heard of or seen: War Poetry: An Anthology, edited, and with an introduction and commentaries, by D.L. Jones (1968). This evening, I added Jones' commentary on the Lessons of the War poems to the website.

It also happened to be the last day of the Friends of the Library booksale, and from the pillaged remnants I managed to scavenge a small paperback of English translations of the poetry of Leopardi. They wanted 50¢, but I gave them a buck, and told 'em to keep the change.



1472. Shawe-Taylor, Desmond. "Songs and Dances." Review of Dance of the Seven Veils, directed by Ken Russell. Sunday Times (London), 22 February 1970, 53.
Reed is credited as a contributing writer to Ken Russell's film for BBC Omnibus.


Mystery, Ecstasy, Sublimity, Cheese

"Whoever reviewed current verse in your July number is a nincompoop." This, in response to a 1946 book review of Reed's A Map of Verona, in the prestigious and estimable Poetry Review. I'm tempted to add the entire Donnybrook to the Henry Reed pages, since the cheesy defense is longer than the original salvo. From The Poetry Review 37, no. 3 (June/July 1946):

Poets and Pretenders
The crux of any critical assessment of poetry is that it is not possible to make an exact definition of it, and in consequence it is difficult to determine what qualities, technical, aesthetic, and spiritual, should be found in it. Nevertheless, we recently listened to a lecture by an eminent Doctor who had placed his considerable talent for scientific research at the service of this problem. His analysis had indicated to him that the prime ingredients of good poetry were three, which he most aptly described as vitamins. These qualities were mystery, ecstasy and sublimity, and the distinguished lecturer expressed the view that verse could not be considered to have achieved a poetical standard unless one or more of these qualities was present in it....

A Map of Verona, by Henry Reed (Cape, 3s. 6d.) would be difficult to criticise upon the tri-une basis of mystery, ecstasy and sublimity. If it be judged upon its capacity to move the reader, or to inspire any one of these three states, it should delay us not at all; from which it will be gathered that we are presented by it with so little to praise or blame that we are amost debarred from comment. Take the first stanza from a poem called "Envoy".
"Whatever sort of garden
You, I, or we shall build,
Neglected much, or cared for,
And all its great designs
Fulfilled or unfulfilled:
Built over ruined shrines,
Where others have loved and worshipped,
Or built on virgin ground:
Shaped or disorderly,
Let it at least be
Different from this",
or look where you will, and there is the same incapacity to come to grips with anything real or vital such as could shatter the dull crust of the reader's wonted composure or banish for one beautiful moment the boredom of living.

And the answering justification, appearing in The Poetry Review 37, no. 4 (August/September 1946):

The Reviewer Answers a Critic
"Whoever reviewed current verse in your July number is a nincompoop. His dismissal of Henry Reed's Map of Verona is unjust, and his critical method pompous, inefficient, and absurd."

Thus begins a letter from a correspondent who has obviously more energy than sense, or he would have abstained from prejudicing his case so grievously at the outset. There is a certain antique piquancy in receiving abuse from one who can advance no better reason for it than a difference of opinion, and Mr. Henry Reed, the bone of contention, might well wish to be saved from such a friend. Our correspondent quarrels too with out eminent doctor's theory of poetic vitamins and proceeds to adduce examples of great poetry which he alleges are starved of all three, which our readers may remember are mystery, ecstasy and sublimity. We gravely doubt his perception. He asserts, truly enough, that there are many kinds of poetry and argues somewhat triumphantly, as one making an unanswerable point, that we do not admonish Camembert for not being Stilton; but surely our correspondent is in some confusion here, since Camembert and Stilton both in their separate ways have the character of the best cheese, and indeed may both be said to possess ecstasy and sublimity, and more than a little touch of mystery. We insist upon uniformity as little in poetry as in our food. In both, however, there must be edibility, digestibility and nourishment, and we must feel when we have consumed them that we are the better for it. In any case, it is not the poetry, nor the cheese, which we admonish, but rather the person responsible for it; in the case of cheese we should be furious at any misdescription of the article, hailing the miscreant guilty of the deception before a magistrate. Unfortunately the written word enjoys an immunity which permits it to call itself what it will. On the other hand, we too have equal freedom and may speak our mind concerning it.

Lastly, our correspondent offers us three mere literary virtues in exchange for our bright trinity of poetic qualities. These are clarity, conciseness and penetration, and all the dull deliberation of this denial of the spiritual quality of poetry is really the last straw. Our correspondent signs his letter; but since it was written in heat and apparently without proper reflection it would be inconsiderate to give his name.

I'm not sure who to hold accountable here. The unnamed, vitamin-preoccupied theorist? Or the anonymous reviewer, for quoting a theorist who attempts to reduce poetry to three elemental qualities? (Can anyone venture a guess as to who this "eminent Doctor" of poetic theory might be? Who wrote the "nincompoop" letter in defense of Reed?) I think the Poetry Review should be held responsible. Not for a 60-year old, unfavorable review, necessarily. I have plenty of tepid-to-scathing reviews on the website, already. But cheese? Poetry Review! I implore you!

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1471. "Poetry." Supplement to Listener 83, no. 2152 (25 June 1970): iv.
Upcoming "Personal Anthology" program, with poems chosen by Henry Reed.


In Defense of Sergeants Major

An interesting article came to my attention this week: "'Naming of Parts,' 'Judging Distances,' Literary Snobbery and Careless Reading in the Analysis of Henry Reed's 'Lessons of the War'," by Joseph Petite, Ph.D., published in The Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 26, nos. 1-2 (March 2005). Essentially, Petite argues that past critics of "Naming of Parts" and the other "Lessons of the War" poems have relied too heavily on the supposition that there are two, separate voices, or tones, in the poems.

Traditional interpretations point to polar changes in Reed's tone, language, and diction, and argue that these opposites can be explained in one of two ways: either there are two voices in the poems, and we are hearing both the instructor and the recruit; or there is only one point of view — that of the recruit's — and we are listening through him, and are privvy to his inner thoughts.

Petite posits that this is so much literary trickery, and that too much reliance has been made on Freudian interpretations. Essentially, he believes the possibility has been ignored that there is just one speaker in the poems: the instructor.
‘Critics do not credit Reed with a more profound insight—the instructors are victims of war, grappling with how to be human in inhuman circumstances. Psychologically, language is their last line of self-defense, a way to survive the dehumanizing acts war requires. There is no need to "explain" the presence of such language. War-weary, instructors long for beauty, finding it in nature undisturbed by war and expressing themselves in a second register.’
Petite is particularly suspicious of O'Toole's stylistic analysis, Condon's "Freudian tour," and the conclusions in Beggs' dissertation.

It's a provocative thesis, but I find it hard to agree with a lot of what Petite puts forth, although I do concur that lengthy discussions of stylistics are tiresome, and often include more magical thinking and sleight-of-hand than proofs. But the idea that 'Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,' and there are no sexual connotations in "Naming of Parts" is patently ridiculous, and attempts to remove all the fun and playfulness from the poem. It's like arguing that all the women on Monty Python's Flying Circus were actually women.

By minding the evidence in biographies of Reed, it's obvious that the "Lessons of the War" are mocking in tone, and more or less autobiographic. Not the least of which is Scannell's assertion that Reed entertained his fellows in basic training by imitating their instructors. Most revealing, however, is the fact that when Reed adapted "Naming of Parts" (.mp3 file) for BBC radio, he split the poem into two speaking parts, and took the part of the recruit, himself.

A longer excerpt of "Literary Snobbery" can be found on the Questia website, and the entire article is available from Amazon.com as a digital download for $5.95.



1470. "Weekend Competition." New Statesman 86, no. 2208 (13 July 1973): 938.
Results for competition set on June 22 has a Reed reference.



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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