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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.

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Henry Reed, ca. 1960


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I Capture the Castle: A girl and her family struggle to make ends meet in an old English castle.
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Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

16.12.2017


Reed on Modern Verse Drama

Before he went off to war, before he ever got mixed up with the BBC writing radio scripts, Henry Reed was in theatre. Not only did he take part in student productions at the University of Birmingham, but he was involved with local theatre in his hometown of Erdington, writing (and surely acting) for the Highbury Players, before they even had a proper theatre in which to perform (see "The Miser in the Church House," previously).

Now, here's something interesting! In Drama: The Quarterly Theatre Review, the "Newsletters" section quotes from the Highbury Bulletin, the magazine of the Highbury Players:

Snippet
Snippet

Pasted back together, the complete paragraph reads:

The Highbury Bulletin for July notes the Theatre's Third Conference with its interesting addresses by Professor Allardyce Nicoll on "America's Contribution to the Theatre," by Robert de Smet on "The Theatre in Europe during the Occupation," by Arthur Vassjelo of the British Film Institute on "The Theatre and the Cinema," by Louis MacNeice on "Radio and the Theatre," by Henry Reed on "Modern Verse Drama," by Michael MacOwen on "The State and the Theatre," and by Dr. L. Du Garde Peach. William Armstrong presided.

The Drama article is from sometime between 1946 and 1949 (issues 1-15), but we can narrow it down to summer 1946 or 1947, in all likelihood. It's an impressive marquee of headliners. MacNeice would have been fresh off The Dark Tower, up from London to lecture on radio and the theatre. Reed was staying at Lovell's Farm in Marnhull at the time, working on his radio adaptation of Moby Dick. Professor Nicoll founded the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, and Lawrence Du Garde Peach was a stage and film writer, known also for authoring a series of history books for children under the Ladybird imprint.

The first Highbury Little Theatre on Sheffield Road, Sutton Coldfield, was completed in 1942, replacing a former mission hut. Expansion and a major refurbishing went on during the 1980s and '90s, creating a community arts centre, the Highbury Theatre Centre.

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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.'


Generals, Giants, and Conjurers

In 1930, at the beginning of his professional career, Louis MacNeice took a post as an Assistant Lecturer in Greek at the University of Birmingham. Despite finding it difficult to adjust to life in Birmingham after coming up at Oxford, and discovering that work and married life were somewhat at odds with his creativity, during this time MacNeice managed to publish his first novel and his second collection of poetry.

According to Alec Reid in Time Was Away: The World of Louis MacNeice (Google Book Search), in 1934 MacNeice had written to his friend Anthony Blunt that he was working on no fewer than five projects for publication: '1 Poems; 2 Novel; 3 Play; 4 Latin Humour; 5 Analytic Autobiography' ("MacNeice in the Theatre," p. 73).

It's the play that MacNeice was working on during this time that is of interest, here. Reid elaborates:

According to William T. McKinnon, the play MacNeice hoped to see published in 1934-5 is 'presumably' Station Bell. It had given him [MacNeice] a great deal of trouble and was still unfinished by 8 June 1934. A note, probably in MacNeice's writing, attached to an imperfect copy of the play in the Library of the University of Texas at Austin reads 'completed c. 1935, performed by the Birmingham University Dramatic Society c. 1936.' Making all allowances for textual imperfections, Station Bell is a strange work. Written in an obviously 'Irish' idiom and set in Dublin in the near future, it centres on the seizure of political power by a female 'nationalist' dictator, Julia Brown, and on her unsatisfactory marriage to a tired but essentially humane and balanced academic. The other principal characters are a shabby military leader, a testy capitalist complete with saxophone, and a mad clergyman who is dispensing drink in a station bar in Act I and eloping for America with Julia in Act III. In between there is a very funny scene in which Julia and the General recruit a Propaganda Corps to represent the brave new Ireland. This includes a negro Celt who can dance an Irish jig, a mannequin complete with toy dog representing an ancient Irish wolf-hound, a conjurer, Séamus Stein, who materializes glasses of Guinness out of thin air, an epileptic drummer, and two Carnival giants.

The Birmingham production, with a cast including Walter Allen, R.D. Smith, and Henry Reed, seems to have been a somewhat hasty affair (p. 74).

(Presumably, Reid is referring to McKinnon's book, Apollo's Blended Dream: A Study of the Poetry of Louis MacNeice [OCLC WorldCat]. I'll have to check that out.)

So, here we have four friends who would go on to become powerhouses of the 'thirties and 'forties, putting on a play together at university: MacNeice, Walter Allen, Reggie Smith, and Henry Reed. I can't help wondering, reading the description of the play (which was never published or performed professionally), what were their respective roles? Did Reed play the 'mad clergyman'? The conjurer? The corrupt general? The answer is probably buried in the annals of the University of Birmingham's student magazine, The Mermaid. Reid quotes a March, 1937 review of the university production:

Mr. MacNeice is fairness itself. And since his frankness is both flattering and amusing, we had an evening of high jinks with the Dublin dictatress, giants and generals. The play has slapstick, satire and moments of real tension. I could not tell how much the failure to knit together as a whole was due to the hasty charade-like production and how much was due to the author's liking for action on various planes and his tendency to do too many things at once. In retrospect it is possible to appreciate the device reconciling the dictatress and her husband against the background of fumbling giants; in the theatre it can only be fidgety (p. 75).

There is also a handwritten fragment of the Station Bell in MacNeice's papers at the Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library, and I see only one other reference to the play being produced: at Manchester University by the amateur "Unnamed Society" in 1937.

«  MacNeice Birmingham  0  »


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.


Poetry in War-Time: The Older Poets

In early 1945, Henry Reed wrote a set of two articles for The Listener in which he took stock of the poetry produced during the Second World War: "Poetry in War Time." These essays are important for two reasons: first, because they offer a glimpse of Reed as an emerging critic, writing about his friends and influencers; and secondly because the criticism offered is absolutely contemporary, and written by a peer (or at least, a promising hopeful).

Many of Reed's finer poems were first published in journals before 1945, including "Sailor's Harbour," and "Chard Whitlow" (The New Statesman and Nation), "Chrysothemis," and "Philoctetes" (New Writing & Daylight), and "A Map of Verona" (The Listener). Reed, however, had only published a mere handful longer pieces of criticism prior to "Poetry in War Time": "The End of an Impulse" (on Auden, Spender, and Day-Lewis) in the summer of 1943, and critiques of Edith Sitwell and T.S. Eliot in 1944.

Cover of The Listener

The first of these two essays, "Poetry in War Time: I—The Older Poets" (.pdf), appeared in The Listener on January 18th, 1945. In it, Reed traces the influence of the French Symbolists on the great poets of his time, Eliot and Sitwell (whose work we have shown he was already intimate with, and comfortable speaking about), and their sway, in turn, on the older poets he considers most influential during the war: Edwin Muir, Louis MacNeice, and C. Day-Lewis:

The two poets of the 'thirties who have best succeeded in being also poets of the 'forties are Louis MacNeice and Cecil Day Lewis. They have always had great curiosity and initiative in exploring new musical possibilities for the lyric. Some of their earlier experiments do not wear well: the effects of MacNeice's 'The Sunlight on the Garden', for example, or some of the curious early poems of Day Lewis, where one finds the rhymes put at the four corners of a stanza like stones holding down a table-cloth at a breezy picnic. In MacNeice's Plant and Phantom and in his poems published since, flashy wantonness has all but disappeared. The final 'Cradle Song' in the volume is very haunting; and some of his later topical poems (for example 'Brother Fire') have shown an honesty and calmness of approach unusual in war-time verse.

Next, we'll continue with Part II of Reed's essays on poetry in war-time: "The Younger Poets."



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.



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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