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Documenting the quest to track down everything written by (and written about) the poet, translator, critic, and radio dramatist, Henry Reed.

An obsessive, armchair attempt to assemble a comprehensive bibliography, not just for the work of a poet, but for his entire life.

Read "Naming of Parts."

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Henry Reed, ca. 1960


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


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Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

22.8.2019


Elizabeth Bishop Writes

In 1966, when she was Visiting Professor of English at the University of Washington, Seattle, Elizabeth Bishop wrote to Howard Moss at The New Yorker to let him know she had thrown his hat into the ring to replace her. A respected poet and critic, Moss was The New Yorker's poetry editor for almost forty years, from 1950 until his death in 1987.

This is a great letter in that Bishop gives all the details of the professorship that both she and Henry Reed held: salary and responsibilities (previously a Visiting Professor, Reed had returned to UW as Lecturer in English). The letter appears in Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence, edited by Joelle Biele (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011).

The letter is dated February 22, 1966: it was Reed's fifty-second birthday. 'I think he is a beautiful poet, don't you?' Bishop writes.

Book cover

4135 Brooklyn Avenue NE
Seattle, Washington
February 22, 1966

Dear Howard:

Happy George Washington's birthday—& I presume this state was named for him . . .

This is just to ask you a question. I've been asked here to recommend poets for this job, and I wondered if by any chance you would consider it sometime. I have already given your name to Robert Heilman, the head of the English Dept. (& very nice, too), so he may even have written you by now for all I know, because he seemed to take to the idea. I had heard a rumour (I think from May Swenson) that you were leaving The New Yorker—or perhaps if not you could have a leave of absence.—You may not like the idea at all, but when they asked me about "poets" I thought of you. The Poet can come for one, two (like me), or three "quarters" and the pay is $7,000 a quarter—Which seems very good by my humble standards! That is $7,000 each ten weeks, more or less. There are only 2 small classes—15 to 20—and they meet for 50 minutes, supposedly 4 times a week but I have cut the writing class to 3 times a week. This part of the world, and the breezy western manner, and teaching, rather staggered me at first— but now I am beginning to enjoy most of it except the classes —but then you did teach before, didn't you? [handwritten: "They are very nice to one, too—"]

Well—I am not urging this on you! I just thought I'd explain how it came about, in case you do hear from Mr. Heilman or a Mr. James Hall . . . Also—one is a full professor for the term, because Roethke was. One does feel a bit like his ghost, of course. This year Henry Reed is here—he had this job, too, two years ago—and he brightens things for me a great deal. I wish you would get him to send you something for The New Yorker—I am sure he has some poems somewhere, and I think he is a beautiful poet, don't you? c/o the Eng. Dept. here would reach him.

If you can think of anyone else who might like it—Anthony Hecht?—you might let me know—The biggest drawback is that one has no time for one's own work, or I don't—perhaps someone more experienced at "teaching" would. (I feel a complete fraud as far as teaching goes.) May has a job for next year or I might suggest her. Who else?

I hope you are well and cheerful—and I hope to see you in New York sometime before I retreat to the other side of the Equator again—

   With love,
      Elizabeth

«  Bishop NewYorker Letters  0  »


1525. "Reed, Henry," Publishers Weekly, 152, no. 15 (11 October 1947), 1945.
On the publication of the American edition of Reed's A Map of Verona: 'Some of these poems by a young English writer are concerned with the war but most of them deal with figures from the legendary past or from literature.'


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.'

«  Criticism NewYorker  0  »


1524. Reed, Henry. Letters to Graham Greene, 1947-1948. Graham Greene Papers, 1807-1999. Boston College, John J. Burns Library, Archives and Manuscripts Department, MS.1995.003. Chestnut Hill, MA.
Letters from Reed to Graham Greene, including one from December, 1947 Reed included in an inscribed copy of A Map of Verona (1947).


Covering the War

Here's a New Yorker cover from World War II which bears comparison with "Naming of Parts." It depicts a daydreaming nose gunner in (what looks like) a stylized B-24.

New Yorker cover

From American Studies at the University of Virginia's Covering the War section of Urban and Urbane: The New Yorker Magazine in the 1930s:

[E]ven preoccupied with the thoughts of death, honor, and heroism that doubtless passed through the heads of millions of American soldiers on the eve of battle, the young man cannot resist the natural beauty of the full moon on a clear night. The image also plays with the sharp contrast between the plane, the latest in American technology, and the vast emptiness of the sky. It makes a subtle yet present commentary on the just how much technology has still yet to do.

The depiction also stands in stark contrast to that other famous poem of the war, Jarrell's "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner." The illustration appears on the cover of August 22nd, 1942 issue of The New Yorker (full size), and is by the Russian-American artist, Constantin Alajalov.

A print of Alajalov's cover is available from The Cartoon Bank. (Via Kottke.)



1523. Reed, Henry. "Simenon's Saga." Review of Pedigree by Georges Simenon, translated by Robert Baldick. Sunday Telegraph (London), 12 August 1962, 7.
Reed calls Pedigree a work for the "very serious Simenon student only," and disagrees with the translator's choice to put the novel into the past tense.



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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