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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.

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Henry Reed, ca. 1960


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Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

16.12.2017


The Pindar of Wakefield

Henry Reed was very much in demand in 1973. He made at least three public appearances that year: the first, in May, was "Poets in Person" with Édouard Roditi, at the Poetry Society. In October, Ian Hamilton organized "The Poetry of War" at the Mermaid Theatre, with Charles Causley and Roy Fuller.

On Tuesday evening, September 25, 1973, we find Reed at a reading hosted at The Pindar of Wakefield pub, bringing with him an "unpublished war poem" to share. This announcement appeared in The Observer on September 23:

Pub Poets

The Pindar of Wakefield could boast of being established in 1517, although the current building was constructed after a fire in 1878. A pinder (or pinner) was a person employed to impound stray cattle and to look after the pound. The pub takes its name from a traditional ballad about a mythical Wakefield pound-keep who resisted Robin Hood. As an underground music venue, its stage has been graced by the likes of Bob Dylan in 1962, The Pogues in 1982, and Oasis in 1994. In 1986 it became The Water Rats Theatre Bar, and it's now the Monto Water Rats:

Monto Water Rats
[Water Rats Theatre Bar, St Pancras,
WC1, by Ewan-M.]

The International Who's Who in Poetry (1972), has this entry for The Cool Web:

Organizer, Hugh Dickson, The Pindar of Wakefield, 328 Grays Inn Road, Kings Cross, London. The Cool Web is a platform for good verse from all sources to be presented in a relaxed atmosphere. A small group of experienced readers, all professional actors, select a programme and are joined by a well-known poet. The guest poet is invited to use one part of the evening in any way he likes: to read his own poems or other people's, to make critical, political or polemical points, to involve the actors, or to integrate with the rest of the programme.

Successful programmes have already taken place, featuring Alan Brownjohn, George MacBeth, Peter Porter and Anthony Thwaite. Some time is also set aside for readings from the audience.

The group meets at 8 pm every Tuesday at the above address and is organized by Hugh Dickson, 4a Colinette Rd., SW15, and David Brierly, 1 Zenobia Mansions, W14.

"The Cool Web" comes from a line in the Robert Graves poem with that title: "There's a cool web of language winds us in...".

Given Reed's affinity for the stage (and for actors), it sounds like a staggering (and interactive) evening. The "unpublished war poem" can be none other than the last addition to his Lessons of the War sequence, "Psychological Warfare." The notes to his Collected Poems (1991), edited by Jon Stallworthy, indicate that Reed probably worked the poem for several decades, adding and updating several drafts:

(?1950—1970). Typed draft with autograph emendations, 7 ff.; autograph note at head: "USE THIS COPY but v. pp. 6 & 7 of the other", is in shaky late hand. Earlier (?) typed drafts show minor variants. A number '5.' preceding the title would seem to indicate that this poem was once intended to form part of the sequence Lessons of the War of 1970—indeed, the author in conversation in the 1970s mentioned that such an afterpiece had been composed.
[p. 163]

It would seem Reed intended, or at least, hoped, ultimately, for "Psychological Warfare" to be inserted before "Returning of Issue," the closing poem in the series. "Returning of Issue" was published in 1970 both in the Listener and the collected Lessons of the War (New York: Chilmark Press), although a version was included in a reading of "The Complete Lessons of the War" on BBC radio in 1966. In fact, in this archive of radio scripts produced by Douglas Cleverdon, there are two unscheduled "Complete Lessons" listed (is a recording implied?), one of which includes "Psychological Warfare" as early as 1965:
Box 4     F223     unscheduled [1965]     Reed, Henry.     The Complete Lessons of the War. I. Naming of Parts, II. Judging Distances, III. Movement of Bodies, IV. Unarmed Combat, V. Psychological Warfare, VI. Return of Issue. Read by Reed and Frank Duncan. TLO 531/697
The poem remained unpublished in Reed's lifetime, and did not appear in print until 1991, when the London Review of Books published it to herald the arrival of the Collected Poems. An acquaintance of Reed's from Birmingham (and later, Bletchley Park), however, wrote to the LRB when the poem appeared to suggest that work on "Psychological Warfare" had actually been begun before the end of the Second World War (previously). In any case, it survives as a masterpiece of Reed's inability to self-censor or cut from his work. The Lessons of the War progress from "Naming of Parts," at 30 lines long, to this 21-stanza monster of 253 lines. I can't imagine reading the entire poem to a live (or radio) audience, despite how funny it may be.



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.'


Letters to the London Review of Books

In 1991, a veritable flurry of articles and letters relating to Henry Reed appeared in the London Review of Books, leading up to the publication of the Collected Poems. Owing to the efforts of editor Jon Stallworthy, it began in the spring of that year with a sneak peek at the only unpublished poem in Reed's Lessons of the War sequence, "Psychological Warfare" (March 21, 1991, pp. 14-15). The LRB website has an excellent search function, and I found several references to Reed I would not have been able to locate, otherwise.

Cover

The appearance of "Psychological Warfare" prompted L.W. Bailey to write in to the LRB, suggesting that Reed began the poem not in the 1950s, as Stallworthy proposes, but as early as 1944, while the two were serving at Bletchley Park (April 25, 1991):

At the time he and I were stationed at Bletchley, he as a civilian and I as a soldier, and having been acquainted as fellow students at Birmingham University, we saw a great deal of each other. His civilian billet was a welcome refuge where I spent many congenial evenings during which he would read me extracts from work in progress, including the war poems. Some parts of the rather lengthy poem you have published seem familiar, though I could not swear to that: but I do know that he would write verse over long periods, sometimes years, before feeling he could do no more with the poem in question. I certainly think he would have revised and drastically shortened 'Psychological Warfare': but by 1950 I am sure he had put his wartime experiences well behind him.

Reed's "civilian billet," we recall, was a rooming house let by a Mrs. Buck (the mathematician Jack Good was assigned to the same house).

Lionel W. "Bill" Bailey was a well-known member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, and published a book of essays and observations, The Scandal Behind the "Scandal" and Other Attacks of Sherlockhomania (available from The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box). Bailey died in 2004.

In September of 1991, with Reed's Collected Poems on the verge of publication, the LRB printed Reed's poem "L'Envoi," amidst a version of Stallworthy's Introduction, "A Life of Henry Reed" (September 12, 1991, pp. 18-19). This prompted two responses. The first came from the editor James MacGibbon, who provided an example of Reed's astounding, editorial memory ("Henry Lets Her Have It," October 10, 1991):

Henry, knowing he needed some kind of psychiatric help, had read and admired the works of Melanie Klein ('Eine Kleine Nachtmusik' was the felicitous title, I think, of one of the Hilda Tablet radio series). When I told him, teasingly, that I was going to the theatre with her he asked to join us, and he did. After the performance she invited us back to her flat for coffee and little Viennese cakes. Almost before we were seated, Henry, a shy man, said: 'Mrs Klein, I want to tell you how much I admire your books.' She, who had a good sense of humour, replied, wagging a finger in amusement: 'Young man, people are always telling me that and then I find they haven't read my books!' Henry then reeled off one or two misprints with page numbers. A happy evening ended with great success!

(We shall have to add Klein's flat to our list of places Reed visited.)

This was followed closely by Ed Leimbacher, who penned a lovely reminiscence of his family's friendship with Reed, which began in 1964 when Reed was hired as a Visiting Professor at the University of Washington, Seattle ("Henry's Friends," October 24, 1991, p. 4). It remains one of my favorite discoveries.

After the publication of the Collected Poems, the critic Frank Kermode contributed a very personal review, recollecting time spent with Reed both in Seattle and London ("Part and Pasture," December 5, 1991, p. 17). Kermode makes a small but crucial error in his article, reversing Reed's substitution of "duellis" (battles) for Horace's "puellis" (girls) in the epigraph to "Naming of Parts." The mistake was caught by the historian Frank W. Walbank, though he did not realize a transposition had occurred ("Vidi," December 19, 1991).

Kermode's (corrected) article eventually became the Preface to the paperback edition of Henry Reed's Collected Poems, published by Carcanet in 2007.



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



1st lesson:

Reed, Henry (1914-1986). Born: Birmingham, England, 22 February 1914; died: London, 8 December 1986.

Education: MA, University of Birmingham, 1936. Served: RAOC, 1941-42; Foreign Office, Bletchley Park, 1942-1945. Freelance writer: BBC Features Department, 1945-1980.

Author of: A Map of Verona: Poems (1946)
The Novel Since 1939 (1946)
Moby Dick: A Play for Radio from Herman Melville's Novel (1947)
Lessons of the War (1970)
Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio (1971)
The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio (1971)
Collected Poems (1991, 2007)
The Auction Sale (2006)


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