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."

Henry Reed Henry Reed
Henry Reed Henry Reed
Henry Reed, ca. 1960



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.




Weblogs, etc.

Posts from May 2009

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog


Frosty Tweets

Robert Frost, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is apparently alive and well, and using Twitter:

Ezra pointed out that my 'Fever Pitch' epic poem sounds awfully similar to a movie starring something called a 'Jimmy Fallon.'
2:09 PM May 13th from web

«  Frost  0  »

1535. Reed, Henry. "Talks to India," Men and Books. Time & Tide 25, no. 3 (15 January 1944): 54-55.
Reed's review of Talking to India, edited by George Orwell (London: Allen & Unwin, 1943).

A Cambridge Oasis

I'm not in the habit of buying Reed ephemera online, though I've occasionally done so in the past. I bought a couple of old Listener issues which are rather difficult to find in libraries in the States, and if I were a richer man, I might consider buying a whole forest's worth of Radio Times back issues. So I was rather torn when I found this short article in The Bookseller for March 3, 1951:

Poetry Sold in Cambridge Streets

Some enterprising Cambridge undergraduates have been trying the effect of offering modern poetry for sale in the streets. The first experiment took place on a Saturday—a market day in Cambridge—and out of 2,000 copies printed, about 1,100 were sold. A further 200 copies were disposed of afterwards.

The publication offered was the first issue of a series of pamphlets of poetry, entitled Oasis. The selling price is 3d. The first issue contained poems by W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, C. Day Lewis, Louis MacNeice, Robert Graves, Dylan Thomas, and Henry Reed. In the next issue, work of lesser-known poets will be printed; and for May Week the organisers hope to bring out a Cambridge Poetry for the previous year.

The aim of the scheme is to overcome present-day apathy to poetry. 'All the authors and publishers allowed us to reprint these poems without fee,' writes Mr. David Stone, of Queens' College. 'Without this help it would have been very difficult to sell the pamphlet at a price attractive to everyone. There has been some disapproval of the street-selling, but most seemed to think it was a good idea.' The pamphlet carried an invitation: 'If you enjoy this selection and are interested in modern poetry come and hear these and other poems read and ask questions to-morrow evening at the Union.' The reader, on the Sunday evening, was Mr. Hamish Henderson.
(p. 344)

Cover of Oasis

At first I was a bit confused by the title, since Reed also makes an appearance in the Salamander Oasis Trust's From Oasis into Italy: War Poems and Diaries from Africa and Italy, 1940-1946 (Victor Selwyn, et al., eds., 1983), but this was evidently an entirely different oasis of poems, a student-published pamphlet from Trinity College, University of Cambridge. According to A Literary History of Cambridge (rev. ed., 1995),

Oasis [was] founded in 1950 by John Mander of Trinity and David Stone of Queens' in conjunction with a series of readings at the Union, was sold directly on the streets by what Gunn called 'a kind of suicide squad' of enthusiasts. It was bought in remarkable numbers (up to three thousand per issue), giving it the largest circulation of any poetry magazine in England. The first issues were devoted to major poets like Yeats and Eliot, later ones to undergraduate work. Fifteen hundred poems were submitted for the Oasis poetry competition. One of the winners was Thom Gunn (who was also on the editorial board).
(p. 275-76)

Gunn would later write of the students' experience hawking poetry in the streets of Cambridge for The Bookseller: "Oasis: An Experiment in Selling Poetry" (March 15, 1952, p. 782).

My curiosity got the better of me, finally, and I went poking around online until I found a bookstore in the UK which was offering copy of Oasis, no. 1 (1951). A short wait for trans-Atlantic airmail later, and I was sitting under the yellow lamp in my living room, magazine in hand. From the editors' foreword:

'Oasis' is the first in a series of pamphlets of poetry. Our aim is to show by a representative selection of good contemporary poetry just what sort of poem has been written in the last decades. In this selection there are many styles and many moods. Poets write about everyday subjects—see if you agree with the last two lines of Louis MacNeice's poem: they write about newsreels, love, religion, the futility of war; Henry Reed makes a poem out of naming the parts of a rifle.

We should like to devote future numbers of 'Oasis' to the works of other poets: and perhaps we might find enough good undergraduate poetry here to fill an issue with Cambridge writers.

Modern poetry is always said to be obscure: we hope you will read these poems and judge for yourselves.

This is followed by the epigraph: "When I hear the word culture I reach for my revolver," a popular paraphrase of Hanns Johst, from his pro-Nazi play, Schlageter (1933): "Wenn ich Kultur höre... entsichere ich meinen Browning!"

I guess I had been hoping to discover an obscure, perhaps unknown poem from Henry Reed, but the issue was, as advertised, devoted to well-known, previously-published poems from established poets. A slim volume at only 12 pages, it contains "For Anne Gregory," by W.B. Yeats; "Journey of the Magi," by T.S. Eliot; "Culture," by W.H. Auden; "Regum Ultima Ratio," by Stephen Spender; "Newsreel," by C. Day Lewis; "Bagpipe Music," by Louis MacNeice; "No More Ghosts," by Robert Graves; "Among Those Killed in the Dawn Raid Was a Man Aged a Hundred," by Dylan Thomas; and, of course, Reed's "Naming of Parts."

1534. Reed, Henry. "Radio Drama," Men and Books. Time & Tide 25, no. 17 (22 April 1944): 350-358 (354).
Reed's review of Louis MacNeice's Christopher Columbus: A Radio Play (London: Faber, 1944).

Internet Archive Texts

A few odds and ends relating to Henry Reed can be found in the Internet Archive's digital library, the Open-Access Text Archive. They don't have as many titles for the second-half of the 20th century as they do for pre-1920 material that is in the public domain, but they have a bit.

Reed is mentioned in a 1961 special number of the Times Literary Supplement, The British Imagination: A Critical Survey, in a section devoted to radio: "In what other form of drama could one mirror the life of an era through one man's mind and reactions, as in Mr. Reed's Return to Naples, or through a many-layered pattern of experience, from that of the professor to that of a lizard on a hot stone, as in his The Streets of Pompeii?" (p. 94).

The Streets of Pompeii also appears in two program schedules for WBAI radio, New York, NY. The play was broadcast on Saturday, April 8, 1961, and again on Monday, February 4, 1963.

A real treasure is an electronic copy of Oscar Williams' 1951 anthology, A Little Treasury of British Poetry (1951). Williams compiled not only the original three Lessons of the War poems, but also Reed's lesser-known verses, "The Wall" (p. 843) and "Lives" (p. 844). The book is a little unwieldy at almost 900 scanned pages, so I took the liberty of lifting Reed's section and putting it in a separate, much smaller, file, including Williams' introduction.

1533. Friend-Periera, F.J. "Four Poets," Some Recent Books, New Review 23, no. 128 (June 1946), 482-484 [482].
A short review calls A Map of Verona more pretentious than C.C. Abbott's The Sand Castle; influenced by Eliot, Auden, MacNeice, and Day Lewis.

The Poet Speaks

In the 1960s, the British Council teamed up with the Harvard Library Poetry Room to record contemporary British and American poets reading from their own work, and in interviews discussing poetry and the process of writing. English poets who participated in the project included John Betjeman, C. Day-Lewis, William Empson, Hugh MacDiarmid, Louis MacNeice, Kathleen Raine, Stephen Spender, John Heath-Stubbs, W.R. Rodgers, and Vernon Watkins, to name just a few. Interviews were conducted by Ian Scott-Kilvert, Hilary Morrish, Peter Orr (head of the British Council's Recorded Sound department), and John Press. A few details are mentioned in "Poetry, for Crying Out Loud," a 1999 Independent article.

The final product of these recordings was a set of ten LP records released by the Argo Recording Company, along with an accompanying book of transcripts called called The Poet Speaks: Interviews with Contemporary Poets (London: Routledge, 1966).

Album cover

The project didn't end when the record collection was produced, however, because we can find recordings of a 1970 interview with Henry Reed, both at the British Library Sound Archive, and at Harvard's Poetry Room: "Interview with Henry Reed sound recording, by Peter Orr, British Council Recorded Sound Dept., June 11, 1970." Alas, the Reed interview was too late to get included in the Poet Speaks project.

The Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard has one of the largest collections of recorded poetry in the world. Sadly, they provide only a few links to select recordings on their homepage (and several of those do not seem to be working, currently).

«  Audio Harvard Library  0  »

1532. Vallette, Jacques. "Grand-Bretagne," Mercure de France, no. 1001 (1 January 1947): 157-158.
A contemporary French language review of Reed's A Map of Verona.

60th Birthday Tribute

Here's a small, but lovely thing: a record at the British Library Sound Archive for a recording of a birthday tribute for Henry Reed, produced by R.D. "Reggie" Smith, and broadcast on Friday, February 22nd, 1974, from 8:35 to 8:55 pm, on BBC Radio 3:

Henry Reed
Reed, Henry, 1914-1986 (speaker)
Broadcaster: BBC R3 19740222
Item title: Henry Reed
Performer name: Reed, Henry, 1914-1986 (speaker)
Item notes: A tribute on the occasion of the poet's 60th birthday. R.D. Smith introduces the recorded voice of Henry Reed reading his poetry (mostly archive material)

Here's a link to everything with Reed listed as a speaker in the Sound Archive catalog.

1531. Henderson, Philip. "English Poetry Since 1946." British Book News 117 (May 1950), 295.
Reed's A Map of Verona is mentioned in a survey of the previous five years of English poetry.

More from Elizabeth Bishop

Published last October, Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (edited by Thomas Travisano and Saskia Hamilton, Farrar, 2008), finally reveals both sides of a conversation I discovered last spring, in The Letters of Robert Lowell (Hamilton, ed., 2005).

Book cover

Bishop and Lowell first began exchanging letters in 1947, after meeting at a party given by Randall Jarrell. In the mid-60s, Bishop met Henry Reed when they were both teaching at the University of Washington, Seattle. Here are the relevant excerpts from the Bishop-Lowell correspondence, which include several classic Reed witticisms, expressions of Bishop's admiration and concern for her new friend, and even a mention of Reed's desire to expatriate to the United States (!):
June 15, 1965
Dearest Elizabeth,

I rather hope you'll take in the Washington job. You'll like the landscape and the relative quiet for America, and I think [Robert] Heilman, the head of the department, will shape the conditions [to] suit you. He did marvels with Ted Roethke and has since had such unacademic shy people as Henry Reed and Vernon Watkins. Everyone seems terribly excited for your arrival...[.]

   All my love,
(p. 576)

Apt. 212, 4135 Brooklyn Ave., N.E.
Seattle, Washington, 98105
Washington's Birthday
[Feb. 23, 1966]
Dearest Cal:

I don't know where to begin. You are much admired here and several of my "students" ) I have to keep putting everything in quotes because none of it seems quite real to me, even now) are using you for their term-papers . . . you are being compared (to his discredit) frequently with Eliot, I think—Henry Reed is here—a bright spot in my life, I must say. I had dinner with him last night and he told me how he had heard a beautiful reading of SKUNK HOUR in England—and was reported in the papers as having said in a loud aside, "That's the only poem worth a damn this whole evening." He was sorry not to have met you here and would very much like to when he goes to New York.—I'm not sure when. He is extremely funny—referred to Olivier in OTHELLO as "The Nigger of the Narcissus," to give you an idea of his wit. I shall make so bold as to give him your address. He has done a few beautiful poems since "Naming of Parts" ("to which I owe my livelihood," he says) he has shown me—but I think writes really very little...[.]

Well, I was never meant to be a teacher and would never like it—but I do like the "students" (children, I call them to myself)—even if they seem awfully lacking in joie de vivre and keep telling me about their experience with LSD and "pot" etc., and (2 girls) how they are "on the PILL"—I think this was to convince me they are serious about writing! The boys are all over six feet—some girls are, too—and the girls have huge legs—& have blue eyes; one left-handed—what is this high percentage of left-handedness, I wonder? Henry said he'd been warned about the bosom in the front row—but not about the large bare knee that starts creeping up over the edge of the table . . . [.]

(pp. 598, 599)

Samambaia, September 25th, 1966
Dearest Cal:

I might see Henry Reed in London. He was a wonderful comfort to me in Seattle—and I think I was to him, too. He is a sad man, though, perhaps because he hasn't been able to work for so long—I don't really know—but funny as can be at the same time. We cheered each other up through exams by midnight telephone calls telling each other the best things we'd found. He was teaching "Romeo & Juliet" to about 60 freshman, poor dear. My favorite of his was a girl's paper that began "Lady Capulet is definitely older than her daughter but she remains a woman." One boy: "Romeo was determined to sleep in the tomb of the Catapults" . . . etc.—Henry is going back for the winter term of the job I had, again. He wants to settle in the USA, being very romantically fond of it, I think, although he's seen nothing at all except some of the west coast. I think he is a wonderful teacher—too good, really for Un. of W.—if you have any ideas of a course he could give somewhere else I wish you'd let me know . . . I think I'll write Dick Wilbur. I know nothing of the Wesleyan things, but perhaps when my grant is over and that book is done, I might apply for one. I think it would do both Lota and me a lot of good to stay in Connecticut for a few months!—seeing New York, but not IN it. I don't think I'll ever feel tough enough for New York again, somehow...[.]

   —Much much love,
(p. 608)

October 2, 1966
Dearest Elizabeth:

How lovely to hear from you again in all your old leisurely fullness. Sorry that Seattle was a grind and that Lota has had so much too much work. I have to fly up to Harvard soon for my weekly classes there, so will just dash off this letter, trying to answer and comment on your letter. The man in charge of Wesleyan is Paul Horgan, a Colorado or Arizona novelist. We know him quite well, and will get in touch with him, if you and Lota & Henry Reed are really interested. It's a queer place, about a dozen people in residence, some with wives, some without, an office, rooms or a house. Lizzie and I were offered about $20,000 to stay there a year, but so far have held off, not wanting to change Harriet's school, preferring to be in New York. It can be rather melancholy, but all depends on who is there—usually several people from Europe, ages older and more uniformly distinguished than Yaddo. The I.A. Richards are there now, later the Spenders are coming. Always someone. No duties, though it's suggested that you informally meet students. It might be perfect for you both. Let me know, and I'll start writing and calling people...[.]

I'd think a lot of places would like to have Henry Reed. Everyone speaks well of him, and he is quote famous and admired for his one book. He's a great friend of our friend the actress Irene Worth...[.]

   All my love,
(pp. 609, 610)

August 28th, 196[8]
Dearest Cal:

Since I am being so gossipy—I loved your account of yr. visit to Mr. Rubberheart (as Henry R calls him). Much worse than my simple evening sallies here . . . It was particularly funny since I had just had a letter from him—Mr. R [poet Richard Eberhart]—I received two copies of his last book and felt I had to say something honest, I thought. In return I got a long letter all about people I never heard of with names like Tricksy and Adam . . . Grandma and Mrs. Crosby "both 79," etc, etc...[.]

   With much love always—
(p. 648)
While I'm certain Reed's anecdote about his overly-loud commentary on Lowell's poem is true, I think the fact that he was quoted in the London newspapers is probably an exaggeration. Bishop's letter of September 25, 1966 is likely the source of Brett Millier's mention of Reed and Bishop's late-night Seattle telephone conversations, in Elizabeth Bishop: Life and the Memory of It (University of California, 1995). The American actress, Irene Worth (pronounced i-REE-nee), starred in Reed's adaptation of Ugo Betti's The Queen and the Rebels, staged in London's Haymarket Theatre in 1955.

1530. Radio Times. Billing for "The Book of My Childhood." 19 January 1951, 32.
Scheduled on BBC Midland from 8:15-8:30, an autobiographical(?) programme from Henry Reed.

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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