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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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«  Posts from 07 February 2007  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

23.5.2022



The Auction Sale cover

"The Auction Sale," according to Professor Jon Stallworthy, is Henry Reed's 'most ambitious exploration of the landscape of desire' (Introduction to the Collected Poems, 1991). It was written in 1956, and first published in the journal Encounter, in October, 1958. It's a long poem—in excess of 300 lines—in the vein of Thomas Hardy. Set in Dorset at a country auction, it concerns a rousing bidding war over a painting, 'told in a voice as flat as if the speaker were reading from a country newspaper' (Hardy collected local newspaper stories as sources of inspiration):
The auctioneer again looked round
And smiled uneasily at friends,
And said: "Well, friends, I have to say
Something I have not said to-day:
There's a reserve upon this number.
It is a picture which though unsigned
Is thought to be of a superior kind,
So I am sure you gentlemen will not mind
If I tell you at once before we start
That what I have been asked to say
Is, as I have said, to say:
There's a reserve upon this number."
In Reed's trademark technique of pitting two duelling voices against each other, the grey November setting and flat repetition of the auctioneer stand in stark contrast to the lyricism of a mysterious bidder's desire for a classical painting:
Effulgent in the Paduan air,
Ardent to yield the Venus lay
Naked upon the sunwarmed earth.
Bronze and bright and crisp her hair,
By the right hand of Mars caressed,
Who sunk beside her on his knee,
His mouth towards her mouth inclined,
His left hand near her silken breast.
Flowers about them sprang and twined,
Accomplished Cupids leaped and sported,
And three, with dimpled arms enlaced
And brimming gaze of stifled mirth,
Looked wisely on at Mars's nape,
While others played with horns and pikes,
Or smaller objects of like shape.
Although "Naming of Parts" will always be my favorite, the supreme story-telling and quiet emotion of "The Auction Sale" lends it a special place in my pantheon of Reed's poems. I still remember, clearly, the day I first came across it, collected in Untermeyer's Modern British Poetry at my public library. An undiscovered poem. I recited the whole thing from my wrinkled and well-read photocopy at a local poetry reading, when I had nothing new of my own to share. (I think my interpretation put the crowd at the Daily Grind to sleep that night, despite the legal addictive stimulants. Did I mention it's like, 300 lines long?)

The Auction Sale was published in 2006 as a Greville Press pamphlet. The Greville Press was founded in 1979 by Anthony Astbury and Geoffrey Godbert, with the "enthusiastic support" of Harold Pinter, and the imprint has published the poetry of George Barker, David Gascoyne, W.S. Graham, Edna O'Brien, C.H. Sisson, and David Wright, among others. This collectible edition of Reed's poem includes a critical and biographical introduction by Jon Stallworthy (edited slightly from his Introduction to the Collected Poems).

You can order a copy through Amazon UK, or, if you're feeling adventurous, I have an extra copy to trade. Come back and visit again, for more details. (Bookmark this site: CTRL-D).


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What is Henry Reed's first name?

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.



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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