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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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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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«  A Cambridge Oasis  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

22.10.2021


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."


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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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