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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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«  Eye Witness  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

25.11.2017


Eye Witness

In my lengthy, involuntary exile, I was remiss in not linking to an excellent reminiscence of Henry Reed's time as a professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, between 1963 and 1967. Ed, over at I Witness (appropriately enough), has two spectacular posts from October last year, recounting his days as an English major and teaching assistant in Seattle, and how Reed came to befriend him and his family.

Part one, "Henry Reed in Seattle," tells the story of how Reed came to be invited to teach at the University of Washington, and features a cameo appearance by the poet Theodore Roethke. The second part, "Typography of the Heart," has tea with Elizabeth Bishop, the occasional opera, and Reed's eventual return to England.

I, myself, have been trying to remember precisely when I first discovered Henry Reed. It was his "Naming of Parts," of course. It was in high school, inside a giant, all-encompassing Norton Anthology we had to purchase for sophomore year. My copy was used, well-used, with the notes of various previous owners in the margins in pen and pencil, passages underlined. The pages were onion-skin thin, almost transparent, and it seemed like every single page could be peeled to reveal another, like Borges' infinite library book.

We didn't even read "Naming of Parts" in class. I would read ahead whenever I was bored with whomever we were covering: Homer, Conrad, Eliot. I remember reading Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts," distinctly. It was the first truly modern poem I had been introduced to, and I was staggered that I could learn something so profound from (and about) a painting I had never seen, Brueghel's "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus." Just a few pages beyond Auden was Henry Reed. Anytime I wrote poetry for a creative writing class in the years that followed, I was imitating either Auden, or "Naming of Parts."

It would be ten years before I would look Henry Reed up, again. I had a part-time job at the reference desk of my local public library, and I spent my shifts answering the oddest questions from our patrons, like "Where can I find a list of all the times the word 'breast' appears in The Bible?" After a while I knew enough about how the library worked and how the books were organized to try and answer some of my own questions.

There was nothing about Reed online in those days. Most of the library's databases were still on CD-Rom. In Louis Untermeyer's anthology, Modern American and British Poetry, I learned there were two more poems to Reed's Lessons of the War: "Judging Distances," and "Unarmed Combat." There was also a long, long poem called "The Auction Sale." I must have known that Reed had written other poems, but I hadn't been prepared to find two sequels to "Naming of Parts," and certainly nothing as good as "Judging Distances."

And it would be a few more years before I would learn of Reed's death, after I had taken a job at a university library. There, it was easy enough to go to the Reference section—so much more comprehensive than the one at my old public library—and look him up. So I finally found out that Reed had died back in 1986, about the same time I first read "Naming of Parts." But there are biographies in the reference sections of many libraries which haven't been updated since before Reed died, and several printed since which failed to notice his passing, and you can still find him listed in the subject headings of library catalogs online with a heartening Reed, Henry, 1914 - .


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What is Henry Reed's first name?

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.'



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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