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«  Henry Reed Learns Another Lesson  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

18.6.2021


Henry Reed Learns Another Lesson

Here are a few lines from Mercer Simpson. Simpson was slow to publish his poetry; born in 1926, his first volume, East Anglian Wordscapes, wasn't released until 1993. His fourth and last, Enclosures and Disclosures, was published just last year, after his death in June of 2007 at the age of 81. Though he was born in London, grew up in Suffolk, and was educated at Cambridge and at Bristol, Simpson lived in Wales for 50 years, where he was a lecturer at the University of Glamorgan in Cardiff (formerly the Glamorgan College of Technology), and it is his studies and work on Welsh literature for which he is known.

Enclosures and Disclosures

Enclosures and Disclosures includes a sequence of poems subtitled "Visions of War". Simpson's visions include "Edward Thomas Looks Through His Periscope" ('they are reciting/unfinished poems/left in diaries/in their dug-outs'), and "After Field Operations: Wilfrid Owen Has a Nightmare in Craiglockhart Hospital" ('Improper advances had been made on many fronts/and there had been reported instances of bleeding...'). This is the fifth and final poem from this section, from the war of words:
Henry Reed Learns Another Lesson of the War

The blank page
has a wall round it:
the guards all in white uniforms
insist, Words shall not pass!
Stop
(full stop) and identify yourselves:
admit only one meaning
at a time. Remember, ambiguities
are dangerous, they provoke
revolutionaries to plant their bombs
against the established order.


The weary poets imprisoned inside
scrabbling for words in the blank-faced
snow-white indescribably pure
substitute for earth would prefer
a little dirt to illuminate the human scene.
They are waiting for the guards to admit
words that cross the line, that unhyphenate,
slide off into strange misspellings, come out
in a completely unfamiliar language.
Could it be Esperanto, even if the military
prefer Newspeak? No chance to examine a fresh consignment.
The typewriter has cancelled the invoice.

Now we get the silly old tired words
lined up on the white parade ground,
everything incredibly clean, highly polished.
The regimental-sergeant-major brings the parade
inflexibly to attention. No one dare move.
Everything is equally spaced, with the rhymes
keeping their precise distance at the end
of each line. Now the poem
is marched off into the drill shed
as it's snowing again, and we ought to be
in greatcoats instead of shirtsleeve
order. It's all a whiteout and what we've written
is completely and utterly forgettable.
You can read an excerpt from Enclosures and Disclosures at Rockingham Press, and the book is available for purchase from Amazon.co.uk.


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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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