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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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Henry Reed, ca. 1960


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«  Point of Balance  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

26.11.2021


Point of Balance

I think every staff member working at the main library noticed I was there late this afternoon, and not at work. I snuck out an hour early to pick up a couple of books waiting for me from offsite storage. Everybody said hi, even the head of Access Services, whom I was disturbed to discover could recognize me even hunched over a table, pouring over a book, from behind.

I had a couple of leads to run down, tangential, but leads nonetheless. An article in an old British Museum Quarterly on the papers of Sydney Carlyle Cockerell, bibliophile and former director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, from 1908 to 1937. Reed wrote a letter to Cockerell in 1955, but I haven't found any mention of its contents anywhere in his collected letters. The article in the BMQ shed no light.

I also had an obscure reference to something the poet John Ciardi calls the fulcrum of a poem, the point of balance where a change in attitude or tone takes place, which, Ciardi argues, is always accompanied by a change in structure or technical handling. (Oh, terrific: Poets.org changed their site organization again, and all my links now point to a big, fat 404.)

"Point of balance" is an interesting phrase, since it also refers to the point on a rifle where the weight of the weapon is evenly distributed between the butt and muzzle. In a shooting stance, the point of balance should ideally fall midway between the shooter's hands, making aiming and firing easier and more accurate. The point of balance is mentioned in "Naming of Parts," and I wondered if Ciardi may have taken the phrase from Reed's poem.

After reading the chapter in How Does a Poem Mean? on "The Poem in Countermotion," it would appear, however, that Ciardi was just taking the metaphor of a fulcrum to its logical end, and he was genuinely attempting to describe a poem's silent tipping point, something like the volta or "turn" in a sonnet, after which a realization or resolution is reached. The point between the fourth and fifth stanzas of "Naming of Parts" is a good example of this, where the two, duelling voices of Army and Spring finally merge.

Reading How Does a Poem Mean? (or any scholarly work on the study of poetry) makes me feel a little like Agent Starling visiting Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and I'm a bit out of my depth and on my guard.

"What does it do, this pome you seek?"

"Uh, well. See, it's about mending a stone wall...."

"No. That is in-cidental. First principles..." and Ciardi (or whoever) launches into a rail on Marcus Aurelius, leaving me behind, standing in a cloud of my own ignorance.

And apparently, John Frederick Nims makes a similar point about an "emotional fulcrum." What need does this poem serve by turning? What is its nature?


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Notation for "Point of Balance":
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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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