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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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All posts for "AuctionSale"

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

8.8.2022


A Field of Large Desires

I've just discovered that Carcanet included Reed's underappreciated longer poem, "The Auction Sale," in a 2010 anthology of work originally published as Greville Press pamphlets: A Field of Large Desires.

Book cover

Edited by Anthony Astbury, who opened the Greville Press (officially) in 1979 in the hopes that poetry in England "will happen again," the new collection is "both a treasure trove and a celebration of a remarkable venture."

The title comes from a sonnet by Fulke Greville, Lord Brook:
Man's youth it is a field of large desires,
Which pleas'd within, doth all without them please;
For in this love of men live those sweet fires,
That kindle worth and kindness unto praise;
     And where self-love most from her selfness gives,
     Man greatest in himself, and others lives.
The anthology includes pieces by Robert Bridges, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Daryush, Lawrence Durrell, Kate Ellis, David Gascoyne, W.S. Graham, Robert Graves, Ian Hamilton, John Heath-Stubbs, George Herbert, John Masefield, Edna O'Brien, Harold Pinter, Anne Ridler, Alan Ross, Martin Seymour-Smith, C.H. Sisson, Stevie Smith, and Arseny Tarkovsky, among others.

Henry Reed's "The Auction Sale" was printed as a Greville Press pamphlet in 2006.



1533. Friend-Periera, F.J. "Four Poets," Some Recent Books, New Review 23, no. 128 (June 1946), 482-484 [482].
A short review calls A Map of Verona more pretentious than C.C. Abbott's The Sand Castle; influenced by Eliot, Auden, MacNeice, and Day Lewis.


The Auction Sale


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).



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.


Unappearing Poems

I'm itching to read Stuart Kelly's The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You'll Never Read, stories of famously lost manuscripts, burned or misplaced drafts, abandoned subjects, suppressed works, and uncompleted novels.

Kelly's book is an inventory of the greatest works of literature ever written which neither he, nor anyone else, will ever possess. "The entire history of literature was also the history of the loss of literature." From the 'Arthurian epics contemplated by both Dryden and Milton but never written,' 'Laurence Sterne's never completed "Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy,"' as well as the novel Sylvia Plath was working on before her suicide.

My own list of great works of lost literature would include Henry Reed's phantom collection, The Auction Sale and Other Poems.

As late as 1977, Reed was still contemplating publishing a follow-up to his first collection of poetry, A Map of Verona. Indeed, his entry in Who's Who (.pdf) from that year lists The Auction Sale and Other Poems among his published works. The title poem is arguably Reed's strongest post-War verse. But the book failed to materialize in print. As Jon Stallworthy states in his introduction to the posthumous Collected Poems, 'As a perfectionist, [Reed] could not bring himself to release what he must have recognized would be his last book until it was as good as he could make it, and it never was.'

The Collected Poems includes many of the drafts and fragments which would have gone into Reed's second collection, so in a way, nothing has been lost. But I dream of parallel, mirror universe, in which there is a copy of The Auction Sale on my bookshelf, with a version of Reed's "Northwest" poem in the imaginary table of contents.

The New York Times calls Stuart Kelly's Book of Lost Books 'clever and highly entertaining.' Here's Chapter 1, for perusal.

«  AuctionSale  0  »


1531. Henderson, Philip. "English Poetry Since 1946." British Book News 117 (May 1950), 295.
Reed's A Map of Verona is mentioned in a survey of the previous five years of English poetry.



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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