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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.
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All posts for "JudgingDistances"

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

28.6.2017


Judging Sound and Sense

Perrine's Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry was first published in 1956. Now going on 57 years and updated into its 14th edition, it continues to be a standard text in poetry and literature courses.

Laurence Perrine was born in Toronto, Ontario, and earned his Ph.D. from Yale in 1948. From 1946 until his retirement in 1980, he taught at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where he was appointed the Frensley Professor of English Literature in 1968. In 2007, the estate of Perrine's widow endowed a chair at the university and funded scholarships in her husband's memory.

Sound and Sense provides explanatory chapters on the subjects of imagery, metaphor, allegory, tone, rhythm, and meter, along with exemplary poems both modern and classic, followed by questions for discussion in the classroom. Older editions included Henry Reed's best-known poems from Lessons of the War: "Naming of Parts" and "Judging Distances." Perrine's suggested questions for "Naming of Parts" have been on the Web for some time, so to that let us add his questions for "Judging Distances".

Not everyone agrees with Perrine's personal approach to judging poetry; all writing which has risen to the status of a religious text risks satire. Sound and Sense holds the honor of being the inspiration for the work of the fictional critic and authority, Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, expertly lambasted in the film Dead Poets Society (1989):


(Notice how the "B" of Byron and "S" for Shakespeare conspire to create the accepted abbreviation for "bullshit".) In the chapter "Bad Poetry and Good," Perrine similarly states:

In judging a poem, as in judging any work of art, we need to ask three basic questions: (1) What is its central purpose? (2) How fully has this purpose been accomplished? (3) How important is this purpose? The first question we need to answer in order to understand the poem. The last two questions are those by which we evaluate it. The first of these measures the poem on a scale of perfection. The second measures it on a scale of significance. And, just as the area of a rectangle is determined by multiplying its measurements on two scales, breadth and height, so the greatness of a poem is determined by multiplying its measurements on two scales, perfection and significance. If the poem measures well on the first of these scales, we call it a good poem, at least of its kind. If it measures well on both scales we call it a great poem.
[p. 198]

There's a lot of good in Sound and Sense, but damn. How do you construct a counterargument to refute Dead Poets Society?



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.'


An Album of Modern Poetry

Last September, I mentioned discovering a letter to Henry Reed in the collection of Oscar Williams' correspondence at the Lilly Library in Indiana. The letter was from Henry J. Dubester, and was among a group of letters addressed to British and American poets, including Auden, William Empson, Frost, Roy Fuller, Archibald MacLeish, Roethke, and Stephen Spender (amidst many others). I wondered, at the time, what Mr. Dubester was doing, writing to so many prominent poets?

Not long after, I received an e-mail from none other than Henry Dubester, himself, which answered my question. Mr. Dubester informed me:

I was promoted and served as Assistant and then Chief of the General Reference and Bibliography Divisions of the Library of Congress. The Poetry Office was one of the sections of the Division. The Library also had a recording laboratory where recordings were made and preserved of many individuals, including poets. I had the opportunity of compiling a set of records with a selection from those recordings. Oscar Williams was my consultant who advised me on the selection. Following his advice, I contacted the poets and solicited their permission to include the text of their recorded poems with the (3) record album.

Mr. Dubester is referring to the Library of Congress Recording Laboratory's An Album of Modern Poetry: An Anthology Read by the Poets (1959), a set of recordings of the best 20th-century poets reading from their own work, edited by Williams.

LP record

My library actually owns these records, although I had to request them from the storage facility where they cache the more outdated or under-utilized materials. The library also possesses a spectacular media lab of its own, replete with soundproofed recording booths stuffed with just the right gear for analog-to-digital conversion. Which is? An ancient turntable plugged into a Mac.

So I snuck away for an hour today, and lifted the tracks of "Naming of Parts" and "Judging Distances" from Williams' Album of Modern Poetry. The boxed set is three 12", 33 1/3 microgroove LPs, pressed into a vinyl the color of which there is no word for in English ("vermillion" does not adequately convey the records' ethereal translucence).

As Mr. Dubester promised, the set includes a wonderful, 41-page printed anthology of the poems being presented by their authors, as well as an introduction from Oscar Williams on the box. And, I did enjoy a wonderfully surreal moment, when I heard Conrad Aiken's voice booming from the lab's speakers, repeatedly referring to Rambo, Rambo, Rambo, before I realized he was talking about Rimbaud. But, enough.

'This is Henry Reed, reading selections from his poems':

"Naming of Parts" (.mp3)

"Judging Distances" (.mp3)



1512. Reed, Henry. "The Case for Maigret." Reviews of Maigret Hesitates and The Man on the Bench in the Barn, by Georges Simenon. Sunday Times (London), 2 August 1970: 22.
Reed reviews two translations of George Simenon's fiction.


Swivel Tips

One of the odd, esoteric things to the study of Henry Reed is becoming familiar with the arms of World War II and their proper use. For instance, when Reed writes to his sister, in 1941, that he is learning to manage an anti-tank rifle, it is helpful to know that he is talking about the "Boyes" anti-tank rifle (though not particularly useful).

Now, I am not a gun person. Far from it. I know less about firearms than I do about automobiles. Or women, for that matter. Nevertheless, I enjoy watching endless Second World War documentaries on the History Channel, and I'm always intrigued by any details of 1940s-era basic training which may have inspired Reed's "Lessons of the War." Which is why I was so happy to see this recent "Piling Swivel" thread in the Great War Forum, which discusses piling of arms, and includes step-by-step illustrations:

Pile Arms

Also, I stumbled across this compilation of old British Pathe newsreels on YouTube, which opens with a demonstration of rifle training with the Pattern 1914 Lee-Enfield, and mentions not only "easing the spring," but even "judging distances."

The other tangential area to studying Reed is the realm of WWII cryptography, and that gets even more weird and esoteric. Oh, and japonica: I know waaaay too much about japonica.



1511. William Phillips, and Philip Rahv, eds. New Partisan Reader: 1945-1953 London: Andre Deutsch, 1953. 164-171.
Collects Reed's poem, "The Door and the Window," published in the Partisan Review in 1947.



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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