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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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Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

19.11.2017


Poems for Shakespeare 4

A quick follow-up to follow through on my previous post on 1975's fourth annual "Poems for Shakespeare" — an event overshadowed by the death of Veronica Forrest-Thomson. I managed to borrow a copy of the resulting anthology. Here's the relevant part of Anthony Rudolf's introduction:

Book Cover

The public reading of Poems for Shakespeare (part of the Shakespeare birthday celebrations presented by Mr Samuel Wanamaker assisted by Ms Maggie Southam) took place on April 26, 1975 in the retrochoir of Southwark Cathedral. The evening began and ended with Shakespeare settings by Robert Johnson, Sibelius, Thomas Morley, and Rodney Greenberg (the world premiere of his 'Helen's Blues' with words from All's Well . . .), all sung by Helen Sava accompanied on the lute by Michael Hunt and on the guitar by Kevin Peake. This was the fourth annual Poems for Shakespeare. It is a matter for rejoicing that such an event is thinkable at this time — that it takes place is a tribute to poetry, to Shakespeare's genius and to Sam Wanamaker's vision and seriousness of purpose.

The 'commission of thy years and art' (to quote Romeo and Juliet) had involved (and I quote one variant of the letters I wrote to the poets) re-reading 'a Shakespeare play of your choice' and writing 'a poem out of that experience' (or in Sydney Carter's case a song). 'Naturally I am not asking for a direct response (unless you want that) but a poem of any kind that the re-reading inspires or suggests.' In addition to a poem, the poets were requested to select and read a passage from their chosen play — possibly a passage which connected in some way with the poem.

I received poems from ten of the twelve poets who were listed in the programme. Two — in the end — were not able to come up with poems. One of the ten poets did not turn up on the evening of the 26th. After the interval, when her turn came to read, I asked if she was present. Not receiving an answer, I asked two members of the audience (whom I had primed during the interval), the actress Elaine Ives Cameron, and the poet Christopher Hampton, to read Veronica Forrest-Thomson's poem and Shakespeare extract respectively. I was worried and at the same time irritated, and I expected some explanation or reason, within a day or two, for her absence. The next day a friend and colleague of hers and mine telephoned to ask if I knew where she was: her parents had been in the audience he told me, and now, twenty-four hours later, still didn't know her whereabouts. Three days later he wrote to me to say that Veronica had died the day before the reading. She was 28.

Tony Harrison, it would seem, was the other poet (besides Reed) who failed to produce a new poem before the event.



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.'


Poems for Shakespeare

Sometimes, the quest for Reed means discovering exactly where he wasn't on a given day.

In April of 1975, the World Centre for Shakespeare Studies, headed by Sam Wanamaker, presented the fourth annual Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations. Events that year included a two-month exhibition of "Shakespeare Round the Globe" at the Bear Gardens Museum (now Shakespeare's Globe), a gala concert of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra—featuring the Huddersfield Choral Society (conducted by John Pritchard), Ermano Mauro, Richard Briers, Judi Dench, Richard Johnson, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Spike Milligan, Leo McKern, Richard Pasco, and John Stride—performing at Royal Festival Hall, and a concert of "Shakespeare jazz" at Southwark Cathedral (directed by Neil Ardley and coordinated by Ian Carr), with performances by Roy Babbington, Pete and Pepi Lemer, Henry Lowther, John Marshall, Dave Macrae, Paul Ruthorford, Alan Skidmore, Chris Spedding, Trevor Tomkins, Ray Warleigh, and others.

Concluding the festival was a poetry recital on the evening of April 26: "Poems for Shakespeare IV," also staged at Southwark Cathedral. Scheduled to read were Keith Bosley, Ernest Bryll, Sydney Carter, Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Erich Fried, Tony Harrison, John Heath-Stubbs, Jon Silkin, Ken Smith, Val Warner, Augustus Young, and Henry Reed, delivering poems commissioned specially for the event. Musical accompaniment was provided by Helen Sava and Michael Hunt.

Poems for Shakespeare

Advertisement from The Spectator, April 26, 1975.

I was initially excited that Reed had made an appearance—possibly with a new poem—but I was skeptical. An anthology of pieces from the recital, Poems for Shakespeare 4 (Anthony Rudolf, ed. Globe Playhouse Trust, 1976), was released the following year, but Reed is not listed among the contributors. From British Book News:

This is the fourth collection of poems based, however intimately or remotely, on the experience of reading Shakespeare's plays; they were originally read as part of the Shakespeare birthday celebrations at Southwark Cathedral last year. Ten poets are each represented by a single poem, ranging from a vigorous, straightforward and pleasantly ironical ballad by Sidney Carter [sic] to a strange elliptical and disturbing meditation by the late Veronica Forrest-Thomson. My own favourites are 'Winter in Illyria' by John Heath-Stubbs and 'Winter Occasions' by Ken Smith. Anthony Rudolf's introduction is oddly aggressive except where it pays deserved tribute to Miss Forrest-Thomson.

Further research on the event turned up this excerpt from Augustus Young's memoir, Chronicling Myself, wherein he discusses "Veronica" (at the bottom of the page):

Her paradis artificiels were cut short two years later. At 'Poems for Shakespeare' in Southwark Cathedral I stood at the back, breathing the air coming up off the river. On the Tube home, Eddie Linden told Tony and myself that he saw Veronica in one of the cloisters, but she had disappeared before her turn came to deconstruct Shakespeare. That was the night of her suicide.

She lives on, on the tip of the tongue of the L-a-n-g-u-a-g-e poets.

Veronica Forrest-Thomson, an influential poet, is best known for her book of criticism, Poetic Artifice (Manchester University Press, 1978). Jacket Magazine had an issue devoted to Forrest-Thomson, in 2002. (It's my understanding that her premature death at the age of 27 is now considered to be accidental, rather than suicide.)

I sent Augustus Young an e-mail to see if he could tell me anything of Reed reading at "Poems for Shakespeare" in 1975. Mr. Young thoughtfully forwarded me to Anthony Rudolf, who had directed the event that year. Mr. Rudolf's gracious reply told me what I had already feared: Henry Reed did not appear; he was in hospital with one of his chronic illnesses, and could not be finally persuaded.



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.


Milward and Upward

An unconfirmed sighting appears in the archives of a Midwestern university: a letter from a 'Henry Reed' to Father Peter Milward, S.J., in the Small Manuscript Collection of the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota: 'Reed, Henry, one ALS to Fr. Peter Milward, 1975.'

I was quick to dismiss this as coincidence, until discovering that Father Milward is a renowned Shakespeare scholar. From "Fifty Years of Milward," in the Spring, 2002 Shakespeare Newsletter:

Milward, originally from England, has spent a half century teaching at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan. He is the founder or co-founder of numerous societies and organizations in Japan, most notably the Renaissance Institute, founded in 1971 to promote the scholarly vision of continuity between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, in the spirit of C. S. Lewis. He is the author of over 300 books, which range from scholarship to poetry to educational guides for Japanese students.

Milward's ["Fifty Years of Shakespeare, 1952-2002"] lecture at Boston College marked the establishment of the Peter Milward Special Collection (links mine) at Burns Library, which now has a more or less complete collection of Milward's Shakespeareana, and a generous selection of his other works. Boston College's scholarly journal, Religion and the Arts, is planning a sizable volume of essays on Shakespeare and the Reformation. Milward was therefore invited as a major figure in establishing Shakespeare's Reformation contexts, especially through his landmark book, Shakespeare's Religious Background, which argued for both Catholic and Anglican contexts.

Milward, it turns out, was one of the first to argue that Shakespeare was a practicing Catholic. He has also written extensively on Gerard Manly Hopkins (he is the honorary president of the Tokyo branch of the Hopkins Society of Japan), and T.S. Eliot.

While still unlikely, it seems entirely plausible that Reed may have written Father Milward to congratulate him on some publication on Shakespeare, or to argue some minuscule point of Eliot scholarship.



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.


Go, Search like Nobles

Browsing the local used book store this past weekend, scanning the Poetry section, my mouth watered when I stumbled across a like-new copy of Shakespeare's Words, a glossary of words used in the plays and poems. Alas, purse and brain both empty, forced I was to leave it begging on the shelve! (Perhaps it was for the best, as C.T. Onion's glossary seems to be the more authoritative.)

Today I see Kottke (whom I must confess not reading very much of late) pointing to Clusty's search engine, Shakespeare Searched, which is just plain cool (and some wag named the search functions "billy." Farceur!). Although, I don't see anything about which text they're using, except that it's in the public domain.

For instance, my search for "Spunge" comes up empty, but the modern spelling, "Sponge" returns the expected result.

And it's easy enough to discover the Shakepeare Searched tagline, "Go search like nobles, like noble subjects," is spoken by Helicanus in Pericles Act II, Scene iv.

«  Shakespeare Search  0  »


1510. Birmingham Post, "The Merchant of Venice," 5 March 1937.
Photograph of Henry Reed with members of the Birmingham University Dramatic Society's (BUDS) production of The Merchant of Venice. Shylock played by Ian Alexander.



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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