Part and Pasture

Frank Kermode

  • Collected Poems by Henry Reed, edited with an introduction by Jon Stallworthy
    Oxford, 166 pp, £20.00, October 1991, ISBN 0 19 212298 3

Henry Reed was a sad man but a funny man, and his poems are funny or sad – often, as in the celebrated ‘Lessons of the War’, both at once. I first met him in 1965, in the office of Robert Heilman, then the benevolent but firm head of the English Department at the University of Washington in Seattle. Calling to present my credentials, I walked into a row; Heilman benevolently firm, Reed furious, licensed to be furious. He was in Seattle as a replacement for Theodore Roethke, the regular poet in residence, who had suddenly died. Whether Roethke had contributed to the routine work of the department I don’t know, but if he hadn’t Heilman did not regard his immunity as a precedent and was requiring Reed to give some lectures on the Brontës. Reed argued that he had been hired exclusively as a poet and declined to speak of these tiresome women. I came in when he was telling Heilman this, and also scolding him for referring to the novelists by the fancy name their father had affected in order to suggest a connection with Lord Nelson. ‘How can you ask me to lecture on the O’Pruntys?’ he shouted. But he did as he was asked. He and Heilman were, or became, great friends.

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