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Reed, Jeremy

REED, Jeremy


Nationality: British. Born: Jersey, Channel Islands, in 1951. Education: University of Essex, Colchester, B.A. (honors). Awards: Eric Gregory award, 1982; Somerset Maugham award, 1985. Address: c/o Jonathan Cape Ltd., 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SWlV 2SA, England.

Publications

Poetry

Night Attack. Osterley, Middlesex, Open Arteries Press, n.d.

Target. Jersey, Andium Press, 1972.

Vicissitudes. London, Morgue at Zero, 1974.

Agate Paws. Osterley, Middlesex, White Dog Press, 1975.

Diseased Near Deceased. London, Caligula, 1975.

The Priapic Beatitudes: 13 Runic Epiphanies to a Jade Novella. Newcastle upon Tyne, Laundering Room Press, 1975.

Emerald Cat. Osterley, Middlesex, White Dog Press, 1975.

Ruby Onocentaur. Hounslow, Middlesex, Guillotine Press, 1975.

Blue Talaria. Osterley, Middlesex, White Dog Press, 1976.

Count Bluebeard. Breakish, Skye, Aquila/Phaeton Press, 1976.

The Isthmus of Samuel Greenberg. London, Trigram Press, 1976.

Jack's in His Corset. London, Many Press, 1978.

Saints and Psychotics: Poems, 1973–1974. London, Enitharmon Press, 1979.

Walk on Through. Peterborough, Spectacular Diseases, 1980.

Bleecker Street. Manchester, Carcanet, 1980.

No Refuge Here. Leaman, 1981.

A Long Shot to Heaven. London, Menard Press, 1982.

A Man Afraid. London, Enitharmon Press, 1982.

The Secret Ones. London, Enitharmon Press, 1983.

By the Fisheries. London, Cape, 1984.

Elegy for Senta. Privately printed, 1985.

Nero. London, Cape, 1985.

Skies. London, Enitharmon Press, 1985.

Border Pass. Privately printed, 1986.

Selected Poems. London, Penguin, 1987.

Engaging Form. London, Cape, 1988.

The Escaped Image. Child Okeford, Dorset, Words, 1988.

Nineties. London, Cape, 1990.

Dicing for Pearls. Petersfield, Hampshire, Enitharmon Press, 1990.

Volcano Smoke at Diamond Beach. Newcastle upon Tyne, Cloud, 1992.

Black Sugar: Trisexual Poems. London, Owen, 1992.

Bitter Blue: Tranquillizers, Creativity, Breakdown. London and Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Owen, 1995.

Brigitte's Blue Heart. Kidderminster, Crescent Moon, 1997.

Claudia Schiffer's Red Shoes. Kidderminster, Crescent Moon, 1998.

Novels

The Lipstick Boys. London, Enitharmon Press, 1984.

Blue Rock. London, Cape, 1987.

Red Eclipse. London, Cape, 1989.

Inhabiting Shadows. London, Owen, 1989.

Isidore. London, Owen, 1991.

Red-Haired Android. San Francisco, City Lights, 1992.

When the Whip Comes Down: A Novel about de Sade. London, Owen, 1992.

Delirium: An Interpretation of Arthur Rimbaud. San Franciso, City Lights, 1994.

Diamond Nebula: A Novel. London, Owen, 1994.

Chasing Black Rainbows. London, Owen, 1994.

Pop Stars. London, Enitharmon, 1994.

Kicks. London, Creation, 1994.

Sweet Sister Lyric. London, Enitharmon Press, and Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Dufour Editions, 1996.

Short Stories

Red Hot Lipstick: Erotic Stories. London and Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Owen, 1996.

Other

Madness: The Price of Poetry. London, Owen, 1989.

Lipstick, Sex, and Poetry: An Autobiography. London, Owen, 1991.

Waiting for the Man. London, Picador, 1994.

The Last Star: A Study of Marc Almond. London and San Francisco, Creation, 1995; revised edition, London, Velvet, 1999.

Heart on My Sleeve. Paris and London, Alyscamps Press, 1996.

Dorian. London and Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Owen, 1997.

Another Tear Falls: A Study of Scott Walker. London and San Francisco, Creation, 1998.

Sister Midnight. London, Velvet, 1998.

Angels, Divas and Blacklisted Heroes. London, Owen, 1999.

The Last Decadent: A Study of Brian Jones. London, Creation, 1999.

Patron Saint of Eye-Liner. London, Creation, 2000.

Translator, Novalis Hymns to the Night, by Georg Phillipp Friedrich von Hardenberg. Petersfield, Hampshire, Enitharmon Press, 1989.

Translator, The Coastguard's House (verse), by Eugenio Montale. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1990.

*

Critical Study: "An Introduction to Reed, Lasdun, and Robertson" by Robert Billings, in Waves (Richmond Hill, Ontario), 11(1), fall 1982.

*  *  *

In an era of poetry broadly characterized by understatement, austerity, or the sporadically successful association of subjects and objects normally considered to have little of interest in common, the work of Jeremy Reed is rich, charged, and more traditional in its imagery and concerns. While there is a case for saying that flora and fauna were due for an emancipation, having been for a few generations nervously evaded—as if washed out over the ages—Reed is perceived in some quarters to be an aloof, rarified poet making a bygone music. Again, on the other hand, he is seen by David Gascoyne and others as a lone and true poetic voice, an inheritor, one of the very few to sustain the work of the surrealists and imagists, to retain faith in art as art, and to keep alive an admittedly unfashionable aesthetic. The publisher Cape has advertised him with the following, which is probably fair to say: "No other contemporary poet arouses such extremes of passion."

Reed's first major collection was the award-winning By the Fisheries, in which he makes abundantly clear that the level of his eye and the richness of his palette are capable of fine discovery, that a unique and individual subject can enumerate and evoke with the objectivity of an especial science. An integrity is created simply by the depth and patience of Reed's observation. Exhaustive, he is rarely exhausting, though a poet who works like this cannot expect always to discover or deliver. This is first-phase Reed at its most enraptured, reminding diction of its resources, reveling in the scent of rare words:

Before her stretched a plain, and asphodels
and the mauve crocus were a coloured rain
entrancing her to stoop, and white umbels
of hemlock caught the breeze...

But it also is a world of dirt and decay, and his eye sees this with a kind of sympathetic detachment. "Buoys," for instance, lie unused in a shipping yard, "their cyclopean /eyeballs gone rusty from staring /unlidded at the ocean." While Reed stares likewise at nature, he is capable of fresh and delighting insight, exemplifying the duty of the poet to keep watching, even marking time, so that a few poems reach a glimpse like this one describing waves: "and each still adamantly disbelieves /the end of summer, holds to the late sun /like birds in migration, half turning back, /unsure it's not lonelier to go on." He is very much a painterlike writer, a poet of studies through which he hones his style in step with the changing world around him. The words he gives the distraught poet in "John Clare's Journal" suggest the stylistic loneliness of Reed's chosen path: "Better to be a botanist, and mark /each seasonal change, and what's peculiar /to one's native region …."

The Clare poem and those written with the voices of "Christopher Smart in Madness" and "The Person from Porlock" are impressive departures from Reed's nature watch. The Person's encounter with the "scholar … given over to verse and reverie" is inevitably quite funny, but it is rather chilling too and might not have disgraced that scholar's famously scary ballad, for "he … looked unseeingly right through my head, /as though the page was on the other side."

The collection Nero heralds further departures and intensifications. In a series of violent nature poems such as "Spider Fire" and "Wounded Gull," Reed displays growing muscularity and command. This line from the former, though decasyllabic like most of Reed's early lines, is drawn out and up by a strong beat on the word "shock," which is itself just that—"What was the fire's shock through a spider's eye?" These lines, however, make clear a watchful and joyous craft in sound: "I watched from the hill's summit; a black hoop /ironed into the shire was a ring of ash /incinerating insects in its char." The poem ends with the further (and downplayed) discovery of the surviving spiders, "too tired to hide."

Luxuriant sound is inevitably Reed's constant temptress, and his aesthetic can seem not so much archaic or willful as overcooked and indulgent. It is the fruits of his looking hard at the natural world that always succeed best. "Dead Weasels" is a better poem than "The Music of Blue," while the voyage through Baudelaire's back pages is not for the fainthearted, its vigor undeniable but its disgust rather forced.

Yet Nero also includes some vivid cover versions of Horace and Catullus, clever choices for a poetry so tactile and detailing, that stand Reed in good stead in his title poem, in which the emperor goes crazy with the "whole deranged, effete imperial zoo /looking on…."Visions of a toppling, days-numbered civilization strengthen other poems too as "a transistor /bubbles with its platitudinous tide /of universal misexpenditures." In the section "After Montale" in his Selected Poems the work of the Italian poet provides the canvas for Reed's brush. This is another good choice of master for a poet not so much concerned with conclusions and history as with the texture of the moment, of the line itself.

The poetry-reading public Reed so sharply divides is further split by two later collections, Engaging Form and Nineties, though wherever one stands, it is possible to admire this poet's restlessness, his unwillingness to stick to the single-track highway. These books mark a growing concern with the wider and contemporary world while stylistically veering into the more surreal. The nuclear threat, AIDS, drugs, and America jostle with Hölderlin, Lorca, Jean Genet, and David Bowie. Reed takes flights and risks here, too soon perhaps into the abstract: "LOVE AND DEATH. /Are much the same; the fear of one /involves the other." One wonders whether fellow worshipers of the aesthetic and the stylized—Bowie, Lou Reed, Ashbery, Egon Schiele—or minor passersby in the palace of excess—voyeurs, transvestites, fetishists—make the best subjects for this kind of poet. It is not easy to outshine orioles or peacocks with words.

Reed remains his own man, however, devoted to his aesthetic in a way that can be seen either as outmoded or as too self-concerned—and certainly at times banal—or on the other hand as original, courageous in its solitude, and a reminder of poetic modes that merely happen to be neglected by the mainstream style of contemporary British poetry. What it must come down to are the best moments, and a poet who finds phrases like "technology occludes the light," "an airless, thundery panic," or a "green wildfire of regenerative weeds" and who evinces such a commitment to observation and accurate depiction is certainly an artist whose career repays following, whether or not one believes that at any one time he is finding the right tunes for his chosen instrument.

—Glyn Maxwell

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