Arion Lyre

66. The Performing Word, Selected Poems by Frederick W. Reid

The Performing Word, Selected Poems by Frederick W. Reid, edited by Glenn Todd and with a foreward by Andrew Hoyem, 2003.

This book celebrates the work of the poet Frederick W. Reid in his ninetieth year. The selection, edited by Glenn Todd, presents only a small portion of the poetry he has written, and continues to write, a body of work in excess of three thousand pages. Some poems are only a few lines, with the brevity of a haiku. Most are of substantial length, a full page or more. There are also long, ambitious poems, and of these only a few examples are included here.


Fred Reid was born in Grants Pass, Oregon, in 1914, and grew up in Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington. He attended Reed College in Portland, where one of the instructors, Lloyd Reynolds, introduced Reid to the American Revolution in Poetry: the work of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and others. He dropped out after two years to serve in the armed forces during World War II. Before the war he had already achieved his first publication in the important literary magazine, Poetry.

After the war, Reid decided to become a printer and to use his skills to print his own books of poetry. Following trade school training, he went to work at the Ward Ritchie Press in Los Angeles. Eventually he moved to San Francisco, where he spent the rest of his career as a typographer, retiring from Price Typography, a division of Mackenzie-Harris. Reid has long been active in the Bay Area literary scene, associating with such figures as William Everson and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Because the new poetry was free verse and open form, Reid broke with the past, experimented, and eventually came round to an assimilation of styles historic and contemporary. The reader, he warns, "will find open and closed forms given equal status, borrowed or invented for the occasion according to whim and dictate, in the spirit of both tradition and revolution".

Fred Reid remains active as a poet. The last poem in this book is among the most accomplished in the selection and was written very recently. It is quoted below.


“The Desert of the Mind”

My years wind down and, as they wind,
Descend into areas of thought of a kind
That nurture the notion, fertility here
Has turned to futility, dry and sere;

Where once wild freshets ran full careen
Through extravagant foliage lush and green,
Each hill, every valley lavished with rain,
Each hillside abundant with golden grain,

Where all winds gathered from near and far
Beneath an indulgent thought-blessing star,
Where poetry flourished in a floriate land,
There is now but barren bleak burning sand;

Time offers neither the nourishing source
Nor stream from which to gather new force;
No root reaches down, no sprig will start,
Mind's garden turns desert in every part;

Thought once resplendent in living light
Is now respondent to the blasts of blight,
Condemned by a fallow improvident urge
To become all desiccate, dull and durge;

The years close in and will soon conclude,
But why let thought such as this intrude;
I still stroll under that warm living sky
Of love, and even as the mind burns dry

The heart remains full to the very brim,
Protected by angels and seraphim
Who shade ripened love from a desert sun
That turns all thought to dust and to dun.


This is the sixty-sixth publication of the Arion Press. The edition is limited to 500 copies. The book consists of 108 pages. The format is 6 by 9 inches. The type is Janson, composed and cast on the Monotype by Mackenzie & Harris. The printing, by letterpress, is on Mohawk Superfine paper. A photograph of the poet is the frontispiece. The binding is sewn, in soft cover, with gray wrappers. The price is $30 per copy. Available

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Edition: The format is 6 by 9 inches, 108 pages. Sewn in soft cover with gray wrappers. The edition is limited to 500 copies for sale. Price: $30.

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