A Short Biography of FWR
(For a little portrait click the logo on the left)
The following lines are excerpts from the introduction to "The Performing Word", written by Andrew Hoyem of Arion Press. He kindly gave his permission for publication 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, an independent undergraduate institution famed for its comprehensive liberal arts program and its high standards of intellectual excellence. The school has produced other poets, including Philip Whalen, Lew Welch, and Gary Snyder. College fueled his already awakened interest in literature, and he was writing poetry there. 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, during which he produced few poems, Reid decided to become a printer and to use his skills to print his own books of poetry. Following some trade school training, he went to work at the Ward Ritchie Press in Los Angeles, known for high quality printing. By then he had married. For his wife's health they moved to the Arizona desert and eventually to San Francisco, where they had found a doctor who seemed to be able to help her. While he was still in Los Angeles his first book of poetry, "Cris et Mots", was privately printed, and his second book, "Sixty-four Poems", was produced at the press of Grant Dahlstrom.
At Reed College 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 also inspired Reid, and eventually Whalen, Welch, and Snyder to improve their handwriting by the study of the italic form. The manuscripts of these poets, each in his characteristic hand, are marvels of calligraphy, the poem made visually artful but not too refined, as a graphic expression of poetry.
The new poetry was then all free verse and open form. The young Reid took cognizance of this, broke with the past, experimented, and eventually came round to an assimilation of styles historic and contemporary. He has proposed that "poetry, once a stream, has now widened and will continue to widen into a vast delta, the many branches emptying into a sea huge beyond immediate comprehension". He discovered early in his career that "there was a formal inclination in him; and so, along with the open-form poems he was writing, he began to invent his own forms and to borrow from the past when the occasion dictated" (speaking in the third person).
Reid recalls Stevens who, when asked for an occasional poem, blurted out, "but it would have to rhyme". Our poet believes that every poem is an occasional poem and that the occasion dictates the form. He has argued, "the organic-form people preach that formality runs counter to the wild and endless variety of nature, but they look at the jungle; were they to go into the jungle and look closely at the leaf they would learn that nature is formal as well as informal and that nature repeats itself endlessly". 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".
In San Francisco Fred Reid worked as a typographer, mainly in advertising, and was employed by Price Typography, a division of Mackenzie & Harris, until he retired. He associated with prominent figures in the San Francisco literary scene, such as William Everson and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He was also friendly with people in the fine printing world, notably Adrian Wilson. I became acquainted with Fred Reid and his poetry during my partnership in Grabhorn-Hoyem (1966-73), well before Arion Press sublet space from Mackenzie & Harris in 1985. There Reid was a fixture, the scholarly typesetter and proofreader in a smock with composing stick in hand. [...]
We were also recipients of copies of a book of poems printed by offset in 1976, the printing plates made from pages he wrote out with a broad pen in his handsome calligraphy. It was entitled "A Swell of Poems", the poems, one to a page, increasing in lines to the middle of the book, then receding, like a wave. In 1972 he set a poem of some 3,500 lines, entitled "Hawks over the City", on a Linotype machine and printed it as a tall narrow book on a proofing press for private distribution. Collectors and libraries will have the challenge of finding copies of his earlier publications and of the single poems he sent to friends annually.
These days Fred Reid is less mobile but he remains active as a poet. As he has written, "Stoutly here comes Fred the bard / Walking slowly and breathing hard." [...] He lives in a pleasant, book-lined apartment on Nob Hill in San Francisco, an area of the city were he has resided for decades. In his library are many rarities, first editions of his favorite poets, and literary works by a broad range of authors. Reid has studied the history of his craft and keeps current with the latest developments in poetry. He has a special interest in the writings and paintings of Jack Yeats, brother of the Irish poet W. B. Yeats, having met and corresponded with him before Yeat's death in 1957. [...] His second marriage, to Beate Dietze, the dedicatee of many of his works, is of twenty-five years happy duration. [...]