Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Vernon Scannell

We're not displaying a Poem of this Week around the school this week, since there are no classes, with all our pupils deep in their exams (normal activity resumes next week), but mention should be made of the fine underrated poet Vernon Scannell, who has just died, aged 85. Scannell's poems such as 'Nettles' and 'Uncle Edward's Afflictions' appear in many school poetry anthologies. Alan Brownjohn's obituary in the Guardian is here, where he writes about Scannell's fastidious procedure as a poet, his unflinching focus on the age-old themes of love, war and death, his concern for 'a real involvement with living experience'. Craft and care, and for that matter clarity and accessibility, were unquestionable necessities if you were serious about the art.

Here's a poem from the 1965 collection Epithets of War :-


begins slowly, uncertain of
its terminus, but after
the first hesitancies,
destination still hidden,
the pace increases, grows more sure
though with a confidence
that will not be for long sustained
when it becomes apparent
that movement is towards
not revelation or release
but a darkness darker far
than any known midnight,
dungeon, tunnel, desperation,
and all sentences must end
with an abrupt full-stop,
punched in like a nail, its black head
showing on the page, like this.

added later : link to Simon Jenkins's tribute in the Guardian, 23.11.07. Jenkins was taught by Scannell in prep school, and writes -
So remember, all you drifting, drinking, despairing, self-demeaning schoolmasters. Hidden at the back of your class, pretending to be sullen and resistant, is a boy in whose imagination lurks unknown a spark waiting to be blown to flame. Scannell was even better than a good poet. He could teach.

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