Scannell, Vernon 1922-
SCANNELL, Vernon 1922-
PERSONAL: Born January 23, 1922, in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, England; married Josephine Higson, October, 1954; children: Nancy, Tobias, Benjamin (deceased), Jane, John, Jacob. Education: Attended University of Leeds, 1946-47. Politics: "Romantic Radical." Hobbies and other interests: Listening to radio (especially music), watching boxing matches, films, reading.
ADDRESSES: Home—51 North St., Otley, West York-shire LS21 1AH, England.
CAREER: Writer. Professional boxer, 1945-46; Hazelwood School, Limpsfield, Surrey, England, teacher of English, 1955-62. Village of Berinsfield, resident poet, 1975; also visiting poet at schools. Freelance broadcaster. Military service: British Army, Gordon Highlanders, 1941-46.
MEMBER: Royal Society of Literature (fellow).
AWARDS, HONORS: Heinemann Award for Literature, Royal Society of Literature, 1960, for The Masks of Love; Cholmondoley Poetry Prize, 1974, for The Winter Man; writers' fellow, Southern Arts, 1975; Society of Authors traveling scholarship, 1984; Poetry Book Society, recommendation for A Sense of Danger, and choice citation for The Loving Game.
Graves and Resurrections, Fortune Press (London, England), 1948.
A Mortal Pitch, Villiers (London, England), 1957.
The Masks of Love, Putnam (London, England), 1960.
A Sense of Danger, Putnam, England, 1962.
Walking Wounded: Poems 1962-1965, Eyre & Spottiswoode (London, England), 1965.
Epithets of War: Poems 1965-1969, Eyre & Spottiswoode (London, England), 1969.
Mastering the Craft (for children), Pergamon (Oxford, England), 1970.
Selected Poems, Allison & Busby (London, England), 1971.
Company of Women, Sceptre Press (Frensham, Surrey, England), 1971.
Incident at West Bay, Keepsake Press (Richmond, Surrey, England), 1972.
The Winter Man: New Poems, Allison & Busby (Richmond, Surrey, England), 1973.
Meeting in Manchester, Sceptre Press (Rushden, Northamptonshire, England), 1974.
The Apple-Raid and Other Poems (for children), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1974.
The Loving Game, Robson Books (London, England), 1975.
An Ilkley Quintet, privately printed, c. 1975.
(With Alexis Lykiard) A Modern Tower Reading 1, Modern Tower (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England), 1976.
New and Collected Poems: 1950-1980, Robson Books (London, England), 1980.
Of Love and Music, Mapletree, 1980.
Winterlude, Robson Books (London, England), 1982.
Funeral Games and Other Poems, Robson Books (London, England), 1987.
The Clever Potato (for children), Century Hutchinson (London, England), 1988.
Soldiering On: Poems of Military Life, Robson Books (London, England), 1989.
Love Shouts and Whispers (for children) illustrated by Tony Ross, Century Hutchinson (London, England), 1990.
A Time for Fires, Robson Books (London, England), 1991.
Travelling Light (for children), illustrated by Tony Ross, Bodley Head (London, England), 1991.
Collected Poems, 1950-1993, Robson Books (London, England), 1994.
The Black and White Days, Robson Books (London, England), 1996.
Views and Distances, Enitharmon Press (London, England), 2000.
Of Love and War: New and Selected Poems, Robson Books (London, England), c. 2002.
Also author of On Your Cycle Michael, illustrated by Tony Ross. Contributor to books, including Mavericks: An Anthology, edited by Howard Sergeant and Dannie Abse, Editions Poetry and Poverty (London, England), 1957; Pergamon Poets 8, edited by Dennis Butts, Pergamon (London, England), 1970; Corgi Modern Poets in Focus: 4, edited by Jeremy Robson, Corgi Books (London, England), 1971; and Poets in Hand, edited by Anne Harvey, Puffin (London, England), 1985.
The Fight, Peter Nevill (London, England), 1953.
The Wound and the Scar, Peter Nevill, (London, England), 1954.
The Big Chance, John Long (London, England), 1960.
The Shadowed Place, John Long, (London, England), 1961.
The Face of the Enemy, Putnam, (London, England), 1961.
The Dividing Night, Putnam (London, England), 1962.
The Big Time, Longmans, Green (London, England), 1965.
The Dangerous Ones (for children), Pergamon (London, England), 1970.
A Lonely Game (for children), Wheaton (Exeter, England), 1979.
Feminine Endings, Enitharmon Press (London, England), 2000.
The Tiger and the Rose: An Autobiography, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1971.
A Proper Gentleman, Robson Books (London, England), 1977.
Ring of Truth (autobiographical novel), Robson Books (London, England), 1983.
Argument of Kings (autobiographical novel), Robson Books (London, England), 1987.
Drums of Morning: Growing Up in the Thirties, Robson Books (London, England), 1992.
(Editor, with Patricia Beer and Ted Hughes) New Poems 1962: A PEN Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Hutchinson (London, England), 1962.
A Man's Game (radio play), 1962.
A Door with One Eye (radio play), 1963.
Edward Thomas (criticism), Longmans, Green (London, England), 1963.
The Cancelling Dark (radio opera), music by Christopher Whelan, 1965.
(With Dannie Abse and Leonard Clark) Three Poets, Two Children, edited by Desmond Badham-Thornhill, Thornhill Press (Gloucester, England), 1975.
Not without Glory: Poets of the Second World War, Woburn (London, England), 1976.
(Editor) Your Attention Please: An Anthology from the Open University Poets, Hesperus (Winchester, Hampshire, England), 1983.
How to Enjoy Poetry, Piatkus (Loughton, Essex, England), 1983.
How to Enjoy Novels, Piatkus (Loughton, Essex, England), 1984.
(Editor) Sporting Literature: An Anthology, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1987.
Contributor to periodicals, including Listener, Encounter, London, Spectator, and Times Literary Supplement.
Some of Scannell's manuscripts are housed at the British Library in London, the Eton College Library, and at the University of Texas in Austin.
SIDELIGHTS: "For more than thirty years [Vernon] Scannell has written poems that meet the challenges of established forms while drawing on his vivid experiences as soldier, boxer, lover, husband and father, tutor and lecturer, broadcaster, drinker, and general survivor," wrote John H. Schwartz in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. A versatile writer who is also recognized for his novels and autobiographies, Scannell is frequently referred to as a "melancholy poet" because of the frequency with which he writes about danger and death, said Schwartz.
Scannell's themes are played out in the field of ordinary everyday living. "Scannell is an observer of life's ordinary cruelties," observed David McDuff in a Stand review of Scannell's poetic works, adding that "the theme of war and its 'terrible abstractions,' its anti-human rationalisation and normalisation of suffering, goes right through Scannell's oeuvre."
Scannell's style, sometimes compared by critics to that of Thomas Hardy for its anecdotal elements and O. Henry for its characteristic surprise endings, is frequently noted for its "clear and level-headed attitude to life's difficulties" and "consistency of tone, content and purpose" as McDuff related. In a review for the New Statesman, Alan Brownjohn praised Scannell's "no-nonsense standpoint." In a later New Statesman review, Anthony Thwaite cited the "straight-forward" appeal of Scannell's work and descriptions that have a "marvelously clean and clear accuracy."
Some other early critics of Scannell's work were less appreciative. Donald Hall commented in the New Statesman: "In most of these poems, the author seems unaware that he is using metaphor…. Scannell's meter is sloppy…. In short, Scannell lacks art. There are poem-length thoughts but no poems here…. I suspect that it is easier to get away with bad writing if you call it poetry."
Scannell has taken his criticism and emerged stronger over the years, winning respect not only for his endurance, but not infrequently for his skill as well. Commenting on Scannell's next collection, The Masks of Love, a reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement, commenting specifically on the poem "The Lynching," wrote: "This is the kind of writing that really stops one short. One can only call the quiet underlining of the comparison between the hanged man and the wives ('fastened at the neck /And neat at feet') unemphatic emphasis." The reviewer commended Scannell's "ability to speak through images."
Writing for the New Statesman, Alan Brownjohn thought Scannell's collection The Winter Man to be "arguably his best book yet. He hasn't changed his material or his poetic personality: just found new ways with old subjects, achieved an increasing technical confidence, and written more movingly and interestingly than before." Brownjohn concluded that "all in all, The Winter Man represents a most encouraging advance." A reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement expressed similar sentiments, judging The Winter Man to be Scannell's "best volume to date." The reviewer cited Scannell's "delicate judgment and dramatizing skill."
In a 1980 overview of Scannell's poetry in New and Collected Poems, 1950-1980, Times Literary Supplement critic Simon Curtis summed things up thus: "[To] those who prefer significant communication to self-expression Vernon Scannell's Collected Poems demonstrates much that is right with the plain presentation of mood and reflection, linked to incident and episode; poems that limit themselves to saying something clear." Curtis went on to summarize Scannell's various, recurring themes: "Fatherhood, soldiering, fear, death, wry bitterness at aging, love in many aspects, the vulnerability of seemingly-strong characters…; scenes whose backcloth is the railway station, the schoolroom, the bar, the bedroom." All of these themes, Curtis continued, were expressed in "images resolutely ordinary." Reviewing the collection for the New Statesman, Alan Hollinghurst also seized upon the note of clarity: "the result is a body of work of easy appeal and genuine and likeable personality." Hollinghurst summed up Scannell's work: "He is funny and ironical; but he is not numinous, and his poems are unlikely to haunt the reader. This is partly a consequence of their being well-made, formal and unambiguous, envisaging poetic success in a readily available clarity: this indeed is their achievement and their limitation."
Scannell has used the resources of a rich and varied life to inform his poetry and prose. While never writing in the "confessional" mode of Lowell and other postwar moderns, he has also managed to duck the egoless abstractions favored by the earlier New Critics. Indeed, Scannell is something of a throw-back to the late nineteenth century when poets were "approachable." In this sense, his poetry has been compared to Thomas Hardy's in its anecdotalism, regular metricality and rhyme schemes. A reviewer for Contemporary Literary Criticism took note of the kinds of experiences that forged the personality that is irrepressible in the poetry and prose: "While recuperating from a severe wound he suffered as a soldier in France in 1944, Scannell became demoralized by military life, and following the Allied victory in Europe, he deserted the army. In addition to holding numerous odd jobs, Scannell was a professional boxer…. In 1947, Scannell was arrested for desertion and was ordered to spend time in a mental institution before being discharged by the army."
Scannell has treated his life-material gingerly in his poetry, novels and in his autobiographical works. Of The Tiger and the Rose, Anthony Thwaite wrote in the New Statesman: "Some of its virtues are the virtues of Scannell's poetry: he is straightforward, masculine without being aggressively tough, circumstantial, unphoney." Thwaite demurred about a Scannell proclivity other critics have also noted: "His reflections on the nature of his experiences jar a little, and made me impatient for him to go on again with the experiences themselves, which he describes with a marvelously clean and clear accuracy."
"The Tiger and the Rose has the clear, shrill ring of truth," a reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement noted. The praise may have inspired the title of Scannell's prize-fighting novel, Ring of Truth. D. A. N. Jones in the London Review of Books was especially taken with Scannell's treatment of his distaff characters: "As Vernon Scannell grows older he becomes more expert or plausible in his attempts to understand women's ideas and imagine their conversations when no men are present." Roger Lewis in the New Statesman gave the work a mixed review. "Though the conversations and bad grammar of dialect pall," Lewis wrote, "the novel is dotted with excellent observations."
Argument of Kings, Scannell's autobiographical novel, was praised by Gerald Mangan in the Times Literary Supplement: "[It] is remarkable not only for the disturbing immediacy of its realism, but for acute explorations of complex states of mind." Mangan noted the "sheer pace and quality" of the book, as well as Scannell's "unusually accurate ear for Scottish speech."
Over the course of his career, Scannell has gained the respect of many critics, a number of whom have cited "The Walking Wounded" as one of the best poems to come out of World War II. David McDuff wrote in Stand: "There are some poets who work quietly throughout the whole of their lives without either seeking or attracting great attention, but who on reaching later years turn out to have amassed an oeuvre that unquestionably merits it. The poetry of Vernon Scannell is one such body of work."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Badham-Thornhill, Desmond, editor, Three Poets, Two Children, Thornhill Press (Gloucester, England), 1975.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 49, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988.
Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 27: Poets of Great Britain and Ireland, 1945-1960, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.
Morrish, Hilary, The Poet Speaks: Interviews with Contemporary Poets, edited by Peter Orr, Rout-ledge and Kegan Paul (London, England), 1966. Robson, Jeremy, editor, Corgi Modern Poets in Focus: 4, Corgi Books (London, England), 1971.
St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Scannell, Vernon, The Tiger and the Rose: An Autobiography, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1971.
Scannell, Vernon, A Proper Gentleman, Robson Books (London, England), 1977.
Scannell, Vernon, Ring of Truth (autobiographical novel), Robson Books (London, England), 1983.
Scannell, Vernon, Argument of Kings (autobiographical novel), Robson Books (London, England), 1987.
Scannell, Vernon, Drums of Morning: Growing Up in the Thirties, Robson Books (London, England), 1992.
Encounter, July-August, 1987, John Mole, "The Imperative of Usefulness: Recent Poetry," p. 45; November, 1987, Richard Mayne, review of Argument of Kings, p. 56.
Library Journal, February 15, 1986, Thomas L. Kilpatrick, review of Ring of Truth, p. 195.
London, May, 1957.
London Review of Books, February 2-15, 1984, D. A. N. Jones, review of Ring of Truth.
New Statesman, February 27, 1960, Donald Hall, review of The Masks of Love; September 17, 1971, Anthony Thwaite, review of The Tiger and the Rose; December 14, 1973, Alan Brownjohn, review of The Winter Man; October 21, 1977; August 22, 1980, Alan Hollinghurst, review of New and Collected Poems: 1950-1980, p. 18; December 30, 1983, Roger Lewis, review of Ring of Truth; August 21, 1987, Robert Sheppard, review of Funeral Games, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, December 20, 1985, Sybil Steinberg, review of Ring of Truth, p. 19.
Spectator, August 10, 1962; April 11, 1992, Alan Brownjohn, review of A Time for Fires, p. 34.
Stand, winter, 1992, article by David McDuff.
Times (London, England), July 23, 1987.
Times Literary Supplement, February 3, 1961, review of The Masks of Love; September 7, 1962; September 17, 1971, review of The Tiger and the Rose; January 25, 1974, review of The Winter Man; August 1, 1980, Simon Curtis, review of New and Collected Poems; October 15, 1982; July 22, 1983; November 11, 1983; April 10, 1987; October 16-22, 1987; February 16, 2001, review of Views and Distances, p. 33; August 23, 2002, John Greening, review of Of Love and War: New and Selected Poems, p. 21.*