Epithets of War, poems 1965-1969
my copy: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1969 hardback
A Graph review: 55 with highpoints 65
Some years ago a polymath and poet friend suggested I read Vernon Scannell. In those busy days it just went into the back of my mind and got lost in the usual debris of the days. Years later, picking through old ideas and memories – in jumped vernon Scannell via a secondhand-bookshop. Now, eventually, I have taken it up.
Scannell won numerous awards for his poetry and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1960. His experiences as a soldier during WWII played heavily on his life though not purely from the Normandy landing. He seems to have been wayward in many directions, according to the blurb of the book but read of him yourself to grab a hint of his life as you read his poetry.
By sheer coincidence, looking for what is in print, I see that O.U.P. published a biography of Scannell in October, 2013 £25.
Walking Wounded, Vernon Scannell 1922 – 2007
by James Andrew Taylor
978 0199603183 buy now via Amazon
‘Walking Wounded’ was the work that brought him to the fore as a war poet. Other collections covered similar but also other themes. He was highly praised by the likes of the critic John Carey and poets Stephen Spender and Seamus Heaney as being of ‘War Poets’ status, so perhaps we should raise a small banner in support of the poetry of Vernon Scannell.
The title: Epithets of War, is the theme of the first five poems and follwed by thirty five others.
The five, as title, cover elements of comment from the 1914 war to WWII as a timeline. War, or the haunting memories filter specifically through many of the other poems. All are depictive, straightforward poems with varied subjects that sometimes have an unusual direction though emotions push through forcefully. Anger, sadness and nostalgia battle it out with touches of wry humour thrown in. You could say there was no lightness of touch in the humour, no sun breaking the dark clouds but the skill and force of writing carries you through to his own thoughts. So it seems to me. There seems no harking back to literary or classical heritage (not obvious to me, at least), just images shadowed with memories of wartime and its aftermath on life, on a maybe volatile but depressive man.
Whether he wrote in emotion or nostalgia, in drink or coolly, his style remains gruff within its own well-founded parameters. These can truly live within the realm of ‘War Poetry’ but should be allowed to venture a little further into anthologies, maybe even of love, if you dare.
Best liked: Any Complaints, Uncle Edwards Affliction, View from a Deckchair, A Long Sentence, Moods of Rain, Growing Pain
‘A Long Sentence’ might be an excercise but is interesting for that.
‘Growing Pain’ seems the gentlest of the collection
Using a sombre palette throughout Vernon Scannell shows his merit for the label. We must remember that this is a genre that is not purely WWI based but now stretches forward to today and hence must stretch back into the past though labels may be soaked in different wines.
Above I have just agreed to one label but in my own head I have him in a corner arguing with D.H. Lawrence and drinking with Dylan Thomas, swapping tales of the boxing ring with Byron and other names on the edge of the circle looking in. Standing his ground and making his point but wishing he could raise a smile.