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In 2002 Vernon Scannell wrote the following: ‘It has been my firm belief since I first began to attempt the art of poetry that the making of a poem should be, as Yeats asserted, a difficult business. However, I have always felt reservations about what seems to me the only partially true belief , stated by both Eliot and Hopkins in their different ways, that the meaning of a poem is of less significance than its structure and texture, Eliot’s ‘nice bit of meat for the house-dog.’ Ideally the poem should be the perfection of expression of meaning inseparable from the methods by which that expression is achieved. As Paul Valéry has said, ‘A man is a poet if the difficulties inherent in his art provide him with ideas; he is not a poet if they deprive him if ideas.’
That was an important statement, his credo. It can accurately be said that almost every poem in this collected volume bears testimony to it. Although not covering the full span of his career – Scannell didn’t die until 2007 and was writing almost literally until the very end – the body of his work is here and how impressive it is. On immaculate display is a conspectus of poems embracing the narrative, lyrical, satirical and contemplative. There are poems of pathos and comedy, intelligence and passion: whatever their form, free verse or rhyming, tenor or subject, they are executed with unfailing craftsmanship.
In his obituary of Vernon Scannell, Alan Brownjohn wrote, ‘What might have been considered unusual given a colourful, even swashbuckling, personality that spawned innumerable anecdotes, was his 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; students on Scannell’s creative writing courses were liable to be sat down, hangover or not, to write a sonnet after breakfast.”
‘Scannell is one of what appears to be a vanishing breed, a poet of technical accomplishment who understands that poetry, like the other arts, is a craft as well.’ Charles Osborne, Sunday Telegraph
‘You actually want to go back and revisit the poems many times. Their shrewd structures hold their elements firmly in place and they resonate also with the kind of humanity time is generous to . . . Scannell has earned a place in the tradition of English poetry.’ Paul Fussell, Poetry Review
‘. . . accurate, humane, humorous, often eloquent and always well-made poems.’ Anthony Thwaite, Sunday Telegraph
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