Vernon Scannell (1922 – 2007) published his poetry from the 1950s right up to the last year of his life, but seems to be less well-known than he deserves, despite being the recipient of the Heinemann Award for Literature and the Cholmondely Award. In addition to his poetry, he wrote poems for younger readers, novels, autobiography and criticism, and reviewed poetry for Ambit magazine and The Sunday Telegraph regularly, until ill-health prevented this towards the end of his life. He was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was awarded a Civil List Pension for Services to Literature.

His background is fascinating, including serving with the Army in the Middle East and the Normandy Landings. He is a Second World War war poet, the experience of which is clear in ‘Walking Wounded’ in its ability to look closely, without false pity or false glory, at victims of “last night’s lead’, and which lends credence to his poems of the Great War, in which his father fought. More uncommon for a poet is his career as a boxer, winning championship titles at both school and university, and working in a fairground boxing-booth; this also appears in his poetry, such as in ‘The Loving Game’, where love, he insists, hurts more. Love, requited and not, or lost, or familial, is another theme that runs through his work. The kinds are often bound together, as in ‘Growing Pains’, which binds the strength of the father’s love for his son with the son’s unrequited love for a girl at school, and shows that it cannot do anything to ease the pain save empathise. (Scannell quotes, approvingly, Housman saying “the business of poetry is to harmonise the sadness of the universe”.)

Herbert Lomas describes Scannell’s method as “life’s little and big ironies in polished stanzas and complicated verse-forms”, which is true of many of the poems in this recording. But Scannell also uses fine blank verse and invented forms, and, in his introduction to a villanelle, talks helpfully about the form in use. Other introductions discuss the inspirations, obscurities or insights to the poems. His reading voice matches the paradoxes of his poems, being gravelly and mellow at the same time, but always welcoming the listener into the experience of the poem.

Vernon Scannell died on November 17th, 2007, aged 85.

Vernon Scannell’s Favourite Poetry Sayings:

“It [i.e. the poem] begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events and ends in a clarification of life – not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay of confusion.” – Robert Frost

“The business of poetry is to harmonise the sadness of the universe” – A E Housman

This recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 21 May 2001 at his home in Yorkshire and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Poems by Vernon Scannell

The Loving Game - Vernon Scannell
The Searchers - Vernon Scannell
Walking Wounded - Vernon Scannell
Vernon Scannell in the Poetry Store

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Books by Vernon Scannell



Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

W H Heinemann Award


Civil List Pension for Services to Literature

Hon. Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature