Over at The Weekly Standard, I review a biography of the British poet Vernon Scannell–a boxer, bigamist, deserter, a man with a soft spot for children and the down-and-out, and an accomplished poet
The seeming incongruity of Vernon Scannell’s life and personality makes him one of the most intriguing figures of contemporary literature. He was a man of immense sensitivity who identified with the weak, the broken, and the cowardly of the world but, when drunk, was a terrible wife beater. He loved children and despised violence but fought in the Second World War and had a lifelong passion for boxing. He was one of the most talented poets of his generation, but he often felt out of place in literary circles and regularly doubted his talent.
He was a blue-collar poet, though this does not do justice to the range of his work, which deals with love, war, sports, childhood, and, most of all, failure—often with self-effacing humor. When he was in jail in 1974 for drunk driving, his daughter Nancy wrote to ask him what a jailbird was. Scannell wrote:
His plumage is dun,
His appetite indiscriminate.
He has no mate.
His nest is built of brick and steel;
He sings at night
A long song, sad and silent.
He cannot fly.
Read the rest if you’re so inclined.