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This review is taken from PN Review 21, Volume 8 Number 1, September - October 1981.

FEATS OF ENDURANCE Vernon Scannell, New & Collected Poems 1950-1980 (Robson Books) £3.95
Best of the Poetry Year, Poetry Dimension Annual 7, selected by Dannie Abse (Robson Books) £3.50

In his Introductory Note Vernon Scannell approvingly quotes Dr Johnson's adage about the purpose of literature being to enable people 'the better to enjoy life or the better to endure it'. The reader then may approach Scannell's earlier work with the attitudes of the mature poet and with expectations of an eighteenth-century rationality. Endurance is the quality which stands out, from the first poems published in 1957 (he has omitted those from the earlier Graves & Resurrections as being overly derivative) to the last, 'A Partial View'. Disillusion and loss have been the mainspring of his work and the loss is resented to a degree where amoral point must be made from the endurance of it. It is a bitter morality, born of raw anger; in this sense the poems are of the kind that 'needed' to be written, though for Scannell art (and love) have only a very precarious ability to appease the 'Unnecessary suffering that men/Inflict on other men'.

Scannell has developed the contrast between the reassurance of traditional metres and this resentment to the point where it replaces formal experimentation. It is a technique which relies heavily on building up and then defeating the reader's expectations, a process often brought about by the turning upside-down of a metaphor or cliche previously established, as in 'A Game of Shove Ha'penny' where a couple in a Hampstead pub are initially seen as 'beautiful people' but then discovered to be quarrelling:


His stare ...


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