Biography Review: Walking Wounded: the Life and Poetry of Vernon Scannell, By James Andrew Taylor

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Brutalised by a vicious father and acquiescent mother, and traumatised by less-than-honourable Second World War service and injury, Vernon Scannell never sorted human relationships, especially with the women who serially and concurrently shared his life.

A life-long alcoholic and accomplished (semi-professional at one point) boxer, he would routinely stagger home at night, blind drunk, and leave the woman awaiting him in bed with bruises, blacked eyes, and split lips. And yet, they went on loving this troubled, multi-faceted man, who was highly regarded by many poets and other friends and who had a gift for communicating with children – his own five and the many he taught.

The widely anthologised poetry, books, BBC broadcasts, and awards – all well documented in Taylor’s excellent biography which is as compelling as a novel –  are quite a tribute to a self-educated man who left school at 14.

The famous, astonishing poem “A Case of Murder” – the frightened child prodding the cat with a phallic stick – supports Taylor’s central argument that:  “There are no excuses for his behaviour, but there are reasons for it” and that “successful poets are not always – maybe not often – successful people”.