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Black and White
Black and White
In 2000 Scammell began compiling a collection of new poems for Flambard Press, but did not complete this before his unexpected and premature death in November of that year. This book is divided into two sections.
The first consists of poems he listed for definite inclustion, and these show him at the height of his powers. The second section contains most of the poems in the files he was working on during his final year.
Bill Scammell died at the age of 61 at his home near Aspatria. At the time of his death in November, 2000, he was perhaps the best poet working in Cumbria. His writing was always sharp and ironic and his poetry presents a witty commentary on the people and things he knew in his everyday life.
Black and White is a collection of the work left unpublished at his death.
In the last poem in the book, Black Movie, Bill is able to look bravely, wryly and mockingly at the bone scan machine as it diagnoses his worsening condition. It moves 'at the speed of Omar's moving finger.
What it writes you don't want to know.'
The picture it shows is of 'a pretty miniaturised skeleton'. But, and Bill turns its dark message into a joke, the scan 'talks dirty in black'.
Bill's poetry grew out of the world around him. A walk along the Isel valley leaves its mark.
'The eyelets of our walking boots
are furred with green for ever and ever'
and our minds are rattled by the 'ram-stam of the river'.
When he went for a walk in the garden at Higham Hall, he found himself staring out over the familiar scene that stretched from Bass Lake to Skiddaw and yet being transported to foreign parts. The laburnam tree was 'in full spate, humming with bees like a synagogue'. It was like a burning bush.
On a mountain walk, his eye is startled by 'the ribs and rocky spines' of the rocks leading upwards, 'the becks flashing scuts as they leap'.
On a farm, in the yard brimming with sheep 'skittering about on tip-toe like surfers' where 'The cockerel goes by on stilts' he sees the continuing life of animals while back at home there is 'man-woman stuff to be dealt with'. 'injury hangs mute, left over from yesterday'.
The poetry is autobiographical. Bill can look back to the time when he was 'Fifteen. Foxed with acne and loneliness' or when as a younger by he was badly burned by a bonfire and found himself in hospital for six months 'swaddled in white' like a 'barked poplar'. At fifteen, he left to be a journalist 'legged off into a newsroom, and got my first pay'. During his early years he seemed to do everything. He was a 'clerk, navy, photographer, driver, male char.' He even circled the globe as a ship's photographer, 'a snapper of trifles'.
He also savours the pleasures of life. He might listen to Andras Schiff playing Bach or long for the several lifetimes required 'to slit open the clear cellophane' on all the CDs in the shop. He can watch the workmen arrive to work on the road 'raucous as parrots, in combustible yellow and hard hats.' And he values his friends. They are on their travels in various parts of the globe while he is left at home.
'Here it just rains. Books grow in piles
Round my chair like stalagmites.'
Bill Scammell wrote about a very familiar world, but he had the wit, imagination and sharpness of language to make these everyday things fresh and new. This last volume is a fitting conclusion to his life's work. - Steve Matthews, Bookcase.
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