Saturday, September 27, 2008


A SURPRISE PACKET...
It`s a small world. You may know that I spent most of my boyhood years in the village of Hythe on the western shore of Southampton Water, but that I now live in a village in mid-Kent, about 120 miles from Hythe.
Our local postman here in deepest Kent, Ray, also comes originally from Hythe and today he delivered a package through my letter box which came as a genuine surprise and a rare treat.
Early on in the life of these pages - click on `labels` at the bottom of this post - I recounted the story of my best friend from those schooldays in Hythe - Billy Scammell - who, as William Scammell went on to become an admired poet, critic, editor, reviewer and biographer. Sadly, Bill passed away too young back in 2000, when he was just 61. Like me and like Ray, Bill left Hythe in his teenage years to find his own way in life and he lived for many years in the Lake District, where his widow, Jan, still lives today.
Bill had a number of volumes of his own poetry published, along with editing collections of works by Ted Hughes and others and also producing a biography of Keith Douglas, the World War One poet. Last month, a collection of Bill`s critical essays and reviews was published under the title of `Nightwatch` which included commentaries on major writers - Hughes, Heaney and Larkin - as well as more general thoughts on the state of contemporary poetry.
And today,the unexpected package which Ray delivered turned out to be a copy of a just published volume of Bill`s poems, edited by Christopher Pilling and entitled `Inside Story.` It contains at least 100 of Bill`s poems all carefully selected from his previously published works and reflecting Bill`s development as a poet over the years, his journeys through the world, through time and through experience.
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Willian Neil (Billy) Scammell
I will, like all his other works, enjoy it immensely and, as I do so, I will look back on our schooldays together in the same classrooms at Hythe Primary School and Hardley Secondary (we were both Hardley educated) and the times we spent together playing along the Solent shoreline, combing the beach for treasures thrown overboard from the great liners drifting in and out of Southampton.
But for me, perhaps the `nicest` thing about `Inside Story` is the fact that on the flyleaf of the book`s smart cover there is a picture of the plaque erected in Bill`s memory, along with the notation which reads, "This plaque is mounted on the wall of 13 Alexandra Road, Hythe, Southampton as a lasting tribute to the memory of the author. It was erected by members of the local poetry group at the instigation of an old school friend....in 2005 with assistance from the Arts Council England." I leave you to guess who that `old school friend` might have been.

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