In 1973 a book of my poems entitled ELSEWHERE appeared in the first Peterloo Poets Series edited by Harry Chambers and published by E.J. Morten (Manchester).
Elsewhere – Poems by David Selzer Peterloo Poets Series
Edited by Harry Chambers © 1973 by David Selzer ISBN 0 901598 85 2
2023 being the fiftieth anniversary of the book’s publication I have decided to re-publish the volume on my website as a flipbook and as a pdf. Each has been painstakingly produced by Sam Hutchinson, who designed my website and maintains it.
Each is a facsimile of the original book and not just a copy of the poems. Readers need to bear this in mind when searching for a particular piece. For example, the first poem Connections 1 is on page 15 of the pdf but listed in the Contents as being on page 11 of the actual book.
View the pdf page turner:
View / download original .pdf:
The ELSEWHERE 1973 & 2023 project will be published in four parts, currently scheduled to appear in April, June, August and October 2023 respectively. The flipbook and the pdf will be included in each part, accompanied by an article about the work. Alan Horne – editor of Between Rivers and one of the original contributors to Other People’s Flowers – has kindly agreed to write the first article.
ELSEWHERE Poems by David Selzer: A personal review by Alan Horne.
By the spring of 1973 David Selzer had been my English teacher for more than four years, including a year as my form teacher. That spring was an odd time. I and others had taken A-levels a year early, with the idea that in the final year we could concentrate on Oxbridge entrance. But that was all over by Christmas, and we emerged into a temporary Elysium in which we took a few lessons to give the impression of continued schooling, and hung about waiting to go to university, making various stabs at adult life, and trying to impress each other: I still possess a copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra purchased at the time, carefully battered to indicate the vigour of my reading.
It was while occupying this glorified waiting-room that we discovered that Selzer had published a book of poems. Of course, this was great fun. I recall a plot to harass him, causing him to encounter someone engrossed in reading the book wherever he went, exclaiming and pointing out important lines to their friends; it did not come off. But at the same time it struck me, and, I suspect, others, that this was a serious event; the real business. We did not have any old English teacher, some kindly gent who rattled on about the work of others. Our teacher was an actual poet himself. Someone thought it plausible to publish his book. Now, David was not the first of our teachers to emerge in print. My history master had been very worked up when one of his colleagues had produced what you might call a speculative book about King Arthur. But this was different. Anyone who opened ELSEWHERE could see that this was real literature. Selzer had told us about the work of Hopkins, Eliot and the Thomases; now he was adding to it.
I think that, at the age of eighteen, I found these poems rather gripping, and that impression has not gone away. Plainly, some of that is because I knew the author, and the poems revealed a personal side to someone with whom I then had a highly formal relationship.
But if the personal connection was a factor, I think it was in the main because the book illuminated the attitude that David had conveyed in the classroom. I recall a contemporary sneer that everything had to be ‘relevant’: song lyrics, TV programmes, poems were all good if they were ‘relevant’ to the issue of the moment. But the engagement with the world which David brought to the classroom could hardly invite so shallow a summary. I recall us studying The Rape Of The Lock, and arguing, in an era and setting far away from the public discussion of violence towards women that is current now, about what would have happened then, in 1971, if someone forcibly cut off a piece of a woman’s hair.
This engagement is the first striking thing about ELSEWHERE. By the time we have got to the end of the first sequence, Connections 1 (pp.15-19: N.B. page numbers throughout refer to pages of the pdfs, not the actual book), we have learned of Ovid in exile, King Edward VII with the Tsar and the Kaiser, a People’s Republic, the nature of truth, T.S. Eliot, Hitler, Oswald Moseley, religious advertising and the Bermuda Triangle. This may be a headlong grab at one thing after another, and we might complain that there is too much content and too little focus – indeed, I believe that this was the main criticism made of the poems at the time – but personally I find the urgency breathtaking. One of the pleasures of reading David’s more recent poems is to find many examples, like The Rabbi and the Emperor of 2019, in which the same sweeping view of history can be found; more focused, but boldly asserted.
In some ways, this is to say that ELSEWHERE is the work of a young man, and for me, while it has the faults we might expect in terms of impetuosity and lack of discipline, its virtues are not easy to separate from those faults.
One example might be section 6 of Connection 1 (p.17), which I think of as The Sandwiches of Truth, perhaps with an eye to Allen Ginsburg’s Reality Sandwiches. It is a favourite section which always brings a smile to my face. A tougher editor would surely have cut it. We can argue about whether the philosophizing here is mock-pretentious or just pretentious. What is not in doubt is the author is prepared to risk being called an intellectual; or even just a clever-clogs. There is a fine unwillingness to be ingratiating.
Another example is The Chimney (pp.25-27). This is probably quite overwritten, full of exclamations. But the exclamations also create a novel duality of voices. The poem has an impersonal narrative voice which relates the implacable, god-like activity of a polluting industrial chimney. But there is also an ‘I’ in the poem with a different voice: exclamatory, angry, ineffectual. Eventually the exclamations die away, the impersonal, god-like voice prevails and is in the middle of delivering the poem’s coda when there is a final sudden cry of complaint: Do I sacrifice my daughter/for a harvest of convenience? It is an uncanny effect, as if an irascible Beckettian character, thought to be dead or asleep, has suddenly roused itself in a final sally.
We might also look at New Heroes (pp.27-28), the poem from ELSEWHERE about the Apollo moon landing which David later reworked, in 2019, as Same Old Same Old. The latter is a fine poem, and clearly edits out some overwritten sections from the original. But I must advocate for New Heroes. There is a vitality in the imagery – like Cottonwool moon in a flimsy sky, and Aldrin’s lumpy suit – which does not carry over into the later poem. More significantly, the greater expansiveness of New Heroes allows for a kind of spiral development which, for me, ties the familial aspect of the poem – a walk to the Observatory – much more effectively in with the images of the moon-shot, and gives proper prominence to the central line, eerie and grammatically curious, sung by the poet’s child: Moon has the face like a clock on the wall.
Closely allied to the expansive energy of these poems is a tone which is often sharp, angry and unsatisfied. For me this tone links closely with my memory of David as a teacher. I recall him having very little problem with discipline. In part this was because he seemed to be genuinely undisturbed by misbehaviour which would provoke some of his colleagues into a paroxysm of rage. He records a good example in his poem Fifteen Minutes written in 2015.
But it was also because we sensed an undercurrent of fury completely unlike the default authoritarianism of some of his colleagues. Righteous fury, I am inclined to say. He rarely expressed annoyance in class, but when he did, I recall no-one ever trying to take him on. I think we knew that he would turn out to be more articulate, clever, and cutting than we could be. Nor, while he was an attentive teacher of the less able, did he suffer fools gladly. As a teenager who was obsessed with Tolkien, I once had the opportunity to present the man’s masterwork to the class. At the end, I must have looked more pleased with myself than I should. David’s tone was exasperated: “But why does he call it The Lord of the Rings?”
While this sharpness is patent in The Chimney, it is more often present as a fine sardonic irony. This gives the book some of its most memorable phrases. Connections 1 Section 7 (p.17) tells us of …the silencing of Isaac Babel/(in the twentieth century, even babel is silenced). In The Zoo (pp.28-32), omnipresent is …The Motorway/which simplifies/death, having no right turns. The Zoo is a markedly angry poem, and a twenty-first century editor would probably not have allowed the use of the phrase mental defectives even in bitter irony. But in general, I think the tone even more useful today, in an age saturated with propaganda about wellbeing and positivity. Humans have a very limited capacity for being either good or sensible, especially in the mass. ELSEWHERE faces that head on.
This sharp and engaged tendency of the young Selzer’s writing reaches its apogee in Connections 2 (pp.20-21), which links the murder of Trotsky with the destruction of the Aztecs, and in Scott’s Last Expedition (pp.59-61). Both have greater focus and economy, while retaining the rhetoric, bite and historical sweep of some of the other bravura poems. I found them enthralling at the age of eighteen, and still do now. When it came to writing poems in class, David advised us to forget about form, and concentrate on what we wanted to express. Not a complete recipe for successful poems, but one can see how it lays a foundation for the free verse found here. The excellent Private Eye magazine regularly denounces writers of free verse as people who simply arrange prose with line-breaks, giving only the appearance of poetry. These examples achieve the opposite effect. Try to read them as prose. They just keep turning into verse.
Much of the above is about a youthful enthusiasm not to be dismissed for being youthful. At the same time, I find that other poems in the collection have come into focus for me as time has passed. Most have similar qualities to the foregoing but are less rhetorical and more reflective. Monuments (pp.22-23) with its Time stationary like dust in jars…; Babel’s Villa (pp.37-38); Jacob (pp.39-40); Suicides (p.45). All move the same concerns into a more personal sphere. The best parts of the long title sequence Elsewhere (pp.46-58) do so too. As a native of the Wirral, the notion of North Wales as a prototypical elsewhere, right there but endlessly other, made immediate sense to me, and as in Elsewhere Section 4 (pp.48-49) I have not a few times looked …ruefully/down the giddiness/of what, from the road,/was grassed slope/with stream and stones/but now, finding clumsy,/slithery feetfall/on the strewn rock/of a water-falling torrent,/is sheer/madness… But no such personal link is needed to feel the impact of Sections 10 and 11 (pp.55-56) which work marine images into poems of love and the fear of loss. I am sure that it can be argued that some of these are better poems than those I took to when I first read them: it has taken me longer to read and understand them adequately.
I was an undergraduate when I bumped into David in the street in Chester. He indicated my change in status by suggesting that we go to a pub, where we spent a pleasant hour. After that, I had no contact with him for forty years. I am not a hoarder of books, but I hung onto ELSEWHERE. Now and then I would pick it up, surprise myself again with the vividness of the language, and look at the photo on the dust jacket of the young poet who had set off my lifelong interest in verse. But the internet changes everything. I retired, looked on the web at what was going on in Cheshire as regards poetry; and there he was, still writing like mad.
Alan HorneELSEWHERE Poems by David Selzerfiftieth anniversaryHarry ChambersHitlerKing Edward VIIOswald MoseleyOvidPeterloo PoetsScot of the AntarcticT.S. Eliotthe Aztecsthe Bermuda Trianglethe Kaiserthe nature of truthTrotskyTsar Nicholas II