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‘ELSEWHERE’ 1973-2023 PART 3

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).

 

2023 being the fiftieth anniversary of the book’s publication I have decided to re-publish the original 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 in four parts, appearing in April, June, September and December 2023 respectively. The flipbook and the pdf will be included in each part, accompanied by an article about the work.

The first article [https://www.davidselzer.com/2023/04/elsewhere-project-1973-2023-part-1/] was by Alan Horne – editor of Between Rivers and one of the original contributors to Other People’s Flowers. The second was by Clive Watkins [https://waywiser-press.com/clive-watkins/] – another of the original contributors to Other People’s Flowers. John Huddart  [ https://jahuddart.com/home/] – also one of the original contributors to Other People’s Flowers – has kindly agreed to write the third article.

ELSEWHERE Poems by David Selzer: A personal review by John Huddart

Packed in behind the dashing photograph of the author on the back cover, whose enigmatic gaze conceals the trace of a smile, is a portrait of a life devoted to family, and to the world that made it. Here is an explorer whose interests already range from modern history to the display of scholarly erudition, and from felt experience to quizzical distance. And, as a book about family, it is immersed in ancestry, in forbears, and in the magic circle of the three people who make his world, who see him through.

It is also rooted in literary tradition, echoing the themes and perceptions of many writers, and paying homage to their influence.

Travel the fifty years to where we are, and ELSEWHERE still dominates David’s world – with the addition of a fourth person– a granddaughter who makes the trio a quartet. And the voice is still the same – sounding out from the corner of his front room study, with its view of the street and the outer world of traffic and pedestrians, and the vague threat of anarchy and crime; still filled with reference and connectivity – but now transformed into a poetic journal uniting the daily, the personal, the urgency of politics and compassion, and a continued radical despair – to which age has brought a ripeness, an acceptance, and a deeper love above all of everything, and everything that’s close.

But to the beginning. I first met David in 1974. Shortly after that I collected my copy of ELSEWHERE from a bookshop near Chester Cathedral. Its poetry taught me the serious value of words, and the respectability of ironic detachment. That gaze, often satiric, together with the handling of phrase and sound, makes for the excitement of the verse. Also the verse line – rhythmic, spare, usually free in form, but also happy to pursue a traditional metre when demanded. Finally, a use of concealment which allows the reader freedom to pursue his own ambiguities.

This meeting also led to the refreshment of Wrexham Lager, and the mighty power of usquebaugh – so great I hardly dare speak its English name! I was told by Margaret Spence, whose kindly wisdom launched the careers of many English teachers in Liverpool University’s Education Department, where she was a Senior Tutor, that David was a sensitive man with whom I would enjoy working, and she missed only one thing – that his friendship would become a strong and necessary part of life itself, and the sharing of a dram its most blessed sacrament!

The contents of the book announces only fourteen poems, but neglects to indicate the range they cover, the way the inner and the outer worlds are so deftly handled. Does not indicate the promise that in so many lines will be found the memorable idea, the magic phrase that persists upon the tongue, and haunts the memory.

As an ordered collection it begins with two poems of connections that illustrate that reading really matters, and that everything connects to everything else, then tackles the same thing in Monuments, which depicts his honeymoon in Ireland. Here love calls above the estuaries of history and nature, which ostensibly are the monuments in the poem, so by the end he’s home, behind his own high windows, if still surrounded by the ghostly menace of the past and its scurrying rats.

Then he’s waking, in New Year 1970, from a restless sleep on a New Year’s Eve – the three of them are there – wife, daughter and himself, and he is caught up in a storm of confusion, where the tokens of his twenty eight years are banished by a world of triviality, and he is (first choice of memorable phrase) ‘pacing vanity’s iron zoo’

It is a world of punishing inequalities, and of imperial echoes which are glimpsed with satiric affection in Old West Africa Man, and then in New Heroes, the new imperialism of space conquest propels the newly dominant Americans to occupy the moon as pointless conquest, mere expense – as futile a because-it-was-there adventure to match Scott’s in the last poem of the collection. New Heroes also contrasts the three astronauts with their ‘monstrous crepe soles’ scouring the Moon’s surface with the earth-bound Selzer family, staring out over the fading facades of commerce, and the wider human achievements of Auschwitz and the industrial revolutions whose advances led to all of it, and to our prosperity and present inequalities.

This intensifies in The Chimney, where the wastes from a nearby oil refinery present the worrying menace of polluted fields and gardens. Here is a poem well rooted in its era, where questions about those processes which once signalled, and brought, the wealth of nations were making challenges to our too easy progress.

And then, The Zoo. Each zoo homes species whom contemporary Noahs have endowed to save, while presenting their infinite variety for us to marvel at. David’s zoo presents them for the strangeness they often possess – whether striped, copulating, or swivelling their monstrous eyes. Somewhere in the background stalks Ted Hughes’ poem The Jaguar, which was then a proud centrepiece for English teachers, but Hughes sought to make the cat the subject. The true inmates of David’s poem are the people whose habits and behaviours are equally alarming. He shares the amusement and delight of inmates looking out at their human captors. There’s genuine horror in observed human behaviour – witness the visitors who today would be described as having special needs, but the poem identifies, using the cruelty of the age, as ‘mental defectives’.

David’s zoo is rich, engaging and eternal – zoos have both moved on, and stayed compellingly the same. There is a touch of Brueghel in the splendid grotesques on view, either side of the cages. Also, a whiff of proud English amateurism in the conduct of the keepers, especially as they seek to feed or placate their elusive gibbon. Three years ago my daughter and I visited Delhi Zoo, there being nothing else to do on Monday in India, and here was David’s poem, stalking the cages.

Babel’s Villa is partly a homage to a Selzer home. These have been their lair and refuge for as long as ELSEWHERE has been abroad. This one, bomb-damaged in the war, and repaired with sea-sand, both reflects its history and menaces its inmates. On this night, wind and rain are threatening tumult and destruction, and both David and Sylvia are showered in plaster dust from the raging storm. They lie side by side, covered in grey dust, like the couple in Larkins’ Arundel Tomb. And this poem too proves to be about love, and it ends with a kiss, and happiness.

Jacob is steeped in so many stories and European myths and you can invent countless narratives to provide a key. As soon as you think it’s a personal story, its slips away into allusion and mystery. We are tripping though the same worlds as Eliot’s Waste Land, but with a theme that repeatedly echoes Jewish histories. These echoes draw you back repeatedly, as do delightful lines like ‘Old crow, I think, kissing her beak’, and the crow performs a central and repeated role in the narrative – much maligned of birds, but watchful mourners, hungry for our remains.

Times Countries alludes to many times and places where they do things differently. Living near to Berwick and the Scottish lowlands I’m straight way immersed in the authenticity of the local detail, but this presented childhood memory runs on through references to many things that make our present history. Wars, empires, sports, the dance, all there. A novella in verse, skilfully and uniquely, rhymed throughout, it is Tolstoy striving to get out.

And in Suicides there is a hint of Ariel’s description of the drowned man in The Tempest, and her death is indeed made beautiful and strange – as nature claims her body back again. The poem creates narrative that entirely plausibly accounts for her life and death.

At the centre of ELSEWHERE is the line ‘Elsewhere is metaphor’. It’s a pivotal moment in the volume’s title poem, for, from then on, it becomes a hallmark poetic journal through experience and his family’s visit to North Wales. Before the quoted line, the poem is the typical meditation on history that David does so well, and how it impinges on the visitor if they are alert to read the landscape and the back story. ELSEWHERE is therefore both in the present and forward looking to the writer David has become. We can only be thankful that he’s there to bear witness and continues to report on what he sees and knows.

And so to Scott of the Antarctic in Scott’s Last Expedition. These are the kinds of heroes David cares to celebrate. Not any VC or a boy upon a burning deck – three men who freeze to death for nothing, and whose sacrifice became a fitting comment on the English and their love of futility. Imperial echoes resonate, and all is capped with the inadequate values of the public school which spawned them. This is summed up in the powerful symbol of the tent – providing shelter in no way equal to the task ahead. Although there is much to mock in the values that impelled the mad dash to the Pole, for the men themselves there is a deep respect. ‘O brave, recumbent boys in sliding ice!’  There is always the satiric edge to David’s view of those whose vanity and values he finds wanting, but he never misses the humanity, and sometimes the grandeur of the human condition, in its folly.

And now, for fifty years these poems have lain here, alive like the memory of Scott’s men.  They have been doing their work, inspiring others who have met them, and can summon up their lines. How good to see them re-published in a new online version, where their inventive insights can kindle a new generation of readers.

So ELSEWHERE is here, and now, at last. Of course, where else?

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