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Gavin Selerie (pronounced Se-LAIR-y) is a British poet,[1] was born in Hampstead, London in 1949. Since the early 1980s he has published many collections of poetry and essays. Some recordings have also been released. Selerie’s work has appeared in anthologies such as The New British Poetry (1988), Other: British & Irish Poetry since 1970 (1999) and The Reality Street Book of Sonnets (2008).

Life and background

Selerie is the son of World War II hero and wine expert Peter Selerie[2][3] and grandson of William Alexander Lee, chief executive of the Mining Association (GB).[4][5] The Seleri family (spelt without the final ‘e’) came to London from northern Italy c. 1880 and ran a restaurant in Wardour Street for many years.[6] Coincidentally, Gavin Selerie’s mother worked for a film company in the same street during the 1930s.[7] Selerie was educated at Haileybury and the universities of Oxford, Sussex and York. He has stressed the importance of his London roots (Soho and north-west), although the cultural focus of his work is often broad.[8] On his mother’s side there are woodwork and architectural associations, both relevant to his writing practice.[8][9] Selerie was involved with the counterculture in the period 1966-1976[8] as one of the main poetry reviewers for City Limits (magazine) in the 1980s. Intersecting with a number of modernist-inspired writers but ‘outside loyalty groups’, he is considered part of the British Poetry Revival.[10] He taught at the Extra-Mural Department, University of London, and subsequently at Birkbeck, University of London from the 1980s through to 2004. His partner is the poet Frances Presley.[11]

Writing

Selerie’s earliest published poetry dates from 1972. His major books are Azimuth (1984), Roxy (1996), Le Fanu’s Ghost (2006) and, with Alan Halsey, Days of ’49 (1999). Music’s Duel: New and Selected Poems 1972-2008 (2009) collects some of this work but also much else, fugitive or unpublished. Parts of a later project, Hariot Double, are available online and in magazines. ‘His poetry is mainly in long forms organised around multiple interlocking themes’ and could be regarded as ‘an extension of “open field” poetry.’[12] Selerie has shown a capacity to fuse pulp and popular material with more rarefied matter. Marina Warner finds an ‘oral, brash, sparky’ quality in the writing, which is still grounded in classic poetic patterns.[13]

His work is innovative and experimental, while also drawing on traditional forms. Alexandra Trowbridge-Matthews notes the ‘ease in which Selerie moves from formal syntax to overheard backstreet vernacular.’[14] An example is the North Kensington sequence Southam Street, inspired by local encounters and by the photographs of Roger Mayne.[15] Here, characteristically, Selerie combines two eras so that there is both overlap and distinctness. He has been described as ‘an antiquary of the present.’[12] If his mode is informed by scholarship, as Robert Hampson argues, the resulting complexity is achieved through ‘inventiveness and playfulness’, providing ‘readerly pleasures’.[16] There is directness as well as depth of inquiry in the various poems that concern place and human relations. These range from evocation of sites on the North Yorkshire Moors and ghostly events in Dublin to ‘tender lyrics on the longevity of desire’.[17] In the context of Roxy, which deals with street life, glamour and aesthetics, Selerie has been said to be ‘disarmingly and deceptively easy to read.’[18]

Layout, so as to reflect or embody sound, is a key element of Selerie’s practice.[1] Besides general attention to the look of words on the page, he has published concrete texts, such as ‘Bone Metallic’, inspired by the work of Henry Moore.[8] Though fitted to context, his use of form is eclectic. He has mixed prose texts with poetry, stretching the limits of narrative and lyric voice.[19] Nonsense verse, an early influence, becomes a significant strand in Le Fanu’s Ghost. The 14-line unit recurs throughout Selerie’s work, reflecting his engagement with renaissance literature. Two collections of sonnets, Elizabethan Overhang and Tilting Square, use convention in a novel way.[20][1] More recent examples are included in Music’s Duel.

The larger-scale works were built up in layers over an extended period. Andrew Lawson describes this approach as ‘ambitious, aiming for a kind of range and depth rarely attempted in . . . Britain’.[21] These books combine imaginative and documentary material, offering both historical perspective and immediacy of detail. Juxtaposed phrases and images, or pieces arranged in proximity, interrogate aspects of ‘truth’.[19][1] Selerie acknowledges the influence of filmmakers Alain Resnais and Chris Marker.[7] He has stated that, in tracing thought and behaviour, Azimuth and Roxy could be seen as ‘markers’ for ‘their respective eras’.[1] Le Fanu’s Ghost, ‘about the Le Fanu family, theatre and the history of horror’,[12] mixes retrospection with current trends or events. Selerie admires Charles Olson’s distrust of ‘subject-as-such’ in The Maximus Poems,[8][22] and many of his own texts have a sliding, enigmatic quality. Crucially, he has argued that where ‘texts form part of a book or sequence’ they should also function ‘as individual units.’[23]

If subjects are to be isolated in this writer’s work, romantic love and landscape figure prominently. Other common themes or starting points are music, visual art and cinema. The descriptive is usually combined with the analytical but in a way that avoids remote abstraction. Discussing Selerie’s metaphysical wit, Keith Jebb stresses ‘the constant sense of experience through language rather than of language.’[15]

Selerie has collaborated with poet and graphic artist Alan Halsey, notably on the book Days of ’49, whose procedures have been compared to ‘patterns like Mass Observation and surreal documentaries like Listen to Britain’.[10] Concerning but not limited by the year of the writers’ birth (1949), this work recovers an era via ‘extra-personal narratives that shape identity’.[24] Halsey provided illustrations for Azimuth and Le Fanu’s Ghost. A festschrift for the two poets, edited by David Annwn, was published in 2009.[25]

Selerie is a regular performer at British venues, as solo reader and with jazz musicians.[26] Strip Signals, originally performed with musicians at the London Musicians Collective, Camden Town,[27] was presented by Poets Theater in San Francisco.[28]

In addition to creative work, Selerie has published critical essays on a range of figures from Charles Olson and Bob Dylan. He edited The Riverside Interviews, a series of book-length studies about modern poets and playwrights. The volume on Scottish writer Tom McGrath includes much documentation of avant-garde culture in Britain.[29] Le Fanu’s Ghost, part-critical, contains original research on the Sheridan and Le Fanu families.[30] The end-note to Roxy helped to shape the entry on this term in the OED.

Bibliography

Poetry and Imaginative Prose

  • Playground for the Working Line (Ziesing Bros., 1981)
  • Hymenaei (Binnacle Press, 1981)
  • Amergin (Binnacle Press, 1982)
  • Azimuth (Binnacle Press, 1984)
  • Strip Signals (Galloping Dog, 1986)
  • Puzzle Canon (Spectacular Diseases, 1986)
  • Elizabethan Overhang (Spectacular Diseases, 1989)
  • Southam Street (New River Project, 1991)
  • Tilting Square (Binnacle Press, 1992)
  • Roxy (West House Books, 1996)
  • Danse Macabre, with Alan Halsey et al. (West House Books, 1997)
  • Epithalamion (Binnacle Press, 1998)
  • Days of ’49, with Alan Halsey (West House Books, 1999)
  • Vitagraph: for Bob Dylan at Sixty (Binnacle Press, 2001)
  • Le Fanu’s Ghost (Five Seasons Press, 2006)
  • The Canting Academy, with David Annwn et al. (IsPress, 2008)
  • Music’s Duel: New and Selected Poems 1972-2008 (Shearsman Books, 2009)

Other selected works

  • To Let Words Swim into the Soul: a Study of Charles Olson (Binnacle Press, 1980)
  • The Riverside Interviews 1: Allen Ginsberg (Binnacle Press, 1980)
  • The Riverside Interviews 2: Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Binnacle Press, 1980)
  • The Riverside Interviews 3: Gregory Corso (Binnacle Press, 1982)
  • The Riverside Interviews 4: Jerome Rothenberg [with Eric Mottram] (Binnacle Press, 1984)
  • The Riverside Interviews 6: Tom McGrath (Binnacle Press, 1983)
  • Selection of contemporary British poetry with essay, North Dakota Quarterly, 51:4 (Fall 1983)
  • ‘A Letter from London’ in North Dakota Quarterly, 54:4 (Fall 1986)
  • ‘Tricks and Training: Some Dylan Sources & Analogues’, The Telegraph 50 (Winter 1994) and 51 (Spring 1995)
  • ‘Tracks Across The Wordland: The Work of Alan Halsey’, Pages (March 1996)
  • ‘Charles Olson’, in C. Bloom & B. Docherty ed., American Poetry: The Modernist Ideal (Macmillan, 1995)
  • Introduction to Robert Hampson, Assembled Fugitives (Stride, 2001)
  • ‘Mary Michaels, My Life in Films’, How2 3:2 (Summer 2008)
  • ‘Critical Forum: Tell Tale Signs’, The Bridge 32 (Winter 2008)
  • ‘Ekphrasis and Beyond: Visual Art in Poetry. A Brief Personal Account’ (with Bio-Note), Junction Box 2 (Dec 2011)

CD recordings

  • After Hour Shoots: Azimuth to Le Fanu’s Ghost (Binnacle, 2009)
  • Performance-Texts: Strip Signals and Other Work (Binnacle, 2011)

References

References that need to be cited inline

1. ^ http://www.archiveofthenow.org/authors/?i=123

2. ^ Stuart Hills, By Tank Into Normandy (Cassell, 2002)

3. ^ The Times (London), Nov 05, 1968

4. ^ W.A. Lee, Thirty Years in Coal: 1917-1947 (Mining Association of Great Britain, 1954)

5. ^ Who Was Who, volume 2: 1971-1980 (A & C Black, 1981)

6. ^ Baedeker Handbook for Travellers: London & its Environs (Leipzig, 1898)

7. ^ Gavin Selerie, Backstory: the Making of Roxy (privately circulated, 1997; rev. 2000)

8. ^ http://lyndondavies.co.uk/.../gavin-selerie-ekphrasis-and-beyond-visual-art...

9. ^ http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=msib2_1211298325

10. ^ Andrew Duncan, review of Days of ’49 in Terrible Work 10 (2000)

11. ^ http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~bepc/poets/Presley.htm

12. ^ http:// angelexhaust.blogspot.com/ - archive 2010

13. ^ Gavin Selerie, Le Fanu’s Ghost (Five Seasons Press, 2006)

14. ^ Alexandra Trowbridge-Matthews, ‘Veiled But More Expressive’, Roundyhouse 32 (2011)

15. ^ Keith Jebb, ‘Destabilizing Poetries’, Poetry Salzburg Review 16 (2009)

16. ^ Robert Hampson, ‘Gavin Selerie: Roxy and Le Fanu’s Ghost’ (http://jacketmagazine.com/36/r-selerie-rb-hampson.shtml)

17. ^ Ian Mcmillan, review of Music’s Duel, Shadowtrain 29 [2009] (shadowtrain.com/id338)

18. ^ Paul Green, ‘West House’, Chicago Review 45: 2 (1999)

19. ^ Peter Middleton, ‘The Gear You Need’, The Many Review 5 (1987)

20. ^ Peter Porter, ‘Muses on an Expedition’, The Observer, May 20, 1990

21. ^ Andrew Lawson, ‘Two Contemporary British Poets’, The Phoenix Review 1 (1986/87)

22. ^ Gavin Selerie, ‘Charles Olson’ in C. Bloom & B. Docherty eds., American Poetry: The Modernist Ideal (Macmillan, 1995) - discussion, inter alia, of ‘Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 15’

23. ^ Gavin Selerie, Music’s Duel: New and Selected Poems (Shearsman Books, 2009): Notes and Acknowledgements

24. ^ Robert Hampson, ‘Memory False Memory: Days of ’49 by Alan Halsey and Gavin Selerie’, New Formations 50 (Autumn 2003)

25. ^ Salamanders & Mandrake: for Alan Halsey & Gavin Selerie at Sixty (IsPress, 2009)

26. ^ www.myspace.com/sundaysattheoto/photos/13477455

27. ^ Robert Sheppard, When Bad Times Made for Good Poetry: episodes in the history of the poetics of innovation (Shearsman Books, 2011)

28. ^ Gordon, ‘A Flood of Words’, Poetry Flash 177 (Dec 1987)

29. ^ Nigel Fountain, Underground: The Alternative Press 1966-74 (Comedia/Routledge, 1988)

30. ^ www.lefanustudies.com/selerie.html

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