Friday, August 04, 2023

Remembering Gavin Selerie and his laugh

I have heard that Gavin Selerie died earlier this summer – and I wanted, briefly, to remember him. Much could be written about his poetic work – its serial epic ambitions, and his dedication to the sonnet. I have just found that yesterday Robert Hampson published an obituary of him in The Guardian that outlines these aspects in some detail. Please read that here before moving on:

Gavin was a solid member of the London poetry scene, and was so before I lived there, and long after I’d left, but he and Frances Presley (another old friend) were nearly always there when I appeared for events. He and I must have read at the same gigs, certainly at the same venues. His knowledge and conversation were to be treasured. I liked the way he tossed his head back when he laughed. I want to remember him laughing. I do remember him laughing.

In the 1980s he threw a good party. I remember Patricia and I rather embarrassed ourselves by misbehaving at one of them! He was a model for our own at-home festivities and he was a guest always (and I know he visited us in exile in Esher (his parents lived nearby)). 

He was also a generous witness to our ‘clandestine’ marriage in 1985, and here are pictures of him with the newly-weds and the other witness, Jeff. For their trouble, we dined them royally at an Italian fish restaurant in Islington. (Gavin's on the left, in the pictures above and below; Jeff on the right.)


I also dedicated two poems to Gavin, ‘Fucking Time’, my impressions of the life and works of the Earl of Rochester (I know it was the wrong end of his beloved seventeenth century; Gavin was a Jacobean scholar). It seems inappropriate to quote from that here, though it may be found in Complete Twentieth Century Blues. More appropriate is the poem he was forced to share with Alan Halsey (those who know their Days of 49 will know the justice of this), and those who have recently mourned Alan’s passing will share this grief (see here: Pages: I.M. Alan Halsey: some thoughts, links, and a poem dedicated to him. ( Here’s their joint ‘Burnt Journal’, another birthday poem, for their common year of birth. It got published in Berlin Bursts. And I read it again on video this afternoon:


Burnt Journal 1949


for Gavin Selerie and Alan Halsey at 60

You walk away from the Dakota, its silver fuselage

creaking as it cools. You wave your summer hat

at futurity. A grainy artifice sells the peace,

white-feathered fall into history’s nigrescent ink.


Heads of the crowd glow pin-pricked under Schweppes flashes

on a newsreel besmirched by mist. You sip real wine

under a tilted made-up parasol, an untitled poem

by Wallace Stevens, full of his tropical clickety-click.


You recite crisp leaves from the borders of the Floral Clock.

The Dummy Cowgirl Orchestra fumbles mandolins

with bloated plaster fingers, stares through golf-ball eyes.


Not quite as advertised, they flicker within without

voice. All these lovelies are lost in black.

Your pure ears ring with perfect pitch.


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