My partner, the poet Gavin Selerie, died in June of glioblastoma, and his funeral was held at Kensal Green cemetery in July. It was attended by many friends, family and poets. Gavin chose the music for the service which included John Dowland, Ottolie Patterson, the Pogues and Bob Dylan. A long wake was held at the nearby William IV hotel which ended with readings of his poems. This is the eulogy which our friend David Annwn and I wrote together. (David also edited the recent festschrift for Gavin, Shape-Shifter, available from www.shearsman.com):
“Gavin is one of the most celebrated and well-known of English poets, creating long Modernist and Late Modernist poems post-1970. As he himself writes: ‘I seem naturally drawn to structures which involve cumulative and twisting elements.’
Book-length sequences such as Azimuth (1984), Le Fanu’s Ghost (2006) and Roxy (1996) are landmarks in contemporary literature and his sonnets and shorter poems are just as important. Gavin identified with the third wave of Late Modernist writers post the British Poetry Revival. His work reveals a complex and invigorating shape-shifting faculty seen in his doubling and mirroring, as in Hariot Double. He also published appreciations of and interviews with other poets, generously funded, collated and published by himself. He was a gifted lecturer and teacher, conscientious and perennially popular with students, many of whom attended his readings for years after meeting him.
His partner, Frances remembers:
Gavin and I first met on the London poetry scene in the 1980s, sometimes at the experimental performance series Sub-Voicive. I also saw him perform the wonderful Strip Signals at the Musician’s Collective. We fell in love in the 1990s. We shared an interest in women’s fashion and clothing: he was working on Roxy and I was performing Automatic Cross Stitch with artist Irma Irsara. I lent him a cassette of our performance and he invited me to his flat for a discussion which went on very late. That was twenty-six years ago and there were innumerable performances, writing projects and travels in the intervening years.
In July last year we went to Oxford to celebrate Gavin’s birthday. It was during the extremely hot weather and we spent days swimming at Port Meadow – Gavin loved swimming. In spite of the heat, he insisted we go to all the exhibitions, taking notes as we went. A day after we got back, he suffered a major seizure and was rushed into hospital. A doctor rang me from A&E and questioned me closely about our movements and Gavin’s behaviour during the previous day. I was explaining to him that we were on our third exhibition and I had collapsed on a sofa. The doctor misheard me and said ‘He collapsed on a sofa?’ ‘No’, I explained, ‘I collapsed on a sofa. He was doing another tour of the exhibition’.
My last anniversary card was dedicated to ‘my dependable adventurer’ and that made him smile, even though words had become difficult for him by then. He was always open to adventure and exploration, whether through poetry or travel. We often talked about where we might go after his diagnosis, although sadly it was to prove too difficult. When he could no longer talk, I would read poems to him from our earlier journeys together and he would still respond with sound and gesture, his spirit as strong as ever.
Close friends, like myself, speak of Gavin’s warmth, kindness, welcome to new-comers and open-ness, Peter Middleton writing: ‘He was generous, Elizabethan, Olsonian, enthusiastically immersed in writing and reading poetry’. In his sartorial jackets, bright shirts and trademark hats, with raffish moustache (sometimes askew with amusement), smile and piercing eyes, Gavin always brought colour to literary scenes. He was a gifted raconteur with a great sense of humour and an infectious, wholehearted and endearing laugh. Just as in his writing, when walking with Gavin through London, diversions and short-cuts could turn into the main attraction, a delightful, conversational long-distance meander. I want to finish with a few lines from Frances’s poem ‘From itself’ recalling a journey which she and Gavin made to Norfolk, and the mediaeval shrine of our Lady of Walsingham:
and we walk a green lane in the dark
who will never see her angel-like
face but touch her shoulders and kiss
beneath the sand and swifts”.
Robert Hampson wrote an obituary in the Guardian:
“My friend Gavin Selerie, who has died aged 73, was a writer whose collections of poetry included Azimuth (1984), Roxy (1996), Le Fanu’s Ghost (2006) and Hariot Double (2016). Favouring long-form verse, Gavin liked to think of his volumes as research projects that involved original academic analysis. Le Fanu’s Ghost, for instance, was based on family history of the Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu, while Hariot Double brought together his wide-ranging knowledge of the Renaissance with his love of music and a fascination with London by juxtaposing the Elizabethan-era polymath Thomas Harriot with the modern jazz saxophonist Joe Harriott.
Between 1979 and 1983 Gavin also conducted and published his Riverside Interviews, a series of book-length conversations with poets and playwrights, from Allen Ginsberg and Jerome Rothenberg through to Tom McGrath, some of which took place at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, west London.
Born in Hampstead, north London, to Peter Selerie, a wine merchant of Italian extraction, and his wife, Muriel (nee Lee), Gavin was educated at Haileybury school in Hertfordshire. He went on to study English literature at Lincoln College, Oxford, and then undertook research on Renaissance literature at the University of York. Afterwards Gavin taught creative writing at the University of London extra-mural department (later part of Birkbeck College), remaining there from the 1980s until his retirement in 2004.
Apart from his more lengthy volumes of poetry, he also wrote shorter sequences such as those brought together in Elizabethan Overhang (1989), Tilting Square (1992) and Collected Sonnets (2019). In addition his work appeared in anthologies such as The New British Poetry (1988), Other: British and Irish poetry since 1970 (1999), and the groundbreaking Reality Street Book of Sonnets (2008). Some of his other work was collected in Music’s Duel: New and Selected Poems, 1972-2008 (2009) and he also wrote critical works on other poets, beginning with a study of Charles Olson in 1980.
In addition Gavin collaborated with a number of other writers, including the poet and visual artist Alan Halsey, with whom he wrote Days of ’49 (1999), a celebration of the year of their birth. He also teamed up with David Annwn and others on the poetry collections Danse Macabre (1997) and The Canting Academy (2008).
Gavin was diagnosed with glioblastoma in 2022, but before his death was able to complete a memoir, Edges of Memory, detailing his experiences on a 1968 trip to the US.
He is survived by his partner, the poet Frances Presley, his sister Clare, a nephew, Peter, and a niece, Gemma”.