Poetry and you? A few poems and thoughts by writer David Selzer


Poetry, for me, lies somewhere between blissful and excruciating. When I take the time to read a piece, which is seldom due to the reasons above, I marvel at how only a few precise words can haul a truckload of soul. More often than not, though, it makes me antsy at best, question my intelligence at worst. Never mind trying to write some of it myself.

Do you have experience writing poetry?

Read on for the great kind of poetic journey, courtesy of blogger/writer David Selzer. He’s a poet who makes it look easy…

Photo of poet/blogger David Selzer by Sylvia Selzer. Photo of poet/blogger David Selzer by Sylvia Selzer.

Making Poetry by David Selzer

I was born in London, UK, in 1942 but have lived most of my life in Hoole, a Victorian suburb of Chester, a city in the north west of England.

I have been writing poetry since I was 14. In the summer holidays of 1957, I was on a day trip with my Auntie Renee to Llandudno, a town in North Wales. We were sitting on the steep slope above St Tudno’s church. Two things happened. Inspired by a poem, about the terrors of a nuclear holocaust, written by a sixth former and published in that summer term’s school magazine, I decided that I should be a poet. It seemed a grand thing to write about important subjects and be read by hundreds of people. (I hadn’t at that point actually written anything).

Before or after the decision, I can’t remember which, a group of nuns, in the long, black habits they wore then, left the church and climbed along one of the sheep tracks up the slope. My aunt would have commented on it, I’m sure, but I can’t remember what she said. The pristine image has stayed with me. I used it in a poem more than twenty years later, and in a screenplay nearly forty years later.

Poetry in some ways is the easiest of the arts. It is solitary, and comparatively economical in terms of time-over-task. The technology needed is minimal — just a pencil and some paper. No violins or blocks of Carrara marble.

I have always had things I want to say about love and death, and human history, pictures I wanted to create, stories I wanted to tell. Making poetry has been part of my life for more than sixty years. It is a compulsion. I cannot imagine ever saying to myself, I shall write no more poems.

In 2009, I came to the conclusion that, in order for most poetry to reach as wide a readership as possible –- and a readership which, if it chooses, can truly interact with the writer — publication on the web rather than in book form is the way forward. My website was launched in April of that year.

The first poem to be published on the site was:

A Short History

For a generation, like weather cocks,

their skeletons swung near the highway.

James Price and Thomas Brown had robbed the Mail.

Years turned. The Gowy flooded and the heath

flowered. Travellers noted the bones

hanging in chains by the Warrington road.

Justices ordered the gibbet removed,

the remains disposed of. In Price’s skull,

while Napoleon was crossing the Alps

or Telford building bridges or Hegel

defining Historical Necessity

or Goya painting Wellington’s portrait,

a robin made its nest.

The latest to be published (i.e. as of June 25th 2020) is:

The Colston Bun

‘And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.’ DEUTERONOMY 12.3

‘Black deaths do not have a good press, especially when they occur in the custody of our custodians. The media leads the public to believe that our guardians can do no wrong. Racism leads them to believe that blacks can do no right. The silence of the custodial system is compounded by the silences of racism.’ DEADLY SILENCE: BLACK DEATHS IN CUSTODY, Institute of Race Relations, London, 1991

 

Anger, one Sunday in June, overcame

decorum in that diverse city,

and – no doubt, inspired by the toppling

of other graven tyrants – righteously

pulled down the effigy, with a thump of stone

and a hollow gong of metal, and tossed it

from the quay into the harbour water.

***

The Royal African Company received

its charter from Charles II and James,

his brother, hence the US east coast seaports

Jamestown and Charleston. It was established

by the restored royals to provide them,

free of interference from the Commons,

with their own spending money. Board members

included the philosopher, John Locke.

The company’s profits came mostly

from enslaving West African men, women

and children, and transporting them across

the North Atlantic’s turbulence. More than

two hundred thousand were taken, and nearly

fifty thousand died on the journey,

the firm’s double entry bookkeeping shows.

 

One prominent member of the board

was Edward Colston, a Bristol merchant,

the city from whose harbour the slavers sailed,

and which, in due course, would make chocolates

and cigarettes. His philanthropy

inveigled the streets like a bad conscience,

almost a rebuke of victimhood:

his name on a hospital, a school,

a bun flavoured with dried currants and allspice

topped with sugar, given to the poor yearly

and still made for sale by local bakeries –

and himself looking thoughtful in bronze

with a periwig and a walking stick.

 

Apologists who claim he was merely

of his time, an accidental racist,

and collateral ethical damage,

like Henry Wills and Elizabeth Fry,

should remember John Locke, his damascene

moment unrecorded, who threw his shares

into the fire. ‘Slavery is so vile and

miserable an estate of man …that ’tis

hardly to be conceived’. That June Sunday

civic anger overcame decorum.

To my surprise, one of the most read poems is:

Marjorie Beebe’s Bottom

For Ian Craine (Note from da-Al: here’s a guest post by Ian Craine here.)

‘Marjorie Beebe is the greatest comic possibility

that ever worked in my studio. I think she is

destined to become the finest comedienne

the screen has ever seen.’ Mack Sennett

 

Her bottom was a serious matter:

the butt, as it were, of numerous pratfalls

in many Mack Sennett two reelers – like

The Chumps, Campus Crushes and The Cowcatcher’s

Daughter – in which she was a capricious,

lubricious Columbine with witty eyes

and good teeth and various Harlequins,

who ended invariably as losers.

From Kansas City, her mother took her

on the Yellow Brick Road to Tinsel Town.

Beebe and Sennett became lovers, despite

or because of the thirty year difference,

so he knew her asset first hand so to speak.

From silents to talkies, slapsticks to wise cracks,

her Mid West accent playing well, then Mack goes bust

and Marjorie gradually disappears.

Was it the booze? She was certainly

a toper. Or, more likely, The Hays Code:

irony suppressed, vulgarity outlawed,

Puritan America triumphant!

One of my favourites is:

Enchantment

“Do you know, Grandpa, this book has seventeen

chapters, and I’m on chapter fifteen,

‘The Forbidden Forest’?” “I didn’t,” I say,

“That’s excellent!” and this seven year old,

who has mastered the use of apostrophes,

curls up, like the proverbial worm

on the sofa, and continues to read

‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’.

I am re-reading, in English, ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’.

 

In the garden, using extended loppers,

Grandma is cutting choice blooms from a rose

we have had some thirty years, a rambler

as high as our upper floor and worthy

of Sleeping Beauty’s entranced gardens.

 

I look up to watch my grand child read. My pride

tempts me to ask fatuous questions –

“Are you enjoying it? What’s it about?” –

then speak of alchemy. Humility

prevails. I hear Grandma in the kitchen.

She is hammering the ends of the stems.

The deep scent of the roses, from wherever

she has placed the vase, enters the lounge

like a wisp of sweet smoke.

For more great poetry, visit David’s site!

What’s your experience with poetry?

35 thoughts on “Poetry and you? A few poems and thoughts by writer David Selzer

  1. Poetry doesn’t have a large audience, probably because many poems are too obtuse to be accessible to the average reader.

    On the other hand, many beginners just write down their feelings without using any of the tools of poetry. Those tools can make language musical, and approach ideas in unusual ways.

    Joseph Campbell said: “Poetry is a language that has to be penetrated, it doesn’t shut you off, it opens, it’s the rhythm, the precise choice of words that will have implications and suggestions that go past the word….”

    It’s curious that people turn to poetry for weddings and funerals, but don’t seem to think it has value otherwise.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I have written “Les réflexions”, a book of lyrical poetry in French and I cannot seem to find a publisher interested in marketing poetry anymore. So sad that publishers gave up on this art as they judged it non profitable.

    Liked by 5 people

    • what a lovely accomplishment, Rindala – I hope you won’t give up writing & trying to get published. I am in the same boat, too easily brought down by the challenge of it all, but we must persist because we were born to be creative 🙂

      Like

  3. I always had problems with poems that rime … so David’s poems make it easy for me. I loved especially the last one, his own favourite.

    I do like Haikus, short and compact … 😉

    Thanks for presenting David!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. These are some beautiful pieces. Wonderful interview, da-AL, and thank you for sharing your thoughts and poetry with us, David – I’ll check out your website in a moment. It’s interesting to hear how you first started your connection with poetry, and at a young age, too. I do think more and more people are going online for sharing their writing and publishing. I don’t know what I think about that. I know I should find this the ‘norm’ and yet I can’t help but find it a bit saddening. As much as I love and use tech, I’d certainly miss ‘real’ books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry if there were to disappear in future.
    Caz xx

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I never had a poetry class in high school. For some reason, all my teachers chose not to teach it. My college classes were awful, taught by professors with little incentive to read anything younger than 100 years old and referenced to Christianity. (Since I’m not Christian, I understood nothing.) My singular uni poetry writing class was a total disaster – I didn’t yet have the ability to get into my own head honestly and face the demons. So I gave up, both reading and attempting to write poetry.

    Finally I got introduced to Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda, Jane Hirshfield, Billy Collins, Robinson Jeffers, Hanna Senesh, Denise Levertov, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Amanda Gorman (a recent discovery for me,) and that old guy, William Shakespeare. (Many, many others) Found that poetry touched me in a way that made me stop breathing long enough to grasp something essential about the world, about humanity, about the truth. I also discovered that I couldn’t absorb more than one or two poems a day, that an entire universe might live in a few lines. Now I try to read a poem a day, two if I’m feeling fearless.

    About 8 years ago I started to write poetry. It’s pathetically amateur but every once in a while, it seems I’ve written something I don’t mind reading out loud. That’s another discovery I made – that a poem must be read aloud to be fully appreciated. It seeps over my tongue and into my pores as well as my ears.

    Thank you, Daal, for a fascinating post and for the introduction to David Selzer’s poems. Always something illuminating to read on your blog.

    Liked by 4 people

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