Make Perhaps This Out Sense of Can You: notes on the Bob Cobbing symposium

Bob Cobbing (1920-2002) was a sound, concrete and visual poet, best known for his performed works in which language was anarchically stretched through shouts and hisses, interspersed between more recognisable tracts of spoken word. He was also a prolific organiser and collaborator: one of the founders of the London Filmmakers Co-op in the 1960s, manager of Better Books from 1965-7 and his imprint, Writers Forum, was amongst the first in the UK to publish works by John Cage and Allen Ginsberg.

Make Perhaps This Out Sense of Can You contextualises Bob Cobbing’s work as a poet as well as looking at his legacy as an organiser. The day is built around concerns that continue to be relevant today, such as the value of artist-led publishing initiatives, the productive qualities of an archive, the role of regional arts centres, and the intersections between art, literature and music.

The symposium will feature student responses to Bob’s practice. He was formally a schoolteacher at Bognor Training College in the 1950s, at Braziers Park in the 60s, and at the short-lived experimental Antiuniversity in 1968. Linking these diverse teaching experiences was an enabling and challenging spirit, in which students would be encouraged to experiment with concrete poetry, performance, artists books and to be given free rein to push their own ideas.

Oscar Gaynor (Wimbledon BA Sculpture alumnus, now studying Critical Writing in Art & Design at the RCA) has reworked a text originally written in response to the Bill Jubobe exhibition at Chelsea Space last December. The text plays on one of Bob’s early poems ‘Worm’, and pairs the visceral imagery with Charles Darwin’s writings about worms, ruins and the composting of language,

W W W W W WwwwwwwwwwwooooooOOOOOooooooooo—oooooOOOOooo—rrrrrrrrrrrRRRRMMMMM—mmmm!

And the voice comes from below, at turns escaping, erupting, and tripping up and comes to the surface. It breaks across the room. Mustered from the pit of the stomach and rising through the diaphragm, it reverberates through the ribcage, becoming larger and more uncontrollable, until it is released in haste through the windpipe, in lilting waves across the tongue. This worm—it’s not a word any more. The voice, through some kind of primal erosion, is shaping its edges into a new form, by sheer force is softening its edges, contracting and concentrating.’

He will be performing this with Henrik Heinonen, an artist who mainly works with sound, who studied at Wimbledon with Oscar, and now at Academy of Fine Arts Helskinki.

Camberwell College BA Graphics students Louis Hodge and Thomas Stone have been designing a fold-out poster which features the programme for the symposium. The cover samples some of Bob’s photocopied poems, and the programme text uses the Futura typeface in a similar format to the iconic Hansjörg Mayer’s series of pamphlets of concrete poetry works. The symposium title will be screenprinted in the Flaxman typeface designed by Chelsea School of Art Graphics lecturer Edward Wright in the 1960s, and now located in the letterpress workshop at Camberwell College. Flaxman was also used on the cover of Concerning Concrete Poetry edited by Bob Cobbing and Peter Mayer in 1971. The publication was not printed in quantity at the time, instead relying on ‘xeroxed ZAMIZDAT copies’, and losing some its initial sharpness through the numerous photocopies of the pages over the years.

Make Perhaps This Out Sense of Can You is programmed by William Cobbing and Rosie Cooper and presented by Camberwell, Chelsea & Wimbledon (CCW) Graduate School. Book your free place here.

The symposium will coincide with the Raven Row event Bob Cobbiiiiiiiiing Live, an evening celebrating the work of Bob Cobbing, with performances by Brian Catling, Beth Collar, Hannah Silva and David Toop, among others.  Wednesday 20 May, 6.30pm. You can reserve your place here.

Text by William Cobbing

Image by Louis Hodge and Tom Stone

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