Bob Cobbing (1920–2002) — sound poet, visual and concrete poet, DIY printer, and active member of an alternative socio-poetic community in the UK — insisted that there’s no use in adding to poetry what’s already there. In “Some Statements on Sound Poetry” (1969) he wrote: “Gone is the word as the word, though the word may still be used as sound or shape.” And he added: “Poetry now resides in other elements.” In this episode, Al Filreis is joined by sound poet Jaap Blonk, phonotextualist Steve McLaughlin, and experimental archivist Danny Snelson as they approach a single work by Cobbing, “Portrait of Robin Crozier,” in an effort to identify generally those “other elements.”
Robert Sheppard contributed this piece to Jacketissue 9 to mark the occasion of Bob Cobbing's 75th birthday:
I visited Bob Cobbing, and thus met my first poet, on November 3 1973. I was still at school, keen to put on an exhibition of concrete poetry. I recognised this as the wilder edge of the new British poetry I had discovered through Horovitz' anthology Children of Albion and Bill Butler's Brighton bookshop. In the school library there was, unaccountably, Emmett Williams' An Anthology of Concrete Poetry. Bob was in it.
When I arrived at Randolph Avenue to collect some hansjörg mayer posters, Bob was already talking to a student who was writing a thesis on language in visual art. I listened as they talked and sounded some of the Shakespeare Kaku. I remained mute, uncertain. Bob played a tape of himself and Peter Finch performing e colony from the Five Vowels, a then incomplete project. He showed us the work in progress. I stayed for six hours literally learning the life of a poet.
This is Part III of a four-part essay that appears in Portuguese in Deslocamentos Críticos (Lisbon: Babel; São Paulo, Itaú Cultural, 2011) under the title "Obra Sonora Poética: 1980-2010." Read Part I here and Part II here.
Brazilian Poetic Sound Work: 1980-2010
“Barulho”’s suggestion of the physicality of poetry through both its sound and sense resonates anew in the “cross-platform” work of Ricardo Aleixo. In Gullar, sound functions within Poundian melopoeia, plucking noises, rhythm, and melodies out of printed words via poetic devices including rhyme, assonance, and alliteration (even as it reaches to involve the body of the reader through the idea of breath). Aleixo’s poetry combines these devices with sonic devices in means and media beyond the realm of the printed page. His most important medium may be his own performing body and voice. Through performance, he actualizes the movement, voice, lyric self, and voice-body-sound relationship that Gullar’s poem evokes.
Heide Museum has a distinct relationship with Australian poetry. Formerly Heide was the residence of John and Sunday Reed. John was the publisher of Angry Penguins, and so Heide became one of the nodes of the Ern Malley saga.
Poet and editor of overland Barrett Reid also lived at Heide. More pertinently for this post is the fact that the Reed's adopted son Sweeney grew up there and became a concrete poet and poetry publisher. His work forms part - you could say the heart - of the Heide collection of concrete poetry. Reed made explicit use of both Stein and cummings in his poetry; the influence of Ian Hamilton Finlay is also apparent. Reed had plans to collaborate with Finlay when he died in 1979. Though not, apparently, prolific his conceptually dense works suggest a commitment to both the construction of his work, and the construction of a place for his work within poetry (rather than within art which was the more immediate influence: his adoptive parents being art patrons and early supporters of Sidney Nolan, who also lived at Heide. Reed's biological parents, Joy Hester and Albert Tucker were also painters).
Readers here might remember that I've admired Tony Green's poem-object "Big Mug Vodka Maker" from afar - from Philly to Auckland, to be specific. And as I've also mentioned here, Tony Green visited Philly, the first time in 20 years, and gave a presentation at the Writers House. We did an interview for the PennSound podcast series. He read some poems, and he also read several of his poem-objects. He bought along the one I especially admired and gave it to me. It now sits prominently on display in my office at the Writers House. Best of all, we now have for our archive a video of Tony showing this object and reading it/reading from it.
PennSound's Maggie O'Sullivan page includes a recording of a discussion with Penn students in Charles Bernstein's "studio 111" seminar. Michael Nardone has transcribed the session now and here is a portion:
PENN STUDENT: Thank you for your close reading, Ms. O’Sullivan. I was wondering if you could describe the relationship between performing your work and writing it.
O’SULLIVAN: Well, it depends on, every situation is different. Performing it is another opportunity to re-engage with the text at different levels, and another opportunity to negotiate the text on the page.
As you’ve probably heard, I often find my work is quite difficult for me to read from the page. Writing it, I hear the sounds often in my ear. But having to perform it, all the difficulties emerge. There’s lots of disconnectiveness and disjunctiveness that is kind of working against how I sort of, how sometimes it seems it may be read.
PENN STUDENT: Would you consider, sort of, maybe, performing it to be more body intensive than, I guess, writing it.
O’SULLIVAN: Well, writing is a body-intensive activity, totally. Absolutely, totally. The whole body is engaged in the act of writing. Whether it’s on the computer, with using a pen in the hands. The breath is involved in all activities. But with the performing, there are others that you have to connect with, and the place of performing also figures on it.
PENN STUDENT: A number of your poems integrate different languages, musical notes, pictures, and streaks, and they push the possibilities of poetic forms on the page. I was wondering whether this is supposed to conflict with the words, compliment them, or maybe even both.
O’SULLIVAN: The words working as part of all this kind of radical shifting—
I'm completely thrilled and grateful that Craig Saper--one of my favorite quirky teacher-scholar-writers--has been putting so much effort into focusing attention on the work of Bob Brown. Craig is working on a Bob Brown biography. He's just recently edited and re-published Words, working with the Rice University Press on a paper and web version. My printed copy is on its way from Texas, but I've looked long and hard at the web transcription and facsimile and am, as I say, thrilled.