Bob Cobbing at Bury Art Gallery

Yes, Bury is not exactly in the Liverpool area but Phil Davenport has co-curated this and sent me the details so I’m happy to pass them on. Some of you will remember the apples that appeared around the Walker during the Biennial. That was Phil’s ‘Heart Shape Pornography’ which was part of the Ritual Bodies exhibition. This Bob Cobbing chap sounds interesting and now the fair Spring weathers here a day trip to Bury doesn’t seem such a gloomy prospect….

A retrospective of Bob Cobbing – the remarkable word/visual/sound poet – will open at Bury Art Gallery(in desperate need of a proper website) on March 19th and run for six weeks.

Bob Cobbing was one of the great adventurers of 20th century British poetry. He was an extraordinary poet, a hugely encouraging and influential publisher, a charismatic performer who was performing up until days before his death at the age of 82 in 2002. This exhibition spans a lifetime of creative activity, gathering classic works and previously unknown pieces gathered from his personal archive.

Cobbing used photocopiers, duplicators, computers, sound, paint, dance and words to construct poetry. Many of the works here are simultaneously poems, artworks and scores for performance. Although a prolific wordsmith, he is famed for photocopy works that explode the conventions of reading, even the very idea of words.

His early artworks are reminiscent of 1950s Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock. He hit controversy early on – something that would be a feature of his life – when Mrs Thatcher tried to have one of his artworks removed from an exhibition – because she thought it looked like sperm.

Cobbing came to prominence in the 1960s as a concrete poet along with his peers Ian Hamilton Finlay, John Furnival, Dom Sylvester Houedard and others. Later, he fused painterly influences and words to create complex layers and wordfields which in turn fed into dance or music improvisation.

As well as a poet, Cobbing was a publisher. His small press Writers Forum had a list of over 1000 titles by the time of his death. He published many noted experimenters (Cage, Ginsberg, dsh, et al) but also gave numerous unknowns their publishing debut. Writers Forum list reads like a history of alternative poetry.

He also was actively involved in the Poetry Society in the 1960s and 1970s, where he championed the experimental and the ‘other’.

Cobbing combined the shamanic performance qualities of Beat poets like Ginsberg with the radical playfulness of Fluxus. He is a touchstone of 1960s adventurism; this exhibition is to celebrate his life’s work and memory.

The Bob Cobbing exhibition has been co-curated by poet Philip Davenport and artist Jennifer Cobbing, Bob’s widow. A soundtrack of Cobbing performances has been compiled for the exhibition by musician/writer David Toop.

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