Poet and publisher Bob Cobbing was born in Enfield, England. He became known internationally for pioneering visual, concrete, and sound poetry and for his dynamic and often startling poetry performances; he was known too for his role as publisher, under his imprint Writers Forum. Passionate about his work, and running everything on a shoestring, Bob printed publications at his home, collating and stapling by hand. In this way, from 1963 to his death in 2002, he published hundreds of titles, his own work and that of a wide range of other poets and writers, including the original version of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘The Change’ in 1963. Cobbing was an energetic and driving force in avant-garde British poetry. In the mid 1960s, he was manager of the paperback and poetry premises at the bookshop Better Books, which, under Cobbing’s steering hand, hosted extraordinary and innovative literary and artistic events in London’s underground creative scene.

Bob Cobbing was a founding member of the Association of Little Presses in 1966, and in the 1970s he convened Poets Conference, a body which campaigned for, among other things, an increase in the amount of poetry broadcast on radio and television, greater guest-presence of poets in schools, and proper fees for poets. Cobbing also served on the council of the Poetry Society at a time of deep tension between traditional mainstream poetry and the experimental poetry Cobbing himself championed recognition of.

An early poem of Cobbing’s, ‘WORM’ was written in a set of horizontal lines, as a ‘verse’ in 1954; twelve years later he published it in ‘Eyearun’ in a wholly different shape, the letters of the words seeming to slither and wriggle down the page. His ‘ABC in Sound’ sequence, published in 1965, was also a seminal work. Increasingly, his poems took on ever more exciting shapes and presentations. Texture, light and shade, and every shape or mark upon the page could be read, whether there were identifiable letters or words or not. Cobbing said he could voice anything visual, even the woodgrain and blemishes in a piece of furniture. He delighted in the possibilities of the human voice, producing high bird-like sounds, deep growling, and a kaleidoscopic wide range of expressiveness in between.

Cobbing was involved in a number of performance collaborations with other poets, and with musicians and dancers; he ran frequent and regular workshops for experimental poets and gave strong encouragement to new young writers. As well as numerous individual works, he published, in his lifetime, two books of his collected poems, ‘bill jubobe’ in 1976 and ‘bob jubile’ in 1990. Cobbing died in 2002, having been performing within just a few days of his death.


Poems by Bob Cobbing

ABC in Sound - Bob Cobbing