On Bob Cobbing
by David Chirot



“Necessity is the Motherfucker of Invention”
for my brother, Jed–
a master Maker–

Bob Cobbing is an Untitled Visual Poetry Sound/Performance Score Edited by Steve McCaffery & bpNichol (Underwich; Toronto, 1978.)



Since my earliest memories, I am living the encounter with Visual Poetry– going back before I was three, “reading” the cracks and stains on the wall paper facing my crib–and creating stories in the near dark (my door open but a slit)–
I have seen heard felt Visual Poetry in every site/sight/cite i have found myself. Everything in the environment is a form of writing. of seeing, touch, hearing forms and colors–which I live and move among–before I could read, my brother and I would climb among rock ledges and small caves, in which we would inscribe what I imagined to be the “Language of the Ancestors”–the Inish’nabe (Ojibway) forebears and their intermixed French families. We were very proud to learn later that the Inish’nabe (First People) are called Ojibway which means “People Who Write,” as the Insih’nabe have written language for a very very long time . . .
Looking at books—touching the lettering on the spines as though invoking the Incantations which would OPEN–out of the books to set flowing–a myriad forms of “writing”–the intricate lines, intimate curves, the spaces among letters, the colors they invoked, white and black which could reverse and be black and white—optical illusionary appearances suddenly “concrete”–we had lived a year in Germany and I was very sensitive to all the different fonts one found in the books in several languages that lined our parents’ shelves. Especially I was drawn to (no pun intended!–language itself puns ON us!!–)–to the incredible “picture writings” of the Egyptians, Chinese calligraphy, Islamic scripts, the Cyrillic alphabet–all of these intensely Visual–at the same time I found writings everywhere–Mandalas everywhere in the form of the Sacred Hubcaps I collect even today–miraculous Mandalas!! UFOs!!—-haunting areas where there were car wrecks for scattered pieces–construction site/sight/cites where one found the “ruins in reverse” of the Future–all these Found Elements one arranges, listening to the Call within forms which “draws” one to “See Sounds,” “Hear Colors,” “Touch the Skies” reflected in metal, in water, ice-to experience intensely all that is “blowing in the wind”–papers, dust, bits of rain, fallen leaves—all of these I use in my art works–raised and incised letters, numerals in telephone places, on machines, in sidewalk signs— for making clay impressions to be spray painted. The natural and human-made worlds continually present one with visual writings that shapes in the mouth as sound, touch with one’s mind caressing as one does with a hand the forms of trees, of twisted metal–all, all creating Performance Scores, Visual Scores for Sound Poetry—-
Roughly 20 year sago, I became intensely aware of and hungry, starved–to learn all one may of what has been being created by humans (and, sometimes, in a form of camouflage, by Nature itself)–the study of Petroglyphs is swarming with “ambiguous” “scripts”– ) and is called “Visual Poetry. From my own experience early in life, I associate Visual Poetry very much with Taphonomy–the study of things in their present state–and so regard the oldest known markings of humans as being just as much alive today as the latest Visual Poetry created via digital electronic means–in my work i essay to present “things i their present state”–that is, writing as it has been affected by Time–by the weather, by wars, by both Natural and Human interventions–moss growing over the carved words on ancient gravestones–the rust creating the most beautiful colors on old license plates–in my work I hope to present aspects of so many things “overlooked,” HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT/SITE/CITE–for all the huge emphasis today on the “Optics” (makes me think of the “Opticks” found in old alchemy books, astronomo-astrological text illustrations—)–bantered about in the Media’s creation of the ICON– the all consuming NE PLUS ULTRA of a society continually consuming and being consumed by “Visual Culture”–for all of this, in my work I find the never ending travels among the multi-verses–yes, multi verses in both senses of the word)–that are ev everywhere around one and hardly ever seen by anyone–
For so long I lived and worked, thought, dreamed, of finding a way to express what I found by making what i call “rubBEings” of all ,manner of Found objects with letters–at one point telephone poles especially–and one day after ages AND ages of wondering if I would ever be able to preent one particle of the vast worlds all around–one day, I felt myself cross a line–from being a prisoner signallying dumbly and blindly, unseen and unheard, from one side of a wall–to suddenly being FREE–and then the work came ALIVE–ever since then I have been able to fully live in the multi-verses first sensed as a small child–yet–yet–i wondered so often if I were the only one who saw, heard, felt, danced to the myriad tunes of this–and then one day my most truly Sacred Moment, what Melville called “The Shock of Recognition” occurred–
This was in June 1997, in Edmonton, at the Eyerhymes Conference of Visual Poetry–with Visual Poets from many countries, and several there I never thought I would meet–the great magnificent Mentor and Comrade, Clemente Padin–and–Bob Cobbing–whose work I was just then finding, through a small heap of his works–
Before the big Opening of the events,I was in the gallery with two other Visual Poets, including the great legendary Bob Grumman, who had published my first book, Anarkeyology–and then, alone, I started to walk around until I cam to a wide opening where one looked up at some panel reproductions quite large mounted by the balcony as I recall.
Standing and looking ecstatically up–I had a truly powerful, intense, lifting up, levitating it felt like–and felt my eyes filling with enormous tears–some kind of music broke through in into my mind–and filled me–as i stood staring at these magnificent images–
I recognized them immediately as by Bob Cobbing–the great joy came indeed from a Shock of Recognition as the panels were looking back at me–I felt thoroughly a kind of telepathic YES–Eureka–finally I found another person in this world who saw what I saw–heard and felt and danced what I did–who KNEW THIS LIVING VISUAL POETRY–had lived, created, performed, published Visual Poetry for decades and decades–
I love and have learned a great deal from Kurt Schwitters, Jean Dubuffet and Robert Rauschenberg–from Dada and Russian Futurism and Zaum–but to me the greatest of them all is Bob Cobbing–he reminded me of an artist-“hero” of mine since very young, Gulley Jimson, the fictional painter of Joyce Cary’s novel The Horse’s Mouth (made into a film with Alec Guinness playing Gulley)–from the moment we met out side about an hour after I saw Bob’s panels–we hit it off without speaking–immediately investigating some dumpsters while people were walking towards some event–
Then, for a week–we went everywhere together–to the talks and events, to morning coffee where all the starving Visual Poets are stuffing out pockets with rolls–Bob told me a great deal about his life–we discussed all manner of materials, copy machines–(rubBEing is the oldest form of Copy Art)–went over books together, discussing all manner of things we both found of intense interest–exchanging stories of London and Milwaukee (we both having been to each place)–one of the greatest times in my entire life, like something one had lived already, in a dream, a vision–and now here it IS–one is living it–sounding out the sidewalk cracks as walked along–observing daily changes in the shadows of certain trees along the way–getting in trouble at two talks from some man who instinctively didn’t like us–just sitting there together seemed provocation enough for this absurd gentleman who nonetheless had some form of authority invested in him–the same old story one finds always everywhere–I told Bob that some people just do not like people they suspect of having TOO MUCH FUN –“remember, being an artists is a very hard life—but then, there is nothing else that is so much fun” Bob told me–telling me to chuck everything and follow my Vocation–“not a career, which is what all these others want (meaning the American and Canadian poets)—-but a VOCATION–“–Bob told me a lot of amazing things to do with this Vocation–my life–but greatest of all, as he was the one person with whom I had such an intense Visual Poetry Recognition–i realized he had freed me-to really LIVE–and work–think–dance–cry out–as I do continually second by second particle by particle in Visual Poetry–and with Bob Cobbing ever with me in the Anarkeyology of Living this that is.
(He also told me that it is I who am Gulley Jimson–not him!–the Xerolage book of FOUND RUBBEINGS which mIEKAL aND published of my pieces–is dedicated to Bob and Gulley–)

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