“Vive le vin!” (10 times) then “J’ai bien mangé!” (3 times) are the words spoken by (I’m pretty sure) Monsieur Chopin, while Mister Cobbing huffs, puffs and sort of scats rapidly. It may be the other way round – the main thing is, it is obvious that these two performers are great collaborators and doubtless staunch friends. It’s also obvious that this track (unlike my original description above) is in fact, not just non-verbal- or sound-poetry, but an enthusiastic ode to the joys of wine and food – with great deal of suitable lip-smacking throughout.
They’re both gone now. Henri passed on aged 86 in 2008 (this page of obit comments includes a mention of Miniatures at the bottom), having as a teenager lost his two brothers in World War II – what must have been an unbearable tragedy (and what to say about the Nazi labour camps and death marches he endured – then off to fight and catch malaria in Indonesia in 1948?). He was a pioneer of using tape recorders to modify sound and speech, with a predilection for lo-fi, distorted audio. Extraordinarily prolific, he is described on his Wikipedia page as “poet, painter, graphic artist and designer, typographer, independent publisher, filmmaker, broadcaster and arts promoter – Chopin’s work is a barometer of the shifts in European media between the 1950s and the 1970s.” He wrote several books, published an avant-garde magazine for 16 years (wherein he featured luminaries such as Brion Gysin, William Burroughs and members of Fluxus), and is known for his numerous graphic poems (aka “dactylopoèmes”) created on a typewriter. You can hear (and buy) two of his guttural works here.
The only one of the two poets that I met was Bob Cobbing, a genial, almost medieval-looking portly, bearded gent. Bob’s wartime experience was less harrowing, as he was a conscientious objector (as I would be). He left us in 2002 aged 82. Bob was also extraordinarily prolific, not just as a poet but as an organiser of things avant-garde and influential, such as the extraordinary bookshop/arts lab/cinema/gallery Better Books which was strongly inspired by the beat poets’ gathering place in San Francisco, City Lights Bookstore. Indeed, one of the first places Allen Ginsberg visited in the UK was Better Books. As the previous link shows, Paul McCartney was a friend of Ginsberg and may also have visited Better Books (he certainly visited the Indica Gallery & Bookshop, created by another Better Books manager, Barry Miles – it was also where John Lennon met Yoko Ono).
Bob was the founding father of the Writer’s Forum – an independent publisher and writers’ network which published an astounding 1000 books and pamphlets in the 50-plus years of its existence, and is till very active today (pity about the slightly unfortunate choice of URL). Apart from running his publishing firm, teaching children to explore poetry and sound, holding innumerable workshops, writing, printing, organising forums and events, Bob also found time for creating works involving voices and musical instruments in groups like Bird Yak and Konkrete Canticle. In short, he was a pillar of British counterculture.
If there are any of you out there who still don’t know one of the best resources for audio, video, text, photos, anything that can be downloaded, especially rare out-of-copyright material, let me heartily recommend archive.org. Both Bob and Henri are well represented there – indeed just reading the lists (and short descriptions) of their material is mouth-watering. One item on Henri’s list caught my eye: a 70-minute history of sound poetry with numerous examples by such luminaries as Gertrude Stein and Kurt Schwitters. I haven’t heard the whole thing, yet, but I’d be very surprised if it didn’t include a man who’s very name sounds like it might be the beginning of a sound-poem: Jaap Blonk. I can’t think of a nicer way to honour and thank Bob and Henri’s pioneering work than by sharing this more recent, cheerfully stimulating celebration of the human voice.
Next up: Hammer Horror, punk-style…