Writers Forum lives

Posted by Ken Edwards on Thursday, April 1, 2010 Under: writing

The Sound Of Writers Forum from openned on Vimeo.

Writers Forum (yes, it's spelt like that, no apostrophe) is synonymous with one man: Bob Cobbing (1920-2002). From 1963 until his death it was a regular poetry workshop in London championing and encouraging experimental work, AND also a small press with a no-holds-barred approach. 

In recent years, the technological phenomenon of short-run printing and print-on-demand, together with the internet's instant availability has resulted in "small" presses like Salt Publishing churning out a book a week. It's therefore instructive to note that Writers Forum did this first: using the available low-technology of the day, at first mimeo and later photocopying, Writers Forum produced well over 1,000 titles by the time of Bob's death - and he kept them all in print, too! (The pre-digital age equivalent of print-on-demand was keeping duplicator skins or original master texts on file to run off a fresh copy when needed.)

Steve Willey's new 36-minute documentary is a fascinating introduction to the man and the press by way of interviews with eleven living poets who were all published by Writers Forum.

My first memories of the poetry scene in London are of the era when Bob was ensconced in the Poetry Society's then headquarters in Earls Court, where his printing equipment was available for all poets to use. I also have vivid memories of Bob's extraordinary sound poetry in performance, both solo and in collaboration - for example, with Paula Claire, whose wonderfully bonkers performance style is evoked in her eloquent contribution to this film, and the late Bill Griffiths, in Konkrete Canticle, and later with Lawrence Upton - who has kept WF alive since Bob's death - in the Domestic Ambient Noise duo.

Like so many poets willing to experiment, I was encouraged by Bob, who was good enough to produce two fugitive Writers Forum titles of mine. I only ever attended the workshops a couple of times. When I did, I was intrigued by the apparently unjudgemental ethos: anybody could bring work in progress to read, and nobody was criticised. In the documentary, John Rowan reveals that overt criticism was encouraged in the early days, but soon dropped when people got upset. That said, Robert Sheppard once told me that with practice you could gauge exactly where you were going wrong or right by the quality of the silence that followed your contribution. And a grunt of approval from Bob was always highly prized.

I never became a sound poet, but Bob's aesthetic - language is immensely malleable and fragmentable and unspeakably present - has stayed with me and informed my subsequent writing practice. And his do-it-yourself approach to publishing remains an inspiration.

Steve Willey is planning a more extensive documentary and appealing for anyone who was involved in WF and wants to be considered for inclusion to contact him at Openned

In : writing 

Tags: "bob cobbing" "experimental poetry" 
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Ken Edwards This blog is written by Ken Edwards, co-founder and editor/publisher of Reality Street, and it's mainly about the press. Ken's personal blog can now be found at http://www.kenedwardsonline.co.uk