by Mandisa Apena
If anyone ever asks me who inspires me and my art, I will forever tell them: Bob Cobbing.
It’s not an obvious choice, but the lack of recognition his name evokes is precisely why Bob Cobbing is a perfect role model: he is a pioneer of mediocre brilliance.
Bob Cobbing (1920 – 2002) was a British poet who worked with the physicality of text, word, and meaning. He was not a man of much standing, he wasn’t particularly famous, and his Wikipedia page is a little… vacant, to say the least.
But I like how humble he seems. I like how weird his work is, his nonsensical poetry shaped like spires, or boxes, or something. I like the fact that he is sediment – a thin layer we all stand on, a ladder rung we don’t even know exists. His contributions to art seem slight but are important in the way all art from the past is the unwitting base point for all future art. Maybe it’s projection, but I read myself in his quiet humour. There is such a love for art in his work.
Being a poet – being an artist – in 2018 means self-promotion. At the gut of this industry, it often tastes like a race. The constant spectral demand for creating and thus, “being productive”, is a guise for consumerism and production in a capitalist environment. The rise of social media means that we are encouraged to constantly produce at the rate at which we consume. If you are an artist, the expectation to update your virtual feed with works in progress #wip and new-born work is high. With that being said, I do enjoy seeing the unpolished and the thought behind – there IS value in that.
I just feel as though as artists, we’re not given enough time to breathe.
I’m at a place where I feel stifled. I’m 21 and I quite honestly feel like there’s no way to keep myself free from this cycle. I dream of Cobbing, sitting in a cottage, somewhere removed from cars and a rusty typewriter on a tiny desk. The fallacy of this fantasy doesn’t phase me, I know I want to be there. Making art without pressure in the idyllic not-city. For me and a lot of my peers, I know at the heart of this race it’s survival. Trying to make ANY living from something you love and believe in. And I honestly could not suggest another way of surviving that doesn’t include selling some part of yourself. In addition, the privilege a white man like Bob Cobbing would have had is more than, let’s say, a working class queer brown person has (e.g. me).
But the goals we as individuals work towards are often transient. Ever since I’ve realised that I don’t need to rush to notoriety, my life has been much more sharp. I don’t know what Cobbing wanted, but he’s changed my life – and nobody else knows the guy! That’s what I want to be. I want to exist in that microcosm of fame! I’m not lazy or unambitious, I’m just happy leaving my legacy in the smaller things.
But, in the meanwhile, check out my latest work in the Ninetales Anthology ‘Disgusting Existence’, it’s £5 a pop. Hit me up if you want one, a poet’s gotta eat.