Writers House reading celebrates poet's life

College senior pays tribute to visual-and-sound poet

The Daily Pennsylvanian
October 12, 2007


Performer Cris Cheek makes poetic noises as he interprets a visual poem at the celebration of visual and sound poet Bob Cobbing at the Kelly Writer's House yesterday evening. The reading was made possible by an award given to College senior Matthew Abess.

Photo by Antonio MacasiebThe Daily Pennsylvanian

Imagine what would happen if all the rules of the library - no speaking, shouting or running - were broken, and the books began reading themselves aloud.

Just that happened last night in the Kelly Writers House's Art Cafe during "Suddenly Everyone Began Reading Aloud," a project by College senior Matthew Abess.

Abess's project - a tribute to the late visual-and-sound poet Bob Cobbing - included readings from friends of Cobbing, sound-poetry performances and a panel discussion that Abess said "shattered the shell of silence" that exists in a library.

Abess was awarded the 2007-2008 Writers House's Kerry Sherin Wright Prize, which goes to a project that captures the essence of Kerry's work as the Writers House's first director.

The evening included a visit from Maggie O'Sullivan, a British poet, performer and visual artist whose work is influenced by Cobbing. O'Sullivan read from small-press books she published with Cobbing.

College senior Steve McLaughlin said O'Sullivan's visit was "historically significant" because she has only visited the United States once before and may not return.

Cris Cheek, an interdisciplinary performer who incorporates different media and technology into his work, performed different pieces that he said gave glimpses into Cobbing's work.

He performed a selection from Cobbing's "ABC in Sound," inviting the audience to join him in pronouncing the sound poetry

"It was a little weirder than I was expecting, but I enjoyed Cheek's performance," McLaughlin said.

Abess thought the audience participation was "extraordinary."

"The audience is no longer an audience," Abess said. "The distinction between performer and audience dissolved."

English professor Charles Bernstein then led a panel discussion, which included reminisces about Cobbing from O'Sullivan and Cheek.

Cheek described Cobbing as "an incredible organizer and networker" and said that his generosity was inspiring.

O'Sullivan agreed: "Bob never said no - he would find anything to make the work work," she said.

The evening pleasantly surprised audience members.

"This was my first poetry reading, and it was a lot more entertaining than I expected," said Alyse Nordaby, a Temple University junior.

Cara Nordaby, who accompanied Alyse, agreed.

"I had no idea what to expect, but the evening was out of the ordinary and enjoyable," she said.

Abess's project also includes an exhibition of Cobbing's work entitled "Make Perhaps This Out Sense of Can You" at Van Pelt Library in the Rosenwald Gallery.

The exhibition will be open until Dec. 16.