DAVID COBB: PALM
ISBN 0 9517103 4 6
DAVID COBB: THE DEAD POET'S CABARET
5 Marden Close
ISBN 0 906228 88 3
DAVID COBB: BUSINESS IN EDEN
ISBN 0 9517103 5 4
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This page last updated: 11th December 2007.
|DAVID COBB: PALM|
A reader might regard haiku, generally, as lighter, more immediate in its impact than long or longer conventional European poetry. David Cobb's overriding accomplishment is his capacity to combine lightness with depth an immediacy that has the ability to 'flash upon that inward eye...' (to quote one of our national treasures). In other words his haiku stay with the reader, long after the book is closed.
Many poets are now into haiku, they find the best of it inspirational. These tiny poems, and poems they are, must be considered 'of the best':
poky hotel no room for my shadow to unpackHere is humour, but at the back of it is a world of cut-price travel, of lives cramped by the necessity to earn a living. And that 'shadow' is perhaps the real man/woman who never has the chance to be whole all this in thirteen syllables. I've reviewed poets who have taken ten stanzas to say less. Cobb has divided his poems into sets, each set having surreal and often amusing titles. This set is entitled BAGPIDDLER (a title that is oddly apposite). Another haiku in this section creates a razor sharp image, but is also lyrical and humorous:
the full moon glances sideways down a street of ill reputeLooking down the contents' page a reader will be grabbed by most of these askance section titles NETTLEBUZ, TIDESMELL AND COKLEDOG, CODPOPPIES, etc..
PALM has also a substantial amount of haibun; prose that is informed by one or more haiku or haiku that is informed by prose! COBB writes prose terribly well from MERIT TOKEN:
..... Everyone, tourists as well as pilgrims, swinging logs at gongs to make them bong, releasing birds, sticking gold leaf all over the images, to feet, hands, noses, right up to the Lord's topknot if they can reach that high, sometimes targeting that part of a buddha's anatomy where they themselves are afflicted....
on the latrine seat a small offering of gold from a buddha's thumbThe collection ends with a mammoth haibun, in which the poet sets off during the winter solstice to search his home county of 'mossy Essex' for those legendary and mythical characters who inhabit its history and who, perhaps, 'inhabit the air around us'. The atmosphere is palpable:
over the furrows undulating shadows slow flaps of a crowThere is no room in haiku for bombast; COBB'S poems are gentle. They can be chilling, but always come out of a humanity that never appears fake from SNOWSTAINS:
on the fixture list the name of the groundsman we buried last week day of his funeral still inviting messages 'after the tone'I do not recommend this book solely to lovers of haiku and haibun. PALM is a collection that will delight all readers, even those who, ordinarily,would show little appreciation of poetry.
|reviewer: Michael Bangerter|
|DAVID COBB: THE DEAD POET'S CABARET|
Take eighty English poets, visit their graves, photograph their tombstone and write a clerihew. Sounds an easy way to write a book. It isn't as simple as that though. Cobb claims to have visited 65 of these graves and many of the photographs are his own. For each poet there are details about their life and death, all researched from reliable sources and a quote from the inscription either on their grave or some suitable monument.
One of the graves he didn't visit was that of Robert Louis Stevenson whose grave is on the summit of Mount Veam and so remote that it is reported
sixty Samoan bearers were needed to hack through forest and haul the coffin to the top.and instead of a photograph there is reproduced a drawing originally published on a postcard.
One of two poets without an actual gravesite is Stephen Duck who in 1756 jumped from Old Caversham Bridge into the Thames. As there is no known grave (suicides were buried unceremoniously in unconsecrated ground with a stake through the heart), we get a picture of the bridge instead.
The other is Ted Hughes who was cremated and there is no memorial for him either. We get a photograph of the poet. He died in 1998 and is the most recent death in the book (Chaucer, 1400 is the oldest). Is he included to make the numbers up, or as a sop to the inclusion of Plath?
The majority of the clerihews are, as the author admits, simply whimsy. There is an appendix with notes on them pointing out the source of some of the references contained in these. Certainly none are meant to be taken seriously, unlike the rest of the information in the book.
Few of these clerihews appealed to me, but for a taste, here are some of the least worse
Flew into a paddy, Yeats If people rhymed his name with Keats. Any talk of "Celctic fringes" Knocked him right off his hunges. Alexander Pope Sucked soap. This accounts for the runs he had While writing The Dunciad. Emily Brontλ Despised "the full Monty". She preferred sights Such as Wuthering Heights.
A curate's egg of a book, this is nonetheless a useful guide to the last known whereabouts of English poetry.
|reviewer: Gerald England|
|DAVID COBB: BUSINESS IN EDEN|
David Cobb is a founder member and president of the British Haiku Society and a prolific writer of haibun. BUSINESS IN EDEN is his fourth collection of poetry and he has also edited three anthologies. Many of the haibun in this collection have been previously published in poetry magazines and anthologies.
Contemporary haibun in English combine prose with haiku or tanka where the poem acts as a torque point the reader's attention focussing on a small aspect of the whole work that demands greater attention and understanding in contrast to the prose. The way the two parts of a haibun work together determines the success of the haibun. Some of Cobb's haibun contain a title, one or two paragraphs and a haiku. In other haibun, additional paragraphs of prose and poems are combined to make a lengthier work. The longer haibun are given at the start and finish of the collection. SPRING JOURNEY TO THE SAXON SHORE consists of 33 pages, plus 6 pages of notes, and A DAY IN TWILIGHT consists of 22 pages followed by 6 pages of notes. The middle section of the book contains twelve shorter, one- or two-page haibun.
SPRING JOURNEY TO THE SAXON SHORE is story-like in its length and theme: a bike ride undertaken by Cobb from his home in Essex to a cottage on the Norfolk coast. Cobb has an original voice in both prose and haiku as can be seen in this short passage from the start of the haibun:
at the door, a doll its undressed body brown its arms bleached
Holding it, my daughter on the step in her nightdress, small enough for a granddaughter, waving a goodbye, calling after me, "Dad, I'll swim without armbands before you come home!" Then asks, "Will you be back here in time for my snail race at school?" She who can tell time only be blowing dandelion clocks.Cobb's prose is distinctive as he describes his personal sense of all that he sees, hears and tastes on his journey. He uses short phrases interspersed with longer sentences to keep his haibun moving:
I give her a smile for her hand and she whisks it away. Returns with a basket of bread cut into 'doorsteps'. Really more like a flight of stairs. She simpers, "Told the kitchen you was looking hungry." Crumbs in my lap.The haibun proceeds to interest and entertain the reader with its evocation of natural beauty, present events, the historical past and visions of poets, farmers and historical personages. The haibun ends with the poet reaching the cottage where
I put away my bicycle in the shed and hesitate before padlocking the door. I go to the seat by the stone wall where the dark holm oaks overhang, sit myself down on the hardened blackbird squit from last year's berries.In the other lengthy haibun A DAY IN TWILIGHT the author is back in Essex where he determines to seek out the mythical beings who seem "palpable" in "mossy Essex". He sets out shortly after dawn on 22nd December full of "porridge" that "swells the belly" and "a rucksack" that "rubs the collarbone". Along the way we encounter Cobb's country life, the villages and people he comes across as he rambles through the countryside. Here he encounters a rider on horseback, a woman in a cafι, a man named Old Fink, and many more strange people. An example is his meeting with Benlowes, a poet who lived from 1602-1676:
'I saw you, sir, a moment ago, writing in your pocketbook and, being a poet myself, immediately took you for one of our harmless fraternity. Let me introduce myself, sir: Benlowes, Edward Benlowes, Benvolus, I ask my friends to call me. Born in this hall and lived here all my life.'In his ramble, Cobb hopes to find himself
in company with men and women who had perhaps never been, or never were as they are now told to have been.Nevertheless, journeys call forth poetic imagery from Cobb. The bike ride is variously described as
a chance to meet the living and the dead
I freewheel across the Stour into Sudburyand the description of the bike as given to Robert Bloomfield, poet, is priceless: "
'You've got it, Robert. Look.' I turn a figure-of-eight around the garden. 'It's called a bicycle. Two wheels, bi-cycle, d'you see?'The ample and entertaining notes that follow these haibun give the reader more details about historical figures, places and events.
Then there is the actual poetry plenty of it by Cobb, which, whether intentionally or not, reads a bit like a series of mini-stories. Perhaps the most reassuring thing about Cobb's gripping accounts is that when the traveller is miles from home, there is always help from the locals. Two plates of duck meat must taste more delicious when far away from urban cuisine. To travel to unknown places, meet people both real and imaginary and sample the local fare surely this is the warm heart of such travels and Cobb's haibun capture these experiences admirably.
The variety of the shorter haibun is engaging. Twelve poems range from THE SCHOOL CHRISTMAS SHOW, AT THE REC, THE PRIEST HOLE AT OXBURGH HALL, and more.
Here in full is one of the shorter haibun, THE PRIEST HOLE AT OXBURGH HALL:
A wriggle of hips, a twist of backbone, a lurch and you're down through the hole in the stone floor and into the brick-lined gut of the hide-away. Straightening up, and before sitting down on the narrow stone bench, you try to wipe something offensive away, but it's a shadow and of course you can't. You think, Jesuit after Jesuit sat here and waited. Contemplating salvation, either on earthly terms, or else those beyond the ken of man. Whichever, approaching at its own predestined pace.
The walls sit tight as ever to this day. in a cobweb belonging to who-known-whom a human hairCobb's sketches of countryside, places, people, scents, tastes, history, and all his other topics, are delivered in an inimitable style with enthusiasm and love, made believable by the undertone of the dark and drear side of life. His skill in both prose and haiku gives the reader a feeling of being there with him. As the prose relates events, the haiku is used as the poet's inner voice giving the reader an insight into the poet's thoughts and feelings.
BUSINESS IN EDEN is never boring; for the most part its engagement with the minutiae of local history is entertaining and illuminating. There is much here that is fascinating, much that is perceptive. The whole makes an enjoyable read, and some, at least, of the short haibun, which make up the collection are fine and powerful. A particular, odd pleasure of the book also comes from its delightful pages of notes, compiled with humour and accuracy.
|reviewer: Patricia Prime|