Lawrence Upton obituary

Other lives: Poet, composer and performer who combined sound and visuals with the power of the word

My friend Lawrence Upton, who has died aged 70, was a leading figure in the British poetry revival of the 1960s and 70s, as a poet, publisher, sound artist, graphic artist and performer. In the 70s he was involved in Poets Conference, the Association of Little Presses, Writers Forum and the Poetry Society (serving as the society’s deputy chair from 1974 to 1978).

Lawrence was born in London, studied English literature and history at Kingston Polytechnic, and completed a master’s in English and American literature at King’s College London. He supported himself through teaching jobs (and by 1992 was head of academic computing at Carshalton College), but simultaneously, during the 70s, established himself as a sound poet. Between 1976 and 1979 he performed with PC Fencott and cris cheek in the sound poetry performance group jgjgjg across Europe and then, after 1979, as a solo performer in the US and Canada.

He also made repeated visits, as an invited guest composer, to the New Music and Intermedia Art association, Fylkingen, in Stockholm, between 1974 and 1978. During the following decades he continued to work as a poet, composer and performer. He founded the poetry magazine RWC in 1990 and co-ran the London-based reading series Subvoicive from 1994 until 2005. Through Subvoicive, he also set up a memorable one-day conference on poetry translation.

During this period he published three volumes of poetry, Messages to Silence (1995), Unsent Letters (1997) and Letters to Eric (1997). However, he is probably best known for his collaboration with Bob Cobbing: from 1994 to 2000, he and Cobbing wrote and performed the collaborative visual poem Domestic Ambient Noise, which ran to some 2,000 pages and hundreds of performances. They also co-edited the groundbreaking Word Score Utterance Choreography (Writers Forum, 1998), a primer for the performance of visual poetry.

After Cobbing’s death in 2002, Lawrence spent much of his time in Cornwall for health reasons. He continued to visit London as a research fellow in the music department at Goldsmiths College, University of London, between 2008 and 2015. He also continued to collaborate: with the musicians John Drever and Benedict Taylor, with the book artist Guy Begbie, and with the poets Tina Bass and Richard Tipping.

He published Wire Sculptures (2003), which featured poetry about degraded urban landscapes and mundane violence, and was working on two long sequences, Elidius on Scilly and Landscapes, at the time of his death. There was a more tender, lyrical side to his poetry, evident in his later works, in which he responds to the landscapes of Cornwall and the Scilly Isles.

Robert Hampson

The GuardianTramp

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