TWO POETS' REGRETTABLE DEMISE
When I was left without a co-tenant in digs out in the sticks, a friend said she knew a chap called Tim Cobham who would be ideal. This was the summer of 1978.
‘He’s a poet, like you, and he’ll be glad to pay half the rent.’
The guy was short of a place to stay. At the time, it would have looked churlish to say no.
So Tim moved to Suffolk from Saxby House, a Dervish meditation centre in Hampshire.
He was a good talker, I'll say that. The day he arrived we didn't stop chatting until two or three in the morning. He knew about literature and the arts: during thousands of hours of idleness he had studied newspapers and magazines and held debates with whoever was in earshot.
He loved to hold forth about his travels to unfrequented parts of the earth in search of dope.
I had to get up early the next morning and bike for an hour and ten minutes to get to the hospital where I worked. Tim started following the practice of spending the morning in bed, except for the days when he had to claim his Social.
He had made the trip to Suffolk with the aid of his thumb. One driver he had poured his soul out to was a man of discernment.
'He laid a tenner on me and said God bless you,' said Tim.
I was sufficiently impressed by this to 'lay on him' a cheque for the same amount made out to bearer.
He requested several more of these in later weeks. I said no.
Tim never thought he would make money as a poet. Poetry was his calling though, and he was dedicated to it. He had co-authored a book of poems about marijuana with a bard whose name meant something on the national poetry scene, there was no disputing that.
Unfortunately, as I found out, he had a habit of relieving other people of possessions that might be too much of an encumbrance for them. These items he would sell for pennies at the nearest junk shop. (I also heard later that he had been kicked out of the Dervish place after some cash went missing.)
Our ways parted, and it was in the mid 1990s when I heard Tim Cobham had died. I passed him in the street a few weeks before that and he looked pallid.
Oscar Folger, the other poet (younger than Tim) who died around the same time, was different. He had no more intention of working for the Man than Tim Cobham did, but by God, he toiled away at his poetical endeavours, promoting his own works and those of other people. He saw it as a business. In Oscar's way of looking at it, there was money to be had in the literary world and where was his share of it? He wanted a career and a name to conjure with. Not unreasonably, but as it turned out, wrongly, Oscar believed he would get a reward for his labours.
In another world he would have, because the guy was a grafter, even though he wouldn't work for the Man. How he was able to bring out so many quality issues of his magazine, which of course made no profits, was a mystery.
Later, he put a lot of things on the internet. He discovered that there was no money coming from that quarter either. You could put your life's work online, it would soon be digested and you might not see a penny.
The weight of his failure to make money after a decade of manic work, the indifference of the world, and, finally, pressure from the dole officials, was too much for Oscar, and he killed himself. (He was also a bit of a doper, though not as bad as Tim, and that might not have helped his morale either.)
Yes, Oscar was a suicide but Tim died of natural causes.
It's a wonder that Tim drew out that scrounging sort of existence as long as he did.
He didn't bother about food much, though he once brought back to the digs a mackerel I didn't want any part of.