Sunday, September 14, 2008
IRA COHEN--POET, PHOTOGRAPHER, GADFLY, AGED 72
Raised in Manhattan, Ira Cohen lived in Tangier, hanging out with Jane and Paul Bowles, and sojourned in Katmandu. Cohen still holds court from his Upper West Side apartment.
I’ve had a series of small strokes, so I haven’t been writing very much. It is good to get something down in my notebook, no matter what. Before being interviewed by Dylan Foley on bohemians, I write, where has it gone? What was it? Having fun without money, red wine, free lust, sparkling conversation, unpretentiousness, spaghetti dinners without selling out, not being part of the herd morality of the mainstream, a touch of the gypsy in the Village or the Lower East Side? Perhaps it was a trip to Paris, are you getting what I am saying, right? Perhaps going to Tangier or Katmandu, to discover what life is about without the gray flannel fakery of the time. It wasn’t political, racist, dogmatic or anti-romantic. It was a serious struggle to maintain a meaningful life without deceit, perpetual discovery, having gay friends and going for the real thing. If you have a beret and throw it up in the air and it doesn’t land on your head, what should you expect? Maybe the bohemian has been replaced by the serial killer. Neither is in the mainstream. Both are interested in fun, each in his own way.
When I went to Morocco, I was still quite young. I was 26, married with two kids. I went to Tangier because there was a Yugoslavian freighter going there. Jack Kerouac took the same freighter I took maybe a year before. 1961? The Hravatska. I sold books I had for $90. For $90, the freighter dropped me off in Tangier. We had a lot of stuffed cabbage for 12 days. We wound up in Casablanca. The boat continued up to Tangier.
I was in Tangier ‘til ‘66. , then I came back here and published the “Hashish Cookbook,” based on the idea of hash candy. You can also make grass into tea.
How am I getting by now? Don’t ask me. In my pocket, I have a check for $1600 out of the $3600 spent by someone who bought three of my beautiful mylar prints of Jimi Hendrix. I did some of the greatest photography of the period. The Whitney came by and picked out two prints they wanted. They really wanted the work I’ve done in the past two years. I don’t have any prints from now. I have my film developed into 4” by 6” prints by two men from Odessa. Do you want to do a show of 4” by 6” prints and include me? Great. For me, it’s only 40 years too late.
I am trying to get my new book, “A Dissolute Life Spent in the Service of Allah” published. If I had to rest on my laurels on what John Ashberry has written as a poet, I’d jump out a window. My poems are great. Nobody speaks with my voice. I don’t think there is a better poet on the planet than me. That may be an exaggeration. There may be some weird guy in Africa or China who’d blow my mind. I’m probably the best-kept secret of the American avant garde culture. You won’t find a book of mine on the bookshelves.