Poet, filmmaker, mystic, photographer and publisher Ira Cohen, who died last April, can still fill a room with energy. With the aid of Cohen’s address book, friends gathered this month at the Living Theatre on New York’s Lower East Side to celebrate the life of the Bronx-born countercultural figure who spent years mixing it up with the avant-garde on more than three continents. “It’s clear,” said Timothy Baum, a Surrealist expert, “that Ira is still alive.”
Cohen had a knack for participating in the avant-garde zeitgeist while remaining independent of it. He photographed Jimi Hendrix, published beat figures like William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg, and filmed ecstatic Hindu rituals. His New York loft became a site for experimental art.
Poet Valery Oisteanu described Cohen with the following anecdote: Cohen had once asked fellow writer, Allan Graubard, “Do you think I’m a surrealist poet?” Graubard laughed and replied, “Ira, poetry has nothing to do with this. You live a surrealist life.”