Allan Graubard


New Poetry by Ira Cohen:
Whatever you say may be held against you
Chaos & Glory

Whatever you say may be held against you
by Ira Cohen
with collage by Ira Cohen and photo by Marco Bakker
Shivastan Publishing
craftprinted on handmade paper in Kathmandu, Nepal, Spring Equinox 2004
Shivastan Publishing is directed by Shiv Mirabito, 54E Tinker St., Woodstock, NY, 12498;

Chaos & Glory
by Ira Cohen
with photos, collage and art by Ira Cohen, and photo by Marco Bakker
Elik Press Poetry #3, 2004
Elik Press, directed by Andy Hoffmann, 962 E. Lowell Avenue, Salt Lake City, Utah 84102

(A note to the reader: Friendship enacts itself in a reciprocal dance of words, silences and gestures – a place where presence and absence touch to repletion. Rather that dance than a review, a review I cannot write save for what follows, a few small turns around two recent books of poems. So attend me for a few moments but more importantly: read these books by Ira Cohen).


“Is it absurd to wonder
what my face looks like while I sleep?”

         (by Lakshmi Cohen, Ira’s daughter, in a poem that introduces Chaos & Glory)

And then he’s off: one poem prompts another, given his talent for finding something to say; something that recalls to us the silence that ignites him and that less often inspires us.

He has no problem here. It’s the turf he maps out on each page: this place that is his and ours. Not a literary place in the sense of being able to distance the expression from the world it flowers in or a quotidian place – but someplace in between; a place where we can breathe; a compassionate place touched by accents of beauty and a near tragic sense of how precarious it is not to allow life to pull the rug from under us.

For Ira Cohen is ill content with beauty alone or humor or the apt witticism, the quick retort, the angry expostulation, the subtle aside, the anecdote, the slogan, the casual give and take that marks a conversation with a familiarity that rarely says more than just enough. No, there is something else in these poems that touches us poignantly. Call it a matter of being, a means for hope; call it a web of words that opens the space between them, filling us with light or darkness, shades of the dream to come…call it what you will.

So immediate are his poems, composed with an urgency to say exactly what he thinks and feels, without ploys or tasteful deceptions, that in reading them I often gaze up believing him here, sitting at this table with me as midnight leaves twist down from the trees and the damp street glistens like the back of a scarab.

And that is his charm and the charm in his poems.

“I wake up to find the feeling that is beyond words.”

And why shouldn’t we feel the same thing? Isn’t that the point, the way he reveals, connecting again what we sense but rarely express?

“Is going to sleep
like entering a dangerous jungle?”

I imagine it is. Just as I imagine that sleep for Ira Cohen has as little to do with the hands of a clock as the door that opens to another room in an endless house full of friends who have died: Jack Smith, Julian Beck, Paul Bowles, Gysin, Corso, Vali, Ganesh Baba, Angus MacLise, Laurence Weisberg and the others, the others – where the party rages.

Because Ira Cohen is not someone to prevaricate, and while his talk can take on a baroque character, it does so to a point, a point sharpened by need: to free him and us of pain, despair, dullness, boredom, exhaustion and all the other frail excuses that pile up, little thieves that exhaust our wanderlust, our happiness and our desperate hunger for marvels.

This is not to say that his poems partake of his talk exclusively. He is not one to banter in ink. But his poems carry within us the echo of a dialogue whose beginning begins and whose end, even when his words come to a stop on the page, does not forsake us.

And even when he sings as trouverés of old, he knows from whence he comes: the cost of a lyric in the mirror of love, the meaning of a sentiment in the rut of the city, the cutting animus of a joke which is a flower by any other name and that passing vibrato that sinks through the limbs to the earth waiting below.

“One day you’ll think of me
When the wind sighs in the

One day you’ll meet Ira Cohen on an empty street and believe that you’ve met yourself only to pass through yourself to the man before you -- this man who writes poems because poetry is something to be lived, there, in that moment or this, for him and for us, then as now.

“If Sabu came crashing
through the coconut palms
on his elephant to tell me
this was all a dream
I would not believe him”

Nor would I, nor you, for this language, as warm as a kiss full on the lips to the tongue behind them, sports with a sensibility we cannot do without. The salty taste of truth compels.

“For sale – one human voice
which proclaims freedom
from the market place”

(I could go on, yes, but the books, the books are where you need to go: Get them!)