Ira Cohen

Ira Cohen, a filmmaker, photographer and poet, in 1982. Photograph © by Ira Landgarten.

Ira Cohen (February 3, 1935 – April 25, 2011) was an American poet, publisher, photographer and filmmaker. Cohen lived in Morocco and in New York City in the 1960s, he was in Kathmandu in the 1970s and traveled the world in the 1980s, before returning to New York, where he spent the rest of his life.

Ira Cohen Checklist:

Section A: Books and Broadsides
Section B: Contributions to Periodicals
Section C: Recordings
Section D: Publications Edited and Published

· Bardo Matrix

In 1961, Cohen took a Yugoslavian freighter to Tangier, Morocco (the same one Jack Kerouac had taken a year earlier) where he lived for four years. In Tangier Cohen edited and published Gnaoua, a literary magazine, ostensibly dedicated to exorcism, and devoted to Beat-era writings, introducing the work of Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs, Harold Norse and others. Gnaoua also featured Jack Smith and Irving Rosenthal. A copy of Gnaoua can be seen on the mantelpiece on the cover of Bob Dylan’s 1965 album “Bringing It All Back Home.” Cohen also produced Jilala, field recordings of trance music by a sect of Moroccan dervishes made by Paul Bowles and Brion Gysin. The original 1965 LP record was reissued in 1998 by Baraka Foundation/Mystic Fire as a CD.

Cohen returned to New York in the mid-1960s. There he published The Hashish Cookbook (Gnaoua Press, 1966), which had been written in Tangier at Brion Gysin’s suggestion by Cohen’s then-girlfriend Rosalind, under the pseudonym “Panama Rose”. In his loft on the Lower East Side, Cohen created the “mylar images”, styled as “future icons” as developed by a “mythographer”. Among the reflected artists in his mirror were John McLaughlin, Ching Ho Cheng, William S. Burroughs and Jimi Hendrix – who said that looking at these photos was like “looking through butterfly wings”. In 1968, Cohen directed the “phantasmaglorical” film Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda. The original drummer of the Velvet Underground, Angus MacLise, improvised the score for Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda, a smorgasbord of Tibetan, Moroccan and Druidic trance music. A Village Voice reviewer said one left the film “perched full-lotus on a cloud of incense, chatting with a white rabbit and smoking a banana.” Cohen also and produced Marty Topp’s Paradise Now, a film of the Living Theatre’s historic American tour.

In company with former Living Theatre member Petra Vogt, Cohen went to the Himalayas in the 1970s where he started the Starstream poetry series under the Bardo Matrix imprint in Kathmandu, publishing the work of Charles Henri Ford, Gregory Corso, Paul Bowles and Angus Maclise. Here he developed bookmaking art, working with native craftsmen. In 1972 he spent a year in San Francisco reading and performing, and then returned to New York to mount photographic shows.

Following his travels, Ira Cohen wrote countless poems; had photographic exhibitions around the world; did poetry readings; helped edit small literary magazines; released a movie about a Hindu religious festival; and became the president of a nonprofit corporation dedicated to preserving “the hidden meaning of the hidden meaning.”

Online Resources:

· The Ira Cohen Archive

· Big Bridge – Ira Cohen: The Great Rice Paper Adventure Kathmandu, 1972-1977

· Granary Books – Ira Cohen: The Bardo Matrix, Gnaoua, and The Great Society

· Granary Books – Petra Vogt Archive