Kaddish for Ira Cohen
I picked up the phone that day and learned that Ira was gone; no more of his voice that made so many people laugh, so many people happy. I hated the fact that I wouldn't be able to hear his voice again.
I put on "The Majoon Traveler," "dedicated to Brion Gysin," produced by SubRosa -- poems and music recorded by Ira Cohen, Paul Bowles, Bryon Gysin, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, Angus Maclise, DJ Cheb i SABBAH, music recorded in Marrakesh in 1987.
These names you could only imagine at your cousin's birthday party, in someone's library and so on...for Ira, they were just a part of his reality. Some of them I met personally either with Allen Ginsberg or with Ira or with Huncke, but one thing was for sure -- they were part of his daily experience, his own lifestyle, like Ira was a part of my life, and one thing I know: while some friends of his were taking time to write blogs, blurbs and obituaries, I was simply crying.
In his poem to Cocteau (and this I've heard accentuated on the tape), he said:
Imagine whatever you will
But know that it's not imagination but experience
Which makes poetry and that behind
Every image behind every word there
Is something I'm trying to tell you
Something that REALLY HAPPENED. ("Imagine Jean Cocteau")
So, imagine Ira, imagine that day on which I called him from my small Suffolk street apartment in the city of Nouvelle York, and was ready to go quickly to my legal proofreading job, and Ira had kept me on the phone for hours, and I was laughing and laughing, laughing my job out loud...
He said he has just arrived from Amsterdam, and if I knew there Eddie Woods (they started the legendary Ins & Outs Press) and Louise LL and Simon Vinkenoog. That was a damn good start for our friendship.
"Hey, hey," he said, "if you had known all these people, although I am not on speaking terms with some of them any longer-nonetheless, that must mean that you are a VERY nice person!"
He was able to keep me on the phone for hours; in fact, he was the only person who was able to keep me on the phone longer than five minutes. I say "I," but this means "we" -- New York downtown community of a couple of friends, or Upper West Side community of actors including Judith Malina, or the Brooklyn community of musicians, and so on.
But Ira was not only a long distance telephone chit-chat. He was real true blue, gave me a piece of gold when I was down and out in the street, and told me "Sell it! So that you can get your real apartment!" He had a photographic memory, not only the skill to make incredible photos, great photographer as he was. Ira was a great traveller as well. Now the journeys don't not make any sense, Ira is gone -- good-bye happiness, hello Dr. Nadar and other creepy creatures.
Ira had said once "butterfly [meaning me] is small and meaningless, but still it knows how to get to Mexico." Three of us went to the airport and Ira who did not have a ticket literally slid through the door onto the plane, and then we had so much fun on this lovely trip to Cancun and Chichen Itza. At that time it was still possible -- no terrorists, no big check-ups, just the journey in itself and pure joy of being alive...
Ira was a great traveller and I had a taste of all his travels that time in Mexico. He was staging his photographs carefully -- "now stand over here, and stand there," we all obeyed his whimsical arrangements. Then later we saw ourselves on these beautiful, at times scary photos whose "meaning" was turned upside down to serve his artistic purpose. I saw a marble pillar, like a dick, coming out of my head in the MOMA's sculpture garden -- all this on Ira's photo of course. At that time I was angry with him for having created such a composition but now I say before there was Ira there was Man Ray, and that was it.
He was truly international. He often complained of his loneliness. In one of his poems he said,
The way of the artist is lonely... and people are afraid of them, even God created
People because he was lonely, so lonely must be the worst.
Like all of us Aquarians, he feared loneliness the worst, and he would even go for the company of the silliest people on this Earth -- just so as not to feel lonely! He held the Aquarians in high esteem. He loved Mozart, he adored Henri-Charles Ford, he loved me (at times his muse and a favourite camera object) and many other Aquarians one would never think of befriending!! He trusted them so much that he never questioned their skills or loyalty, as on that trip to Cancun when he allowed me to take him on that imaginary plane ticket to Mexico, the trip which was purely conceived with my Aquarian skill and manipulation of a tourist-agent method, a lovely trip ...but, all this belongs to a diary of a madman such as Paul Bowles, Ира Кохен , or...Angus Maclise.
Ira had never liked Allen Ginsberg whom I adored, because he acquired more fame than he did in many ways. Allen had fame, but he had no children. The last time I saw the latter he said how much he envied Ira for having sons; I was on the verge of tears -- I was expecting a baby.
Ira came to Paris to be there with me for my delivery; I'll never forget the day when he arrived in Paris -- my term was overdue and Ira was taking me around Paris, making me laugh "so that we push the baby out, so that he can come of you quickly." He was placing different plates and objects on my belly and shooting photos, also reciting his poems from his Akashik Record "I am not a beat/ though I have performed with them all etc./ I am an electronic/multimedia shaman,/ a Naga hipster,/ an Akashik Agent, an Outlaw of the Spirit...The flower of chivalry/with a sword for a leaf/& a lily for a heart..."
That time in Paris we went to Alejandro Jodorowsky's cryptic gathering, but later they had a big falling out. I wrote a poem about it much, much later:
World Championship in Good Manners
I'm all dressed in black and silver
And I'm carrying Ira's book of black and silver
There are not too many people in this world like Ira
And there are many people like Alejandro Jodorowski
I hear that once they were friends, now they are enemies,
And all these people around Jodorowski
Are just like him - but I won't name them
I am at a Judo championship with my son and his father
His father and I used to be enemies but now we are friends.
We never got married but we always have to stay
Together through a lifetime - raising a kid
Is such a long job!
My life is full of incongruence; it's just the other way
Of saying it's in contradictions-
Like the fact that I am broke and that I bought
A ticket to London; the fact is
That I don't like London and I don't even know
Why I'm going to go there: I am going to visit
My ex-husband who does not love me any longer
But at least he was graceful enough to marry me - so
we don't have to stay together...
It's 25 degrees in Paris now, very sunny and
we're eating pizza before the championship;
my son is a Judoka, a living Buddha who bows
before the adversary just as he gives him
the final blow...
he won a number of gold medals but the best
gift for him is my smile, I drink beer, leave the podium,
let go of him - he will have his own life
and his own loves to handle...
I would see Ira on and off, on our various travels, in London, Paris, New York and Amsterdam. His trip to London in 2007 stayed in my memory, he was very ill, came down with a bad flu, and the art dealers in his October gallery did not treat him correctly, thus I wrote the following:
(for Ira Cohen)
thread of light this morning
old friends coming from nowhere
going to no place
we are old souls holding
by sheer wit and courage
our encounters repeat light
our repeated lifetimes
In fact, the things turned so sour between him and the gallery owners that I started reflecting deeply on the nature of art and the relationship between the artist and an art dealer. It seemed to me that the artist was always an underdog, neither loved nor appreciated by the dealers but rather exploited all the way through. Here we had a major artist, such as Ira, seriously ill with high fever, and the dealers were ignoring his condition by setting more and more appointments with art collectors, not allowing his family to hand him a medication that we bought in a local pharmacy for him, so I wrote this angry poem:
SIGNS OUT of AN ANCIENT ART HISTORY BOOK
the artist was there and he was happy
he was bright, temporary in his brio,
committed, uncompromising, the uncompromised one,
the gallery owner was nervous and eager to appear
generous, he started barking, showing his teeth and then
his goodwill, he said he was there to help the anonymous
he said he was there to improve the state of arts and
the state, he was not to deal with mental patients
he admitted that they were fragile
the artist saw this as a game of power
he said he disliked the master/slave dialectics
he said he wanted to leave and that he couldn't care less
as usual, he said he did not care and basically he did not
the gallery owner said that he himself could not care less
he really could not be bothered, he said he was
surrounded by all sorts of artists,
it almost felt like in a mental asylum, he said
he could not give a damn, and why should he?
I said I could not write
this poem I said I could not write a poem unless
it was crystal-clear to me unless something
was so clear that it crystallised a word into an image
a shabby image into a word
I said I wouldn't have written this poem had I not been
certain of my image of this sentiment of this
discomfort turned into words
I said I would not write unless I knew what they
were talking about they pretended they knew
the guttural was beyond the hearsay
the rhymes did not sit well
the sounds could not hold
the images could not stand any pressure
there was no meaning in all this but
in the very essence of things
the meaning of the "less" prevailed.
Perhaps it was our Eastern European background, perhaps it was the "Aquarian Mickey Maus club" to which we both belonged, but I don't think that anyone understood me better than Ira did, thus he wrote these truly enlightened words for me on the dedication page of his Whatever You Say May be Held Against You:
"To do it without thinking, that is the best. & for you it is essential."
I wrote this text without thinking.