Tripping Through the Particulars
Larry Sawyer reviews
Poems From the Akashic Record by Ira Cohen
Panther Books, 2001. 96 pages, 15 black-and-white photographs.
Poems from the Akashic Record is a vast trip through the surreal subconscious of native New Yorker, Ira Cohen. These poems read as if they are an EKG of what happened to the counter-culture when the fifties and sixties deflated and sold out to crass commercialism. Either that or they are the record of Cohen’s Dantesque journey to Purgatory and back.
People are killing each other on television. In the
Cohen’s poetry moves beyond what is seen with the physical eye and encompasses also what is seen with the proverbial mind’s eye. Each poem takes the form of what experience dictates, moving toward what can be recorded by focusing on an inner realm where opposites are not seen as opposites but visceral experience in its totality. Cohen invites the reader through a portal where time and space are on uneasy equal footing.
It was Laurel & Hardy who
Death is harder to see
These are poems of a time that cannot be relived each time this book is opened. Cohen’s awareness of this is what saves his poetry from mere sentimentality. Some of the weightiest moments in the book occur when Cohen remembers friends who have passed from this world as in his elegy for the surrealist painter and experimental sound poet, Brion Gysin. It was only after Gysin passed away that Cohen realized that the poem he had written after their first meeting could also serve as Gysin’s epitaph.
You have left. We lived on the edge of the sea’s
I have heard him read his work aloud on more than one occasion. Looking through these poems brings his voice back to me; I seem to hear the sometimes menacing, sometimes cajoling voice of the poet casting a trance upon his listeners. Cohen is a forceful reader; in one or two places I wished for even more elaboration, to push the autobiographical nature of these poems to their logical conclusion.
Haunted by puberty,
Cohen seems to stand at some precarious threshold of the Western world and the world of the medina, the world of trance rituals and bodily possession. There are places on Earth that still defy description, even though we would like to think otherwise. Cohen invites us in and gives us a glimpse of an all-too-quickly vanishing world. Ultimately, the price of this ticket to Cohen’s literary Shangri-la is well worth it.
Jacket 16 — March 2002
This material is copyright © Larry Sawyer
and Jacket magazine 2002