Ira Cohen

Ira Cohen passed away after a long illness earlier this week. Cohen is the very definition of a cult figure, which is somewhat appropriate given his interest in the occult and magical. Yet his cult status is unfortunate and, sadly, reflects an underappreciation and misunderstanding. Like his friend Brion Gysin, Cohen spread his energy and his talents across a wide and diverse spectrum of activities and subjects. Like Gysin, Cohen never reached a large audience or achieved mainstream success and many feel Cohen would have been better served by focusing or narrowing. As Ian Macfadyen details in his essays on Gysin on RealityStudio, this diversity is crucial to Gysin's and Cohen's conception of creativity and artistic process.

Not surprisingly, Cohen was also an accomplished editor. Gnaoua is a little mag classic that like all the great ones captures a special place and time. In this case, Tangier in the mid-1960s. Cohen also edited the second issue of Great Society assuming co-editor duties with Bobby Richkin, who published the first issue as a mimeo (BTW a tough issue to get a hold of). The Cohen touch is readily apparent in the second issue. Tangerinos, like Alfred Chester, Paul Bowles and William Burroughs as well as Cohen favorites like Jack Smith, Conrad Rooks and Piero Heliczer appear in the issue. The second issue is a step up in terms of printing and construction. This issue is readily available on the rare book market. Get yourself a copy and celebrate the life and this lesser known side of Cohen.



jadecar said...


Many thanks for remembering and posting the piece on Ira Cohen with the images of GNAOUA and The Great Society. Correct me if I'm wrong, but there was just the one issue of GNAOUA? I've never seen The Great Society though I'll look around for the second issue co-edited by Ira as you suggested.

Somewhere I have a couple of old issues of Avant Garde magazine that include some of his Mylar photography. On Feet of Gold from Synergistic Press (1986) is a great collection of his poetry that I believe can still be found fairly easily. His other books: 7 Marvels, Poems from the Cosmic Crypt, Gilded Splinters, The Stauffenberg Cycle & Other Poems, etc are likely more difficult to find.

All best,

Jed said...


Yes, just one issue of Gnaoua, but there is a little known offprint created from that issue which featured just William Burroughs's contributions. I only seen it up for sale once, back in the late 1990s at the legendary Nelson Lyon sale.

Check up on RealityStudio in the next few weeks for more on Ira Cohen.

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