Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments

Elise Cowen

Someone I could kiss
Has left his, her
                 tracks
A memory
Heavy as winter breathing
In the snow
And with weight & heat
                 of human body

Reading this is somewhere between reading a poetry collection and a diary, as the pieces vary from edited and perhaps “complete” poems to true fragments, tantalizing in their unexplored potential. This book contains the only surviving writing of Elise Cowen, one of the lesser-known Beat women writers, who jumped through a closed window to her death at age 28. In the aftermath, her parents were unnerved by what they found in her notebooks — namely themes of bisexuality and drug use — and their neighbors destroyed all of them except this one, kept by her friend Leo Skir for many years. Editor Tony Trigilio has created here as close to a proper volume of poetry as possible, retranscribing and rearranging the works into four thematic sections. He has included many notes in the back for a scholarly level of depth behind the process and details about the original notebook.

If it weren’t for love I’d snooze all day
Stretched on the mat
Window at my feet
Colored scrap wool childhood Afghan
Up to my chin.
Music & news
And stories of
Whalers
Oh warm & lovely
But something shoves me
Half dressed
Down the steps to the telephone
Hi ho nobody home
Imagination!
You’d make me run up & down
               the Statue of Liberty steps
All
     Day
          Long
Till I learned how to fly.