J I M C O H N
Jim Cohn has lead a life chronicling his times and the landscapes of his generation. His is a diamond hard language—brief, concise, fast, pictorial. "Jim's poetry cuts back and forth between the human heart and home, and the spaces and surprises of the wild," wrote Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gary Snyder.
Born in Highland Park, Illinois, in 1953, Jim received a BA from the University of Colorado at Boulder in English in 1976, and a Certificate of Poetics from Naropa University's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in 1980 when he was a teaching assistant to Allen Ginsberg. In February 1984, Jim arranged a “Deaf-Beat Summit” meeting with Ginsberg and Deaf poet Robert Panara at the Rochester Institute of Technology. In 1986 he received his M.S. Ed. in English and Deaf Education from the University of Rochester and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. In 1987, he coordinated the first National Deaf Poetry Conference in the United States. In 2009, his efforts on behalf of American Sign Language poetry were documented in a film by Miriam Lerner and Don Feigle, The Heart of the Hydrogen Jukebox.
Jim is the author of these collections of poetry: Green Sky (1980), Prairie Falcon (North Atlantic Books, 1989), Grasslands (Writers & Books Publications, 1994), The Dance Of Yellow Lightning Over The Ridge (Writers & Books Publications, 1998), Quien Sabe Mountain (Museum of American Poetics Publications, 2004), The Ongoing Saga I Told My Daughter (Museum of American Poetics Publications, 2009), Mantra Winds: Poems 2004-2010 (Museum of American Poetics Publications, 2010), The Groundless Ground: Poems 2010-2014 (Museum of American Poetics Publications, 2014), and The Ongoing Saga I Told My Daughter: Extended Edition (Museum of American Poetics Publications, 2016), Birthday News: A Poemoscope (Museum of American Poetics Publications, 2018), and Treasures for Heaven: Poems 1976-2021 (Museum of American Poetics Publications, 2021).
Anne Waldman, co-founder of the Kerouac School, described Prairie Falcon as "a strong, shapely collection with intelligence, heart, and love of the breadth of life." Grasslands won praise from Allen Ginsberg for its "inventive, profuse, concise, improvisational, playful and expansive Whitmanic quality." Anselm Hollo said of Quien Sabe Mountain that "one follows this poet on his journeys to places both distant and familiar, trusting him, trusting his words." David Cope wrote of The Ongoing Saga I Told My Daughter, "(William Carlos) Williams said, 'The female principle is my appeal in the extremity to which I have come,' and these prose poems show Jim in the mature mode of this form, pieces as visionary and ambiguously whole as Rimbaud's...." Sam Abrams, author of The Neglected Walt Whitman, wrote of Mantra Winds: "As Ginsberg was the truest son of Whitman for his time, so Jim Cohn is the truest son of Ginsberg for these times." In 2011, Jim received notification from Mayor Thomas S. Richards that his poem “999 Hours” was selected for inclusion in a Rochester Poets Walk, an interactive brick and stone walkway in honor of poets as artists of the written word.
Jim began his recording career in The Abolitionists, a North Bay Area collective that included his long-time musical collaborator Mark “Mooka” Rennick. Together, they made a now cult classic: The Road (Rudy's Steakhouse, 1995). Inspired by the classic improvisational vocal performances of Jack Kerouac on the 1959 Steve Allen Plymouth Show, Jim went on to release these solo recordings: Walking Thru Hell Gazing At Flowers (Rudy's Steakhouse, 1996), Unspoken Words (MusEx Records, 1998), Antenna (MusEx Records, 1999), Emergency Juke Joint (MusEx Records, 2002), Trashtalking Country (MusEx Records, 2006), homage (MusEx Records, 2007) a double cd compilation Impermanence (MusEx Records, 2008), Venerable Madtown Hall (MusEx Records, 2013), and Commune (MusEx Records, 2013). After a five year hiatus, Cohn returned to the recording studio to release two new spoken word works: Venerable Madtown Hall (MusEx Records, 2013), and Commune (MusEx Records, 2013).
After the death of Allen Ginsberg in April 1996, Jim began planning for an online poetry project that would explore Beat Generation influences. He envisioned a site that would serve as an expression of Ginsberg's idea of a "benevolent sentient center to the whole Creation." During the summer of 1997, Jim began work to establish an on-line poetry museum. Online since 1998, the Museum of American Poetics (MAP) is an expression of his ongoing commitment to the diversity of poetry communities engaged in American experimental poetics, Postbeat era poetics documentation, community service, and democratic internet free speech. In 2000, the Museum of American Poetics was mentioned in the New York Times. Since its humble beginnings, MAP has developed into a virtual museum with an extensive archives of Postbeat poetry after the 25 year run of Jim’s poetry journal Napalm Health Spa, twenty-three ongoing exhibits with a Guest Curator Program established in 2015 to further identify and honor poets, and collections of poetics writings by key 20th century poetry explorers and those of Postbeat poets who, in the first decades of the 21st century furthered the cause of poetry for the people.
In 1999, Jim published his first collection of prose: Sign Mind: Studies in American Sign Language Poetics (Museum of American Poetics Publications, 1999). Sign Mind has received critical acclaim from deaf and hearing language arts scholars for providing aesthetic and cultural insight to the inclusion of signing space poetries and poets within the context of the greater American literary canon. After further contemplation on issues of identity and mindfulness by way of his professional involvement with people with disabilities and his interest in the lives of the Buddhist siddhas, Jim published a second volume of poetics prose: The Golden Body: Meditations on the Essence of Disability (Museum of American Poetics Publications, 2003). In 2011, he published a third volume of prose: Sutras & Bardos: Essays & Interviews on Allen Ginsberg, The Kerouac School, Anne Waldman, Postbeat Poets and The New Demotics (Museum of American Poetics Publications). A review by Beat Studies scholar Jonah Raskin suggested, “perhaps no one in the United States today understands and appreciates the poetic durability and the cultural elasticity of the Beats better than Jim Cohn.”
As a small press publisher and editor of poetry for three decades, Jim mimeo-produced ACTION Magazine in the 1980s while living in Rochester, NY. From 1990-2015, he edited and published the annual poetics journal Napalm Health Spa (NHS), the first issues of which he handbound with his own handmade paper covers. In 1998, Napalm Health Spa went online at MAP. The final three issues were special editions: Long Poems Of The Postbeats (2013), Heart Sons And Heart Daughters Of Allen Ginsberg (2014), and Anne Waldman: Keeping The World Safe For Poetry (2015). In the summer of 2006, Jim worked with traditional Tibetan prayer flag makers living in exile to establish a poetry prayer flag project. The first effort of this alternative publishing project was a 50th-anniversary limited-edition prayer flag set of Allen Ginsberg’s original text of "Howl." A redesigned "Howl" prayer flag printing of Ginsberg’s final version was produced by the Museum of American Poetics Publications in 2009 with the approval of the Allen Ginsberg Trust. Also in 2009, Jim’s Museum of American Poetics Publications published The Phenomenology of Rubble by Holly Jones. In 2013, MAP Publications published Home of the Blues: More Selected Poems by Andy Clausen.
During his fifth and sixth decades, Cohn worked with American poet David Cope and Chinese poetry translator Zhang Ziqing, a 20th century American Poetry scholar in China interested in the cultural legacy of the Beat Generation, on acquainting Chinese audiences with American Postbeat poetry. Jim also began a correspondence with American abstract poet Vernon Frazer, with whom he shared aesthetic interests in Postbeat Studies. From 2014-2018, Cohn prepared his literary papers for archiving at the University of Michigan Special Collections Library. From 2017-2020, visits with New Jersey political poet Eliot Katz led to a series of readings in Jersey City, Hoboken and The Bowery Poetry Club in NYC. In early 2020, Jim assisted David Cope and associates of the Allen Ginsberg Trust to prepare a clean copy of a Ginsberg’s long poem “From Denver to Montana Beginning 27 May 1972” for publication in the Paris Review. Later that same year, Cohn published a long fictional-history poem “If 45 Was 16 & 16 Was 45” as a pandemic-election time-capsule. In 2021, his collected poems Treasures for Heaven: Poems 1976-2021 was published.
[20 September 2020]