Arts Listings

Beat Chroniclers Cohen, Levi and Rothenberg Read at Moe’s

Friday November 09, 2007

Poets and world travelers from the international scene of the 1960s and ’70s, Ira Cohen and Louise Landes Levi will read with poet and editor Michael Rothenberg 7:30 p.m. Monday at Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue. Admission is free. 

Cohen and Levi, both New Yorkers (Levi an honors graduate of UC Berkeley) met while both were living abroad, involved in the expatriate and international arts scene that was fostered by older generations of North American and European writers and artists. 

Michael Rothenberg met Cohen and Levi through his work editing Big Bridge, a decade-old online magazine. He’s also known for editing Penguin Books’ selections of poetry by Philip Whalen (whose caretaker Rothenberg was during the end of Whalen’s life), Joanne Kyger and East Bay poet David Meltzer—all important contributors to the Bay Area scene of the past 40 years and more.  

Louise Landes Levi has traveled to India “and, along the way, a lot of other places,” said her old friend David Schonberger, who runs Booksphere in New York City. Levi will revisit the Ali Akhbar School in Marin this trip. She now lives in a tower in Bagnori, a village in Tuscany, to be near her Buddhist teacher of the past 20 years, Namkhai Norbu. Her books of poetry include Guru Punk, Avenue ‘A’ & Ninth Street, Banana Baby and Water Mirror. Her translations include Sweet On My Lips, the love poems of Mirabai, Rasa by Rene Daumal, and Toward Totality by one of the original modern global explorers and seekers, Henri Michaux, whom Levi knew.  

Ira Cohen, a self-described “poet, photographer, filmmaker, world traveler and bullshit artist (maybe better if I said raconteur),” is a genial, sometimes acerbic monologist. His movies (some of which are available on DVD) include Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda, Kings With Straw Mats and Paradise Now. His books of poetry include Whatever You Say May Be Held Against You and On Feet of Gold. His photographs often document his many friendships, such as those with the older mainstays of the Tangier scene, where Cohen went in the early ’60s to live: Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and artist/writer Brion Gysin. 

“Burroughs I met when he was having his shoes shined. He was very cordial and razor-sharp wth his ability to express himself,” he said. “Bowles I used to visit frequently and give him the gossip of the Medina, where I lived. I considered it a magical possibility, being in my 20s and having relationships with men of that stature, whom I respected, but could always talk to straightforwardly.”  

About Allen Ginsberg, Cohen said: “He was always talking from some pulpit or position, looking at me to see how I’d fit in ... more aloof, complicated, self-involved, I guess more political, than the others.” 

Cohen joked further about his own writing and reputation as “a famous unknown.” 

“Being my age, a little overweight, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and try to look quickly away. I feel that way about my words sometimes,” he said. “But Brion Gysin told me, ‘You’re a man of the book, you’ll be around in the future commenting on us,’ and funnily enough, at 72, I’m around and they’re gone. And that was the world when I was younger, of people I admired and I strove to be in their company. The best thing in living the life I led was in the chance meetings and stumbling on things—like these men.”