Elise Cowen - Death and Posthumous Publication

Death and Posthumous Publication

A lifelong depressive, Cowen began to be afflicted by increasingly severe psychological breakdowns, eventually being admitted to Bellevue Hospital in order to obtain treatment for hepatitis and psychosis. She checked herself out against doctors' orders and returned to her parents' apartment on Bennett Avenue under the guise that she was going to go on vacation with her parents to Miami Beach. At her parents' home she committed suicide, jumping through the locked living room window and falling seven stories to the ground.

A volume of work from her only surviving notebook, titled Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments, edited by Tony Trigilio, is forthcoming in 2014 from Ahsahta Press. Fourteen of Cowen’s shorter poems are included in the "Short Poem Dossier" of the 2012 issue of Court Green (edited by Trigilio and David Trinidad). These two publications represent the first time Cowen’s work has been reprinted with the authorization of the copyright owners, her estate, the Heirs of Elise Cowen.

After her death, the bulk of her writings were destroyed by her parents’ neighbors — as a favor to the parents, who were uneasy with Cowen’s representations of sexuality and drug use in the poems. However, Leo Skir, a close friend, had 83 of her poems in his possession at the time of her death, and saw to the publication of several in prominent literary journals of the mid-1960s, including City Lights Journal; El Corno Emplumado; Fuck You, A Magazine of the Arts; The Ladder; and Things. A short biography and several of her poems are included in Women of the Beat Generation: Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution, edited by Brenda Knight. Several of her poems also appear in A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation, edited by Richard Peabody. Cowen features prominently in Joyce Johnson's memoir, Minor Characters and in Johnson’s novel (as the character Kay), Come and Join the Dance.

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