by Neeli Cherkovski
(from Like a
Radient White Dove)
Cohen remains in the eye of the reader and in the reader’s
heart. His gentle voice will no longer echo at public readings,
but this posthumous volume brings him to life again. It lifts the
silence of his passage and gives his poetry to all who would listen.
Readers may feel the blood of the poet rushing down the lines herein
collected. Here are cosmovisions – songs born out of the
streets, rising into the sky. They are like clouds bumping into
one another until they find a harmonious oneness. Allen helped
to make San Francisco, his chosen home, a living poem. For nearly
forty years he kept a candle burning in his brain for the wild
sidewalks, the crazy coffee house encounters, and the spontaneous
gatherings of solidarity in the face of the ugly machine of the
unpoetic that grinds away at dissent and the experimental mind.
Alive in his poems are explosive images. The reader will find them
amid the most ordinary of lines – small jewels, really haiku-like
gleanings that make this book of selected/collected poems a treasure.
poet’s words tumble down the hills of San Francisco, rise
to the heights of Twin Peaks, and dazzle the morning fog as it
sweeps gently through the city. His writing reflects devotion to
the joy of language and its capacity to give the listener new meaning.
It is a pleasure to witness Allen’s unique voice as it flings
open magic doors and windows from which to illuminate. Poetry is
where he placed his faith. It was his tool toward liberation. He
did not experience it as an academic thing, or even as a literary
thing in the sense of journal publication and public notice, but
as something indigenous to self. It was, to play on a phrase by
Pablo Neruda, ‘his bread,’ – something he could
not live without. He lived with it in an environment of like-minded
people with whom he shared the dream of building a commune of desire
not predicated on commerce or a war economy.
editor of The Oracle, who helped shape the hippy revolution of
the 1960s, loved San Francisco. He celebrated its uncompromising
otherness in the face of a colder, harsher America. Throughout
the decades, Allen’s writing responded to an ever-changing
world with anger at oppression and enthusiasm for the wonder of
daily life. He wrote strong reactions to the Vietnam War and the
Desert War, all the time affirming the intrinsic value of poetry
as a means for personal and communal transformation. His poems
ranges over many social and political concerns and the scenes he
sees in the ordinary. In “Amazing Things” he jumps
Zen-like into the beauty and wonder surrounding us.
. .Then you leaped up,
into the bathroom,
and asked me to look
through the long
There was the tall pine tree
pointing to the bright
planet Mars and
the Southwest of it
the full moon lighting
the real sky.
to bed naked
in the cold night.
poem asks what can we find meaningful in those places where we
often don’t think we can find anything of value? Read in
its entirety it is a welcome piece of news – We are free
to see, “There below in the garden/it was raining/from inside
the earth/up to the sky and/back down to the earth.”
of Allen Ginsberg” is a tribute that spans nearly forty years
of knowing. The poem is an open-hearted history leaning-in on Ginsberg’s
immense spirit and its influence on the younger poet’s sense
of being. “Life became molten, / spirit and matter merged.
/ feeling flooded / the dry wound of mind.” Here is a record
of transcendence, the sharing of consciousness, and the dispensation
to go into the depth of things with a clear vision: “Somehow
the light must pass through time / incandescent, melting and passionate
/ the fire must burn through time.” Fire takes on time –
a beautiful thought Allen knew that poetry plays with fire, fences
with time, and strives to build a shelter from all-consuming flames.
Poetry hopes to be timeless, but is ultimately brought down by
the passage of what we call time. Yet, Ginsberg stays alive in
Cohen’s elegy, not only as we read it, but in what we take
away from the reading.
poems in this volume, like the one’s already quoted, are
unliterary at time as in Charles Bukowski’s writing. In some
of the later poems, Allen deals with mortality “Nothing is
wrong, / life and death / not even a flicker / of time and flesh.”
The lines are from a poem about his experiences teaching in a public
school classroom, He is touched by the miracle of finding a path
to an awareness beyond the here and now. “The god is me /
I am the god / and so are you. . .”
Dreamwalker Takes Death As a Lover” is a piece in which Allen
muses over the direction of the peace movement. The poem begins
with exquisite simplicity,
The world is existing
to much in my mind,
My fingers rarely
The end comes closer
new war. . .
all of this, Allen’s mind understands well enough that down
in the house of language he will sort things out, retaining humor
and compassion. He announces, “My cells are hysterical/with
desire and timelessness.” The poetic impulse is always running
alongside of him. He is flooded by history. “I reach out,
I hide, I dream.” It is a notebook of the ‘now’
leading to a litany of what is happening in the commonplace world.
are poems mined out of bus rides, birthdays, the loss of love and
the beauty of it. “Return to Table Mountain” is a song
for nature. It knocks on the door of the seasons and swings across
vistas we all know, and often overlook. Here are snapshots of “late
spring rain” and “coastal gloom.” It is all part
of a context – the poet out in the country desiring a circle
of hope to be born of deep communion with common roots.
are the meadows
of piles of rotting wood
Joel and Colin.
the fences we stretched
2 acre garden –
of planting, weeding, harvesting.
the round house I built
in my vision.
Allen Cohen’s cool simplicity makes his vision attractive as he
explores wondrous ways to deal with a society where greed, envy, and
the thirst for power choke creativity. His means was to look for harmony
through words that would free the mind to be free enough to keep good
things growing. His Table Mountain poem concludes with
until they are their own government
school and their own religion
this land is protected
by this generation
and the generation
is growing here
and these new blessings
will go on longer
than the old sins.