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Sunday, May 02, 2004

Legendary publisher of "The Oracle" dies

Allen Cohen "The Oracle" Publisher and one of the architects of "The Summer Love" of has died. He leaves behind many, including me, whose life, writing and ethics have been informed and inspired by the presence of the vital alternative press that flourished in the 1960's.

The story of a generation and a movement can sometimes be traced through the life of one person. Allen Cohen is one of these people and I’m grateful that he lived in my times. Thanks to Lee Houskeeper for the announcement, which I've somewhat edited here.

Allen Cohen, founder of the rainbow-colored San Francisco Oracle underground newspaper, a wonderful contemporary poet, a joyful, bearded and bemused spirit of the Haight-Ashbury counterculture, has died. Mr. Cohen, 64, died Thursday of liver cancer in Walnut Creek.

He moved from Brooklyn to San Francisco in 1963 after reading the classic beat novel "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac. He soon found work at the Psychedelic Shop, a "head shop" in the Haight-Ashbury district. While perhaps under the influence of something he had ingested, he got the idea for a multicolored alternative newspaper.

He founded The San Francisco Oracle with a $500 loan. The first issue came out in September 1966, combining beat poetry and fiction with avant-garde art, articles and interviews. It soon became required reading on the street, even though the dizzying design often made reading a challenge. The same year. Cohen was arrested on obscenity charges for selling a collection of erotic poetry called "The Love Book.” After a widely publicized five-week trial, Mr. Cohen was convicted and fined $50.

The next year, the pages of the Oracle announced to the world the "Gathering of the Tribes” in Golden Gate Park, the first "be-in,” which featured beat regulars Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary and Gary Snyder.

The Oracle ceased publication in 1968, and Mr. Cohen moved to a commune in Albion, near Mendocino, and lived in a teepee. In 1970, he co-wrote "Childbirth is Ecstasy,” a poetic and photographic account of the natural birth of his son, River. A Chronicle reviewer said it was full of the "beauty of the childbirth experience and the deep enrichment of life for all concerned."

In the 1970s, Mr. Cohen was back in San Francisco, working at the Schlock Shop store on Grant Avenue, writing poetry and putting together a bound collector's edition of the Oracle. In later years, Mr. Cohen conducted slide shows and musical lectures about the 1960s scene in San Francisco, performed at poetry readings in the United States and Europe, organized events that he called "digital be-ins," worked as a substitute public school teacher in Oakland, and operated a day care center with his wife, Ann, in their Walnut Creek home.

In a 1990 interview, Mr. Cohen was asked to describe the influence of the New Age movement. "That movement, along with the anti-war movement, was a renaissance of American culture," he said. "Everything that's happened since -- both reactionary and progressive -- has come out of that movement. The religious fundamentalism of the '70s and '80s was a reaction to the seeming immorality of the hippie movement, and to the religious and spiritual thrust of psychedelics. You had a breakthrough in the awareness of spiritual experience, with people saying, 'God just isn't out there, and he doesn't just talk to the priests.'" Mr. Cohen was the co-editor of "An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind," a poetry anthology dealing with the Sept. 11 attacks. The book won the 2003 PEN National Literary Award.

Wavy Gravy, Chet Helms, Legendary Musicians and Famous Hippies Will Remember Cohen In A Memorial Walk Though The Haight Sunday Morning


Here's a part of one of his recent poems that is particularly resonant today.

On the Liberation of Iraq - Passover 2003
for Albert Nieman


Ali, the boy with no hands,
collateral damage
in a barrage from hell,
wants to commit suicide
if Americans can't replace
the hands they burned into oblivion.


In the birthplace of Abraham
in the Garden of Eden
where writing began
where the first laws
were inscribed into stone
America has sacrificed
libraries and museums of antiquities
while protecting the oil ministry
for its records of oil fields
and the Ministry of the Interior
where the secret police dwelled
with there juicy information on every one.

for the rest, and other nice things about Allen Cohen, go here


// posted by Ellen @  06:40   //Permalink// 
Ellen says hey
Mainer, New Yawka, Beijinger, Californian, points between. News, views and ballyhoos that piqued my interest and caused me to sigh, cry, chuckle, groan or throw something.


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