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, he received a BA from the University of Colorado at Boulder in English, and a Certificate of Poetics in 1980 from Naropa University's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics where he was teaching assistant to Allen Ginsberg. 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, historic 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 entitled 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), and Mantra Winds: Poems 2004-2010.
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."
Jim began his recording career in The Abolitionists, a North Bay Area collective that featured his long-time musical collaborator Mark Rennick and guitarist Steve Kimock. 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) and Impermanence (MusEx Records, 2008), a two cd compilation set. After a five year hiatus, Cohn returned to the recording studio to release two new spoken word works: Venerable Madtown Hall (MusEx Records, 2013), an improvised collaboration with keyboardist Bob Schlesinger, and Commune (MusEx Records, 2013), a collaboration with guitarist Dan Groves.
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 founded the on-line Museum of American Poetics (MAP) at www.poetspath.com. Online since 1998, the Museum of American Poetics is an expression of his ongoing commitment to American experimental poetics, community service, postbeat era documentation, and democratic internet free speech. In 1999, the Museum of American Poetics became the first online poetry site to be mentioned in the New York Times.
That same year, 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 language arts scholars and hearing poets alike 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).
Jim was first introduced to video production by poet Randy Roark and began an interest in public television as a result. His American Poet Greats series won the Best Multimedia Award from Community Television of Boulder for three year in a row (2001-2003). In 2003, Jim produced his first film, a 55-minute profile on the life and poetic contributions of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics co-founder Anne Waldman, entitled Anne Waldman: Makeup on Empty Space (Poetspath Productions). Shot at the University of Michigan, March 13-15, 2002 to celebrate the opening of the Anne Waldman Archive at the Special Collections Library, the film features performances by Anne Waldman, and includes talks by Joanne Kyger, Lorenzo Thomas, Anselm Hollo, Akilah Oliver, Ron Padgett, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, David Cope, Eleni Sikelianos, and Steven Taylor.
As an alternative publisher and editor of poetry for three decades, Jim mimeo-produced ACTION Magazine in the 1980s while living in Rochester, NY. In 1990, he began the annual poetics journal Napalm Health Spa, the first issues of which were handbound with handmade paper covers. In 1998, Napalm Health Spa went online at MAP. In December, 2004, he compiled a manuscript of Postbeat Poetry referred to as the “Chinabeat” Anthology. The “Chinabeat” Anthology was to be a collaboration with Wen Chu-an, Chinese translator of Kerouac and Ginsberg, but Wen Chu-an died while the project was under consideration. In 2009, his Museum of American Poetics Publications published The Phenomology of Rubble by Holly Jones.
In the summer of 2006, Jim began work 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 "Howl". Simultaneously, a second limited edition prayer flag set featured Jim's long tantri poem "When Skeletons Make Love." A redesigned "Howl" prayer flag was produced by the Museum of American Poetics Publications in 2009. With the approval of the Allen Ginsberg Trust, these new sets also feature a Buddha doodle by Allen.
In 2007, again with the assistance of the Allen Ginsberg Trust, as well as poets David Cope, Eliot Katz, Marc Olmsted and Randy Roark, Jim began research on the poetry of younger poets directly linked with Allen Ginsberg. In January of 2008, this scholarship resulted in the publications of an article entitled “Postbeat Poets” for Wikipedia. In 2009, Jim initiated the Postbeat Poets Activist Scholarship Project at the Museum of American Poetics. In 2010, he added an extensive listing of poets and works entitled “A Postbeat Chronology: 1962-2010.” At year's end, he remixed and remastered the final recording of Allen Ginsberg––Allen Ginsberg: "Lay Down Yr Mountain": The Last Session (MusEx Records).
In 2011, Jim 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 of this work 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.” In September, Jim received notification from Thomas S. Richards, Mayor of Rochester, NY, that his poem “999 Hours” was selected for inclusion in a Poets Walk, an interactive brick and stone walkway in honor of poets as artists of the written word.
Since his student days at Naropa, Jim liked to interview poets he admired. Poets he interviewed over the years include Ted Berrigan and Carl Rakosi. The Berrigan interview appears in Talking in Traquility: Interviews with Ted Berrigan (Avenue B/OBooks, 1991). The Rakosi interview appears in Carl Rakosi: Man and Poet (National Poetry Foundation/University of Maine, 1993). In 2012, Jim conducted an extensive interview with poet Anne Waldman on her award-winning epic poem, The Iovis Trilogy (Coffee House Press). Jim also worked with poet Andy Clausen during the last months of 2012 to publish Clausen’s Home of the Blues: More Selected Poems (Museum of American Poetics Publications, 2013), a 272-page compilation.