Commentary on the poetry of Elise Cowen is all but missing from the blurbs on the back of her posthumous collection Poems and Fragments (Ahsahta Press, 2014). When she is referenced, the style and quality of her work are often downplayed in favor of the importance of her role as a feminist (or at least a symbol of “second-wave feminism”) within the Beat Generation. A bookstore browser who flipped the book over would find precious little about what’s contained within its pages—its strengths and peculiarities.
Tony Trigilio did an admirable job in researching, collecting, and doing all the dirty work necessary to making this collection possible. But it’s Trigilio that’s discussed and his work that’s praised throughout the blurbs. And yes, we want to know that Cowen’s work was in capable hands, but in the end, would the reader rather know more about the efforts of the person who put the collection together, or the poet whose work has been collected?
It depends, I suppose, on how one approaches this volume – as a literary document that helps to shed light on an aspect of literary history, or as the work of a singular poet. I would like to see more discussion in the blurbs of Cowen’s poetry itself and less rhetoric detailing how it fits into the understanding of a literary movement.