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Elise Cowen

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Elise Nada Cowen (1933 - February 1, 1962, Washington Heights, Manhattan) was an American poet, part of the Beat generation.

Born to a wealthy Jewish family in Long Island, New York, Cowen wrote poetry from a young age, enjoying the works of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and Dylan Thomas.

While attending Barnard College in the early 1950s she became friends with Joyce Johnson (at that time Joyce Glassman). It was also during this period that she was first introduced to Allen Ginsberg by philosophy professor Alex Greer. The two discovered a mutual acquaintance in Carl Solomon, whom they had both met while spending time separately in a mental hospital. A romantic involvement followed in the spring and summer of 1953, however it was during this time that Ginsberg began to embrace his homosexuality, and the relationship gradually dissolved. Despite this, Cowen remained emotionally attached to Ginsberg for the rest of her life.

In February 1956 she and her lover Sheila moved into an apartment with Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky. At the time Cowen had a job as a typist. Upon being fired she moved to San Francisco, in order to experience its growing Beat scene. While in San Francisco Cowen became pregnant and, unable to obtain an abortion, underwent a hysterectomy. She returned to New York, then made another trip to California, later returning permanently to Manhattan.

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, where she committed suicide, jumping through the closed living room window and falling seven stories to the ground.

After her death her parents destroyed the bulk of her writings, however a number of poems from a box in the possession of her friend Leo Skir have been published. Cowen features prominently in Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson.


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