I often wondered, what ever happened to some of the women of the Beat Generation? They may have written and they may have sat next to Ginsberg in a café or sat sipping liquor next to Kerouac but what lurked inside them? Some of them have obtained the muse status, the one that aids the art yet is frowned upon as the creator. Deep down these women had fire in their bellies and poetry in their souls and it was dying to come out, dying to be heard. Elise hated the fact that becoming a successful writer like the men around her could be an impossible task.
Her lifelong depression was certainly reflected in her poetry. Her work was very real, very haunting with a free form structure. It felt distant yet so personal and relevant. During her short life, Elise didn’t have any poems published and it is very sad to learn that only a small portion of her poetry survived and some have appeared in various collections thanks to a friend of hers.
In 2014 a volume was put together from her only surviving notebook, titled Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments, edited by Tony Trigilio.
In 1962 she was admitted into hospital due to the deterioration in her mental health but soon checked herself out; she went back to her parent’s house where she committed suicide. Elise was just 28 years old.
Recognized only for her associations in the Beat movement, her writing went unseen. After her death her parents burnt her work, its content disturbed them with its references to sex and drugs and they didn’t want it going public. To burn the very words that seep from a writer’s soul is to destroy it altogether but her poetry still lives on. Her parent’s decision to burn her work is quite disgraceful but like a phoenix, she certainly did rise from the ashes even if she isn’t around to see just how many people enjoy her work.