Date of Graduation

Summer 2011


Master of Arts in English



Committee Chair

Linda Trinh-Moser


poetry, gender, female artist, influence, female literary tradition, beat literature

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


The poetry of Elise Cowen (1933-1962) challenges the lack of scholarly interest in women writers of the Beat Generation summed up in Allen Ginsberg's seemingly careless remark: "Is it our fault that there weren't any women of genius in the group?" As Amy Friedman asserts about female Beat writers, Cowen was not "an accidental artist" who "only gained access to writing through a connection with men." Although Cowen draws inspiration from the Romantic era like her male counterparts in the Beat Movement, she aligns herself with and continues a female tradition. In "Teacher—Your Body My Kabbalah" and "I Took the Skin of Corpses," Cowen invokes Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Charlotte Bronte to gain a poetic authority rooted in the feminine. In "Sitting With You in the Kitchen," "The Lady," and "If It Weren't for Love" Cowen focuses on issues pertinent to her own historical moment linking her poetry to the past and future. Cowen also parallels the subtle critique made by Bronte and Shelley of gender bias inherent in the male Romantic vision through her use of diction, metaphor, imagery and word play. In this way, she provides a critique of the sexism of the Beat movement and also prescribed gender roles in mid-century America.


© Jessie Ann Cannady

Campus Only