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Rochelle Owens


Rochelle Bass Owens was born on April 2, 1936, in Brooklyn, New York. As a young girl, Owens embraced the arts, showing an early interest in art, ballet, and poetry.

Owens graduated from Lafayette High School in 1953 and moved to Manhattan, where she briefly studied poetry at The New School and acting at HB Studio. She became a part of the Beat scene in Greenwich Village, as well as the early ethnopoetics movement, and eventually became involved with the start of the St. Marks Poetry Project and Deux Megot reading series.

Throughout the 1960s, Owens published poems in a number of small publications, including Yugen, a poetry magazine published by LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), and her popularity grew as she became involved in theater. Known as one of the pioneers of experimental off-off-Broadway theater, Owens has written several plays that have been cited for their imagination, innovative language, and controversial themes. In 1969, her first play, Futz, was made into a film, and her plays have been presented worldwide.

Owens has published over a dozen books of poetry, the most recent of which include Hermaphropoetics, Drifting Geometries (Singing Horse Press, 2017); Out of Ur: New and Selected Poems 1961–2012 (Shearsman Books, 2013); Solitary Workwoman (Junction Press, 2011); and Luca: Discourse on Life and Death (Junction Press, 2001).

Of her work, poet Jerome Rothenberg has written: “There is a voice in Owens’ work ... like a fierce and unrelenting force of nature. Sharp and visual, she combines a landscape with a poetics, the domestic with the mythic, machines with the organic living world from which arises a construct and a fused vision: poetry and life.”

Owens has received fellowships from the Ford Foundation, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation (Bellagio Center), among others. She has taught at the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Oklahoma.

She lives with her husband, poet and translator George Economou, in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia.

Selected Bibliography


Hermaphropoetics, Drifting Geometries (Singing Horse Press, 2017)
Out of Ur: New & Selected Poems 1961­–2012 (Shearsman Books, 2013)
Solitary Workwoman (Junction Press, 2011)
Triptych (Texture Press, 2006)
Luca: Discourse on Life and Death (Junction Press, 2001)
New and Selected Poems 1961–1996 (Junction Press, 1997)
Rubbed Stones (Texture Press, 1994)
Black Chalk (Texture Press, 1992)
How Much Paint Does the Painting Need (Kulchur Foundation, 1988)
W. C. Fields in French Light (Contact II Publications, 1986)
Constructs (Point Riders Press, 1985)
The Joe Chronicles Part 2 (Black Sparrow Press, 1979)
Shemuel (New Rivers Press, 1979)
The Joe 82 Creation Poems (Black Sparrow Press, 1974)
I Am the Babe of Joseph Stalin’s Daughter (Kulchur Foundation, 1972)
Salt & Core (Black Sparrow Press, 1968)
Not Be Essence That Cannot Be (Trobar Books, 1961)


Plays by Rochelle Owens (Broadway Play Publishing, 2000)
Futz and Who Do You Want, Piere Vidal? (Broadway Play Publishing, 1986)
The Karl Marx Play and Others (E. P. Dutton & Co., 1974)
Futz and What Came After (Random House, 1968)


Journey to Purity (Texture Press, 2009)

Rochelle Owens
Photo courtesy of Kelly Writers House staff

By This Poet


from Solarpoetics, 8-11

“Cerebral Cortex”


Begin to understand
the nature of the leavening process


The letter H
catches in the throat   then she steps
backwards and flings
a handful of earth beyond the edges

Of a page   you hear a hollow sound

The dry external covering
of an ear of corn   then stepping forwards
she scatters letters cut out from
the skull   spine bones

The form of a human body

When I in my youth
in a blue wool dress   I strolled
in a circle of blue
sings the poet Maudite


The cerebral cortex   a sliver of brain
barely thicker than a credit card


The letter I vertical
under an occult sky once upon
a time I sat cross-legged
in the crotch of a tree

Grape    wine   grain   bread

From roots of plants
that bear the grain in darkness
light   heat   cold   focus on
a common scene 

Chasms in the fissured earth

The story of the baker
a set of skills in sequential order
the finished loaf   A to Z
in place and space


Recognize in some dozens of milliseconds
a written word


The letter J   the shape
of a hook and on the hook

the butcher’s coat
wind   heat  cold  drought

Blood and mud flows out
of the right sleeve 

One animal
gut   head and tail   measure
body length   jaws  claws
diameters of holes

The zones of inclusion   exclusion

Salt for the stew   salt for the bread
once upon a time   my mother
was sold from me when I
could but crawl


Dispatches from the frontiers
of neuroscience


The letter K stands apart
like a barley plant
in three dimensional space
the dry external covering 

A snarl of fibrous hairs

Drifting in circles
wind   heat   cold  drought
and dead white the barley plant
cut down 

Deboned and buried

Then the reading brain
follows one letter after another
beyond the edges
of a page

One millionth one millionth of a second
an episode

from Solarpoetics, 1-7


Wyh do we udnersntad a txet eevn fi the letetrs
aer in dsiordre       


The letter A
like a membrane
melliferous the animal flesh
bread baking   butchery

Alphabet of blood and ash

Litanie   incantation
from the back part of her throat
salt for the stew   salt
for the bread

Sings the poet maudite

When I in my youth
strolled in a blue wool dress
I strolled in a circle
of blue


The reading brain    the eyes moving constantly
while reading


The letter B
when black letters of fire
patterns of animus across
the landscape

The place in the distance

Where the air
smells of poisoned rain
take one step after
the other

Where you do not want to go

An amalgam of words
in sequential order here where
you walk ahead   stop
raise your eyes


We identify only ten or twelve letters    quick jumps
three or four letters left and seven or eight letters right


The letter C circles
zigzags   animates the plaster
death cast   a solitary
workwoman then

From the back part of her throat

When I in my youth in a blue wool dress
I strolled among   maidens   monks
and birds   I strolled in wind 
cold and heat   

Across green volcanic hills

There In shadows   haze   smoke
in three dimensional space 
piles of charred human
and animal bones

The history of the neurology of reading
the existence of a visual center


The letter D whispered
in the dismal quarter where
absence of a picture   the green
volcanic hills

Grain   grape   bread   wine

The story of the shepherdess
staged and scripted sub-plots  there
in a bucolic setting our lady grows
out of a mound of dirt

Her rose-bud mouth a crooked line

A breast vein as thick as a finger
the wedding feast   bread and meat 
yellow   sulfurous   a plume
of  smoke


Some written words lit up or hidden among
geometric forms


The letter E
elaborate the graphic design  
chasms and fissures
in the earth

Our lady grows out of rotting meat

Sings the poet maudite
I in my youth   concealed and disguised
walked in three dimensional

Heat   cold   wind   water 

Data  science 
pain   fear   phobia   multimedia
exhibitions   photographic art   illustrations 
the ritual of baking bread


Yeast spores are ubiquitous in air and on
the surface of grain


The letter F
the preserved body rotates  forms
sweet bacteria   then the skin
of the fingertips  

Chemical     molecular   where

In a circle they joined hands 
ruiners and destroyers engulf and consume 
victims and executioners ooze out
the urge

Staged and scripted sub-plots

Genesis to revelation
in elaborate letters   shift   twist and slant
disease   famine   torture   war
earth   air   fire   water


Everything begins in the retina
ten years of research on the reading brain


The letter G a graphic design 
sight   touch   listen   the sound
of grinding corn   the smell
of bread baking

Then she brews tea over a fire

There in reddish violet light
violet light    a jagged black line zigzags
a graphic design   the head covered
with a hood  

identity unknown    tree   rope   grain

The air smells of smoked meat
his mouth waters   taste buds pulsate
from a gap   a fissure
a flow of hormonal forces

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