Owen was an important participant in the "mimeo" (mimeograph copy machine) revolution that fundamentally shaped a second generation of new york school poets. A long-time member of the community of poets associated with the St. Mark's Poetry Project in the Bowery (see poetry institutions), she served for many years as program coordinator and, in 1969, began publishing an influential magazine, Telephone, in the church basement. In 1972 owen began a series of books—through a press she called Telephone Books—and published, early on in their careers, such notable writers as Fanny HOWE and Susan HOWE, and other writers such as Janine Pommy-Vega, Fielding Dawson, and Ed Friedman. Her own collagist poetry, which is inclusive, witty, and vivacious, reflects a personal ethic largely defined by her devotion to a sense of community.
Owen was born in Graceville, Minnesota, and grew up on a farm. Later her father and mother worked as horse trainers on the California racetrack circuit. She studied at San Francisco State University and Seattle University, and she lived in Japan for three years, studying Zen Buddhism. She has taught at Naropa University and at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. Her first book, Country Rush, was published in 1973. In 1979 she was awarded a Poetry Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, and she won the Before Columbus American Book Award for AE (Amelia Earhart) in 1984. American Rush: Selected Poems, nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, was published in 1998, the same year Owen received a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts.
Owen has consistently written an intriguing quotidian poetry, often diarylike in its form. Many poems move quickly in their attentions, collaging quotes (both literary and conversational), witty anecdotes and exclamations, and vivid descriptions. Blank space incorporated within lines and between words or phrases relays a sense of the connection-across-dis-tance that the various sources suggest. As Fanny Howe has written, her lines are "galactic . . . spaces between starry explosions," such that her poetry "scatters and spreads and stops mysteriously" (79). In "FROM
GOSSIP NOTES OF COURT LIFE" (1993), spirited invocations of precious stones—"O Ambivalent Onyx! Reckless diamonds obsessed opal / or Unplumbed tourmaline"—are interspersed with various textual commentaries. In the story of Cinderella, "the slipper is / made of fur but the translator mistook the French / & translated it as being of glass." This poem, like many others, incorporates an awareness of the sexism that permeates literary and cultural contexts: "& now the author / has agreed to define a woman's genitalia as an 'absence.'" Owen's use of cataloging in different poems displays the exuberance for sensual experience that underlies much of her poetry, as in "Dear L" (1973), which begins: "Thanks for the early guided hike down to / the bottom lands through juniper & hawthorn, / grapevine, sassafras, hackberry, honeysuckle."
owen's vivid poems are graced by her unwillingness to see any details—especially life's small complexities— as unfit material for poetry. Her poems are significant without aspiring to be monumental. There is no estranging distance here; the poem, equal to the life, is full of experience and courageous experimentation.
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