Early lifeCohen was born in 1935 in the Bronx, New York City, to deaf parents. Cohen graduated from the Horace Mann School at 16 and attended Cornell, where he took a class taught by Vladimir Nabokov. He dropped out of Cornell, then enrolled at the School of General Studies of Columbia University but did not graduate. Cohen married Arlene Bond, a Barnard student, in 1957. They had two children, David Schleifer and Rafiqa el Shenawi.
MoroccoIn 1961 Cohen took a Yugoslavian freighter to Tangier, Morocco where he lived for four years. He published GNAOUA, a magazine devoted to exorcism and Beat Generation poetry, introducing the work of Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs, Harold Norse and some other Burroughsonians. GNAOUA also featured Jack Smith, and Irving Rosenthal. He also produced Jilala, a mythic recording of trance music by a sect of dervishes, which was recorded by Paul Bowles. Cohen published the Hashish Cookbook - authored by the pseudonymous 'Panama Rose'.
Cohen then lived for some time on Spain's Costa del Sol, specifically in or near Torremolinos. He went to Paris from Spain and from there very briefly to London.
Return to New YorkCohen returned to New York in the mid-1960s. In his loft on the Lower East Side, Cohen created the "mylar images", styled as "future icons" as developed by a "mythographer". Among the reflected artists in his mirror: John McLaughlin, William S. Burroughs and Jimi Hendrix who said that looking at these photos was like "looking through butterfly wings". With this shamanic and tantric exercise Cohen explored the whole spectrum of photography from infrared to black light. In 1968 he also directed the "phantasmaglorical" film Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda and produced Marty Topp's Paradise Now, a film of the Living Theatre's historic American tour. was inspired by the films of Kenneth Anger and Sergei Parajanov and began as an extension of his photography work with his Mylar chamber.
Travels in the 1970sCohen went to the Himalayas in the '70s where he started the starstream poetry series under the Bardo Matrix imprint in Kathmandu, publishing the work of Charles Henri Ford, Gregory Corso, Paul Bowles and Angus Maclise; and developing his art of bookmaking, working with native craftsmen. In 1972 he spent a year in San Francisco reading and performing and then returned to New York mounting photographic shows.
AmsterdamIn early 1964, Cohen visited Amsterdam (during same trip up from Tangier when he arranged for the printing of Gnaoua in Belgium). He befriended writer Simon Vinkenoog, who would later translate many of Cohen's writings into Dutch. However his real Amsterdam period began in the spring of 1978. It was then that he met Caroline Gosselin, a French girl who was making and selling life masks at the Melkweg (Milky Way) multimedia center. She and Cohen expanded this into Bandaged Poets - a series of papier-mâché masks of dozens of well-known poets that he subsequently photographed. He also reconnected with Eddie Woods, whom he had first met in Kathmandu in 1976. Woods, who co-founded Ins & Outs Press with Jane Harvey, was preparing to launch Ins & Outs magazine. Cohen's work appeared in every issue and he regularly served as a contributing editor. He performed at the first of Benn Posset's long-running One World Poetry festivals, P78. Cohen (and Gosselin) lived in Amsterdam for the next three years; and even after leaving he made several return visits to the city, often staying for long spells. Ins & Outs Press, which had already published postcards of the Bandaged Poets series, produced three limited-edition Kirke Wilson silkscreen prints of the photographs including those of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. His film Kings with Straw Mats was also edited, in collaboration with Ira Landgarten, at Ins & Outs. In September 1993 Cohen returned to Amsterdam from New York to participate in a Benn Posset-organized tribute to Burroughs, along with Woods, the American writer William Levy, the German translator & publisher Udo Breger, and others.
Cohen further developed a close association with the artists colony village of Ruigoord (eight miles west of Amsterdam) and is one their very few trophy holders.
Second return to New YorkIn 1981 Cohen again returned to New York, and moved in with his mother in an Upper West Side apartment. In 1982 he married Carolina Gosselin, and they had a daughter, Lakshmi Cohen, before divorcing in 1989.
Cohen continued to travel during the 1980s , making trips to Ethiopia, Japan, and back to India where he documented on film the great kumbh mela festival, the largest spiritual gathering on the planet in the film Kings with Straw Mats. In the latter part of the decade Synergetic Press published On Feet of Gold, a book of selected poems.
Cohen also worked as a contributing editor of Third Rail magazine, a review of international arts and literature based in Los Angeles.
Publications and exhibitionsIn the 1990s Cohen met with increasing international recognition as his poems were published in England by Temple Press under the title Ratio 3: Media Shamans Along with Two Good Poet Friends, the friends being Gerard Malanga and Angus Maclise. He had a show called Retrospectacle at the October Gallery in London and he also took part along with William Burroughs, Terry Wilson and Hakim Bey at the Here To Go Show in Dublin in 1992 which celebrated the painter Brion Gysin.
In 1994 Sub Rosa Records released Cohen's first CD, The Majoon Traveller, with Cheb i Sabbah, which also included the work of Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman.
In the 2000s Cohen gave a number of readings in New York City, including a collaboration with the musical group Sunburned Hand of the Man.
Cohen was a participating artist in the Whitney Biennial 2006, "Day for Night" with two back-lit transparency photographs, Jack Smith as the Norebo, Prince of the Venusian Munchkins, and The Magician from the Grand Tarot.
In May 2007 Cohen was featured in performance Georg Gatsas' Process VI - FINAL exhibit at the Swiss Institute in New York City. Cohen read poems accompanied by projections of his mylar photographs and was accompanied by the musical group Mahasiddhi.
In October 2007 an exhibit of Cohen's portrait photographs Hautnah / Up Close & Personal was mounted at the WIDMER+THEODORIDIS contemporary gallery in Zurich. A complementary book was planned by Papageien-Verlag for early 2008 but is, as yet, unpublished. Subjects included Patti Smith, Madonna, William Burroughs and Paul Bowles 
Also in October 2007 an exhibit of his mylar photographs opened in London at October Gallery.
- The Hashish Cookbook (auth. Panama Rose) (Gnaoua Press 1966)
- Seven Marvels (Bardo Matrix, Katmandu 1975)
- Poems from the Cosmic Crypt (Bardo Matrix and Kali Press, Katmandu 1976)
- From the Divan of Petra Vogt (Cold Turkey Press, Rotterdam, 1976)
- Gilded Splinters (Bardo Matrix, Katmandu 1977)
- The Stauffenberg Cycle and Other Poems (Uitgeverij 261, Heerlen, Netherlands 1981). ISBN 90-6512-013-0
- Media Shamans Ratio 3 (with Gerard Malanga and Angus MacLise, Temple Press, London 1991). ISBN 1-871744-30-X
- On Feet of Gold (Synergetic Press, London 1986). ISBN 0-907791-107
- Minbad Sinbad (Didier Devillez, Brüsszel 1998)
- Wo das Herz ruht (Switzerland, 2001, translated by Florian Vetsch)
- Kaliban und Andere Gedichte (AltaQuito Press, Göttingen, 1999, translated by Florian Vetsch)
- Poems from the Akashic Record (Goody, New York 2001)
- Shamanic Warriors Now Poets (Anthology edited by J.N. Reilly and Ira Cohen, R & R Publishing, Glasgow, Scotland 2004). ISBN 0-9534280-1-X
- Chaos and Glory (Elik Press, Utah 2004)
- Whatever You Say May Be Held Against You (Shivastan Press) (2004)
- Cornucopion - Bőségszaru (Új Mandátum and I.A.T. Press, Budapest, 2007, translated by Gabor G Gyukics)
- Hautnah / Up Close & Personal (Papageien-Verlag) (Unpublished)