Leonard Cohen

I have opinions on poetry, not all of which are humble.  For instance: poems on the subject of self are dangerous.  Too many fall into the trap of sounding like an over-serious high school student reading lines to an indifferent cafeteria. 

Nevertheless, one of my favorite poets ever is Leonard Cohen.  He writes about himself a lot. He says of himself “I never discuss my mistresses or my tailors” but his poems identify the objects of his desires by name.  Go figure. 

I am approximately half way through with my MA in Creative Writing.  Come this time next year, I imagine I’ll be all the way through with the coursework and eagerly awaiting graduation, which should happen on or around the 12th of December.  I think I would be more excited about this if I thought that my employment situation was likely to revolve around the MA.  Mostly, I suppose it will end up being a vanity degree, which is depressing so I don’t think about it.

Anyway, next summer, I will find myself writing a self-reflective piece on my progress from last year to this.  I am currently dispairing ever learning how to break my lines and stanzas to my tutor’s liking and am sure that I will be failing miserably shortly.  Other times, I am determined to graduate with a distinction.  In preparation for this self-reflective piece, I’ve started (as of today) digging up quotes from Leonard Cohen to see what he has to say about the craft.

And doing a little thinking of my own about poetry writing and why I think it is important.  Or if I think it is important.  I envison some sort of a synthesis between photography, history, poetry and storytelling.  My references might be www.gapingvoid.com, a book called Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes (which I suddenly fear I have no idea where it is among the bookshelves), Leonard Cohen and…  I don’t know.

I guess that is a start?

A quote from an old Leonard Cohen interview, 1967:  “I wrote ‘Beautiful Losers’ on Hydra, when I’d throught of myself as a loser, finacially, morally, as a lover and a man.  I was wiped out; I didn’t like my life.  I vowed I would just fill the pages with black or kill myself.  After the book was over, I fasted for ten days and flipped out completely.  It was my wildest trip.  I hallucinated for a week.  They took me to a hospital in Hydra.  One afternoon, the whole sky was black with storks.  They alighted on all the churches and left in the moring . . . and I was better.  Then I decided to go to Nashville and become a song writer.”

Surely the muse is there, just waiting to be turned into an essay on writing?


Leonard Cohen

4 thoughts on “Leonard Cohen

  1. Entrope,
    I recently discovered someone (a friend) thinks Leonard Cohen is crap…. I’ve met people over the years who are indifferent or gauge him as an acquired taste, but I can’t remember anyone decidedly negative about him.
    We have a strong friendship…maybe even a great friendship, but this Cohen thing has me slightly conflicted. I’m lousy at remembering names of stuff and I regularly get lyrics mixed up. What are a few of your favorite pieces? Is it weird that I want her to look over some more of his stuff as a double check before she totally writes the guy off?
    Of course I’m weird, ignore that last question.


  2. I think Leonard needs to be approached from several different angles, depending on what you’re looking for or hoping to see.

    Recent Leonard – think “The Book of Longing” – I tend to think of in terms of his Buddhism and the tradition of a koan. As best as I understand it, the koan thing isn’t supposed to make sense, it’s supposed to get you practicing making peace with things that don’t make sense. That being said, I’m not sure he would get the kind of acclaim he’s received if he were a young poet starting out. Nevertheless, if you want a brutally honest rendition of the difficulties associated with reconciling the body and the spirit, Leonard Cohen is your man.

    That’s the poems, or more specifically, the recent poems. Now on to the music. Leonard Cohen, in my mind, will always be one of the greats for Famous Blue Raincoat. And Take This Waltz. Maybe the waltz over the raincoat, even. If it is the voice that is the problem, find Tower of Song. Tori Amos covers Famous Blue Raincoat and Peter Gabriel does Suzanne. Both are exquisite. There is one last song, Waiting for the Miracle, which has to be experienced with Leonard’s voice, much like Alice wouldn’t be the same without Tom Waits. The lyrics go like this, in part:

    When you’ve fallen on the highway
    And you’re lying in the rain,
    And they ask you how you’re doing
    Of course you’ll say you can’t complain
    If you’re squeezed for information,
    That’s when you’ve got to play it dumb
    You just say you’re out there waiting
    For the miracle, for the miracle to come.

    Finally, there is Leonard Cohen, the guy that straddles Judaism and Buddhism. For that you have to pick up a slim volume called “The Book of Mercy.” Totally worth reading, again vaguely aligned with the tradition of the koan, but somehow more evocative. At least as far as I’m concerned. This is the guy who uses a star of David made out of hearts as a backdrop on his website. Incidentally, my next tattoo is going to be made of those intertwined hearts – a religious statement of my version of your indivisible thing.

    Does that help?


  3. One more note… growing up, my bff and I had occasion to see Gary Beacom perform a skating routine to “I’m Your Man.” Even now, I could do that posture with the puffed out chest and the arms cocked at my side and she’d know exactly what I’m talking about. In that way, he is straight up part of the private language that makes up those friendships that last forever.


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