In an interview with Saturday Night magazine in 1969, Leonard Cohen said he's "...always felt different from other poets I've met... I've always felt that somehow they've made a decision against life. I don't want to put any poets down, but most of them have closed a lot of doors. I always felt more at home with musicians."
It's interesting, then, that he recently had a "poem" (my friend Josh told me it's part of a song Cohen wrote this year) published in the March 2nd issue of The New Yorker. His bio in it states that he "is a musician, poet, and writer." Maybe I'm reading into this too much but even here, Cohen is a musician first and a poet second. Rightly so.
Years ago Cohen seems to have made a conscious decision to distance himself from regular publication as both a poet and a novelist to instead fully immerse himself into life as a musician. Now, even at 75 (*correction, he's 74!), he is on a whirlwind tour and performing for sold-out audiences worldwide. And while I believe his strength as a poet and novelist peaked in the 50s-60s (with such masterful works as Let Us Compare Mythologies, The Spice-Box of Earth, Flowers for Hitler, and Beautiful Losers), his contributions to the world of music as a singer, songwriter, and lyricist are much stronger.
So, is Leonard Cohen a great poet now? I would argue, no. His contributions to poetry have been too slim. He made an impact early on and had the potential to reach poetic greatness but it wasn't a right fit for him. On the other hand, is he a great musician/songwriter? No doubt about it. In those respects Cohen is an icon.
Make up your own mind, read Leonard Cohen's "A Street" from The New Yorker here.