A Leonard Cohen Poem

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.


DrHGuy said...

I think this quote might be pertinent to your point. In a 20 Feb 2009 interview with the LA Times Music Blog, Cohen spoke about his (and his friend, Irving Layton's) position in the hierarchy of poets, "You’re up against some heavy competition. King David, Homer, you’re up against Shakespeare, Dante, Donne, you’re up against Whitman. It’s like going up against Muhammad Ali if you’re a pretty good neighborhood boxer, and that’s what I think of myself as. I’m just a pretty good neighborhood boxer." (Also, I think Leonard Cohen is 74)

Greg Santos said...

Thanks for the interesting poetry quote and for Cohen's correct age. Much obliged, Heck of A Guy!