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Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Posted: Tue Dec 05, 2017 5:32 am
by vlcoats

I have just finished my first Leonard Cohen book, "Let Us Compare Mythologies".

To back up a bit... I have only just discovered Leonard this year (yes... I know!!), and up to this point, I've only been immersed in his music and lyrics and have posted on The Music Place of this forum. I'm sure it will come as no surprise to you here on the The Poetry Place, that is is the poetry of his lyrics that ties me to him in the first place.

I have been a fan of poetry all my life, but to be honest, I have most loved poetry that rhymes and has the structure of syllables to create a rhythm. But of course that all means nothing unless the words paint a picture in your mind or give you goose bumps and a lump in your throat. I don't know the technicalities of poetry very well, if at all, so it isn't as if I have a standard along those line, but since I have always loved poetry that felt "old fashioned", I have shied away from "free verse" (I am not even sure if they call it that?). But every once in a while, I stumbled on some poetry that didn't rhyme, but still it made me want to read it over again and again, just to relive what it did to me the first time that I read it. Some of the poems in Let Us Compare Mythologies were like that.

I think my very favorite poem in this book is called "Song" which begins on pg 34 of my edition, especially the bottom of that page which says
"wind on my breastplate
sun in my belly"
It is mostly the sun in his belly that I loved.

But there are many poems in this book that are awesome, and I don't need to tell you that! Other poems I especially liked were "Letter" pg 42, "Ballad" pg 52, and especially "Poem" pg 64, and "Warning" pg 68.

When I read this, I thought of his age when he wrote it and the era it was written and the country it was written in.

I expect I will read this over and over again, like I listen to his albums over and over, and that the poems I didn't notice at first might become favorites later on, sort of like his music. I am not sure if this is true, but maybe you can tell me?


Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Posted: Fri Dec 08, 2017 6:18 am
by B4real

Thanks for reminding me of LC's poetry books, some which I haven't read in years and you will see evidence of one of those poems (and it's not a rhyming one, ha!) plus a line from a song very soon in a traditional thread ;-)

If you haven’t already read it I was thinking you might be interested in this link from The LC Files above about Poetry on Records as a transition of sorts from music:
The next few pages there are about LC’s poetry as well.

Below are some poems (two of your favourites :) ) recited by Leonard from Let Us Compare Mythologies.
Beside the shepherd
For Wilf and his house
Les Vieux
Poem (some people call it "the hypnotist" - a favourite of mine too from when I first read/heard it)
Prayer for the Messiah
The sparrows
These heroics
(set to the music of Tacoma Trailer and Improvisation)

Below is an excellent collection of LC’s poems including some of the above -
Master Poems | Collection of poetry readings by Leonard Cohen | 1957-1993

From “Six Montreal Poets”, 1957
1. For Wilf and His House – Beside the Shepherd – Poem – Lovers – The Sparrows – Warning – Les Vieux – Elegy From Dunn’s Progressive Jazz Parlour, Montreal, Canada, 8th April 1958
2. Gift From “Ladies and Gentlemen…Mr Leonard Cohen”, 1965
3. Island Bulletin – Prayer for Messiah – A Kite is a Victim – Passage from “The Favourite Game” (“Here is a movie…”) – Passage from “The Favourite Game” (“The park…”) – Disguises – Passage from “The Favourite Game” (“Just beyond the green…”) – Beneath My Hands – Twelve O’Clock Chant – The Genius On Hearing a Name Long Unspoken (fragment) – Three Good Nights (fragment) – Alexander Trocchi, Public Junkie, Priez pour Nous (fragment) – Hydra 1963 (fragment) – The Only Tourist In Havana Turns His Thoughts Homeward – The Music Crept by Us From the YM-YWHA Hotel, New York, USA, 14th February 1966
4. You All in White – For E.J.P.
5. You Have the Lovers From “Canadian Poets 1”, 1966
6. What I’m Doing Here – You Have the Lovers – Now of Sleeping – Style – Two Went to Sleep – Nothing Has Been Broken – These Heroics From WNEW-FM, New York, USA, 28th April 1985
7. In the Eyes of Men From an unknown TV documentary
8. My Secret Life From KCRW-FM, Los Angeles, USA, 1993
9. Poem
10. How to Speak Poetry
11. Marita 12.
This is My Voice – The Only Poem
13. We Cry Out From “The United States of Poetry”, 1996
14. Democracy From the YM-YWHA Hotel, New York, USA, 14th February 1966
15. Reading from “Beautiful Losers” From an unknown radio program
16. My Top Ten

As you know, I’m not so much into analysing Leonard’s words as I am absorbing and collecting them in my way.
Maybe others might add to the discussion here ....or maybe not :)

Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Posted: Sat Dec 09, 2017 6:37 am
by vlcoats

Hello! Thank you for the links! I know I can always Google “Leonard Cohen poetry”, but I prefer to rely on the forum to steer me in the right direction, and so far, I haven’t been steered wrong. Thank you for giving me reasons to read Let Us Compare Mythologies a few more times again.

The only poems I had seen before were those on “Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen” which I borrowed from Netflix at the beginning of this year (a lifetime ago!), but I watched them again along with the others you posted, reading from my copy of Let Us Compare Mythologies in my lap. The only link I couldn’t watch was the last one you posted. It would have required over an hour of streaming and anyone with satellite internet knows that if I did that, I would be reduced to dialup speed for the rest of the week. (If there is anyone willing to copy that to an audio CD and send it to me… please PM me ;-) )

The poem you said some call "the hypnotist" is still a strong favorite! A couple days ago, I showed this poem to my husband Dave, and like the good-natured man he is, he humored me and looked at it quickly and then gave me that “And so?” look. As you know, B4, Dave has been dragged along on this journey and has come to develop an appreciation for Leonard's songs, but I know I am pushing it with the poetry thing.

After listening to the links you shared, I am guessing that the reason for Dave’s look is that he reads VERY fast, and I don’t think you should do that with poetry. I have always been a slow reader, unless it is something I don't care for, and I noticed that in the links you shared, Leonard recites at a nice measured pace.

Up to this point, I have read poetry more than I have listened to it, but I believe that listening to someone recite their own poetry can make a big difference. When I was in high school, I won a regional poetry recitation competition. I lived in a remote area of Oregon, and it was a state-wide competition. You were allowed to recite your own poetry, but I was the only one at my school that did so. Once I moved on to the finals, I was eliminated. My teachers told me that it was because I was so much younger than the other finalists, but I knew it was because not only was our region a rural area with a small pool of contestants, but more importantly, the finalists from Portland and Salem were also reciting their own poetry and frankly, theirs were better. My point is, that while songwriters can benefit from others performing their work, poetry is best realized either by reading it silently in your own head or by listening to the poet reading it for you.

Please forgive me B4, but I totally blamed you when Dave saw that I had ordered “Six Montreal Poets” from Amazon and accused me with, “I thought you had all of his CDs!” Call it a Hanukkah present to myself!


Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Posted: Sat Dec 23, 2017 5:28 am
by vlcoats
I am reading The Spice Box of Earth, and I am not done with it yet, but I wondered... is it considered his best work? I mean strictly regarding individual books of poetry, not collections or "best of"s or whatever?? For some reason, the general aura around what I have heard about his poetry makes me think it is either this one or Book of Mercy that are considered the best. Although I understand that Book of Mercy could be called more a collection of psalms or prayers and not strictly poetry (although I haven't read any of it yet).

There are many things I love about The Spice Box of Earth.... starting with the name of it. The words 'spice' and 'earth' and everything they imply are probably why I love the title so. The poems inside are some of my most favorite so far. True... this is just my second book of his poetry, so I cannot be considered the best judge, but I have read and heard snippets of things... and I know what I like. So far, in particular, I like Priests 1957 and Summer Haiku and any of the poems that rhyme (I am a sucker for that).

Lastly, I love my own particular copy of this book, a used copy I found on Amazon... with an inscription to Mary from Dan. It seems to have endured pages fallen out and glued back in as well as a few unusual stains... one that shows a leaf was pressed between the pages on page 51 (My Lady Can Sleep). It is by no means pristine and is a third printing, but I love it.
Spice Box.jpg

I know I haven't gotten many to reply to my poetry thread of "Along the way..." except for one or two. Okay, just one (a nod and a thanks to B4). Here all of this time, I thought I was the one that was afraid to post on this thread about his poetry. Is it because there are significantly less Leonard Cohen poetry fans than Leonard Cohen music fans? Or is it because poetry fans are more introspective and "don't want to talk about it", or is it something else?

Wishing everyone happy and cozy holidays!

Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Posted: Mon Jan 01, 2018 5:16 am
by vlcoats
I hope no one minds if I continue to post my thoughts on what I am reading regardless.

This week, I have had a chance to finish The Spice Box of Earth and get half way through “The Favourite Game”. Because it is winter, both Dave and I sat around the fire and read for a bit this weekend for once. He is reading “Origin” by Dan Brown. After an hour or so, we shared what we have been reading.

First off, I told him that I am surprised that I like this first novel so well! I mean, I haven’t really heard that much praise for it. Maybe I like it so well because it takes place in Montreal, and we were lucky enough to go there in November, or maybe I like it because, after reading several Leonard Cohen biographies, I am familiar with the experiences in it. Or more likely, I love it because I am unable at this point to distance myself emotionally from anything that Leonard Cohen has done. I have already gone too far, as Dave likes to refer to my discovery of Leonard Cohen, “down the rabbit hole”. LOL

Still, I have always liked books that can succeed in elevating an ordinary life into something that stirs you up, just by the way they share the inner landscape of the person the book is about. It takes more than plain old honesty and a talent with the craft of writing to do that. Nearly anyone who writes can be honest. It has more to do with purity and vision and the way it is described. It reminds me a little of Thomas Hardy.

I have read enough about Leonard Cohen’s life to know that The Favourite Game is basically an autobiography. It leaves me wondering why he made it a novel instead of a memoir. Which parts are strictly true? Which parts are he glad didn’t happen, and which parts does he wish did?


Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Posted: Mon Jan 08, 2018 5:39 am
by vlcoats
Me again... I am on page 183 (in my UK edition) of The Favourite Game....

I am still surprised how much I like this book! I guess I shouldn't be... since I continue to love everything Leonard Cohen has given us. But, I was sort of lead to believe that this book wasn't as good as I can now see that it is.

In a couple of the Cohen biographies I have read, they shared the reviews of The Favourite Game when it was first published, so I know the reviews were mixed. It is true that he was being very self-indulgent in this book, but so what!
What surprises me is that I haven't seen as much praise for this book after his talent was accepted that I feel it deserves. Even here on the forum.... after all of the comments I have made about his lyrics ... nobody has said to me, "Oh, Vickie, you really gotta read The Favourite Game!"

I did a quick search on the forum about The Favourite Game, so I can see that I am not the only one that feels this way, but still, it surprises me that it has not been discussed more often. So much of the focus in his songwriting and in his self discovery seems to have stemmed from this time in his life, as if this is the essence of him.

Of course, I am not done with this book yet.. so maybe it has some weird twist at the end that will make me reascend this whole post. ;-)

Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Posted: Mon Jan 22, 2018 5:29 am
by vlcoats
I finished "The Favourite Game", and nope, there was no twist at the end that made me want to reascend my previous post. If you have read it, that will come as no surprise. I loved this book so much. In many ways, it has made Leonard more real to me than anything else. It is a picture of him that shows everything, or at least the beginnings of everything, that he was. Most of all, it showed how his mind worked, which I appreciated.

After finishing it, I started it again, because I think it deserves a second reading. There are only a few other books I have started to read again immediately after finishing them. The first (when I was child) was Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Then came Watership Down by Richard Adams. Then The Hobbit and the Trilogy of the Rings by Tolkien. Then The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. It has been a long time since I felt the need to read something again right away after finishing it. Not that The Favourite Game was anything like any of them.

After The Favourite Game again, in order, I think my next book is Flowers for Hitler then Beautiful Losers. If I have that wrong, please let me know.

Meanwhile, I have recently finished listening to Six Montreal Poets. I am familiar with most of Leonard's selections on there, because they were either on the "Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen" DVD that I borrowed from Netflix last year when I was first discovering him (on the advice of my friends on the forum here) or were among the poems that I was lucky enough to hear at the MAC when I was equally lucky enough to go to Montreal. But, I had have never had the chance to read or listen to any of the other poets on the Six Montreal Poets CD until now. I was most interested in hearing what Layton and Dudek had to offer because I know from Leonard's biographies that they had a big influence on him in various ways.

First off, I really like Layton's vocal style... not as much as Leonard's, but much better than some of the others on the CD. When I first heard Layton's poem (Track 20), "The Bull Calf", I actually had to stop the car... I do most of my "serious" listening of Leonard while I am driving. If it were not for Layton's last line, I think I would have thrown away the stupid CD. If you aren't familiar with the poem, it describes a bull calf being killed, but it was done with such respect for the dying animal, "...his frightened look, growing smaller and smaller till we were only the ponderous mallet..." it was beautiful. The last line was, "I turned away and wept." I thought that if Layton had never been party to the need to put down a farm animal, he was very good at imagining it and very good at making me imagine it too... unwilling as I am. We live across the river from a cattle ranch, and I can hardly stand to hear them cry when they take away their babies. After listening to this one poem of Layton's, I can see why Leonard liked him so much.

Then there was Dudek's poem (Track 20) "To an Unknown in a Restaurant". As an aside, I am not sure why I feel that Dudek wasn't as nice to Leonard as he could have been, but maybe it has something to do with what I have read about him. Still, I was curious to hear his selections. I loved this poem of his and especially the line, " those caged animals born in captivity who do not know why they are unhappy." It answered back to all of the people who have told me that I shouldn't feel sorry for those animals.

I would love to hear from anyone on what they thought of The Favourite Game or of Six Montreal Poets. Otherwise, I will get back to you after reading The Favourite Game again.


Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Posted: Mon Feb 12, 2018 6:44 am
by vlcoats
Dang! My 2nd reading of The Favourite Game has me loving it just as much as before… plus some.

There has been much written about whether the novel is autobiographical, and it seems even Leonard himself has denied it (in the 1963 interview on CBC that was referenced here on this forum and on Then of course, he goes on to contradict this. Most biographies I have read agree that it was indeed autobiographical, including author Sylvie Simmons’ account of it in I’m Your Man.

As for me, I believe it is. They say that all first novels are autobiographies, and although I think that statement is baloney, I still believe that they, like all novels in general, are a peek into the psyches of the authors who wrote them. In The Favourite Game, I think Leonard gave us peek, after peek, after peek.

Beyond the obvious autobiographical aspect of this first novel, it seems to hold the genesis for so many of his lyrics to come. His take on life, his take on religion, his take on love, his take on everything has obviously been there all along. He is like one of those animals that are born fully formed and able to exist on their own from the get-go.

Everything from his account of the beauty of Breaveman’s young neighbor Lisa unclothed and perfect in their childish games, to the account of when he hypnotized the family’s maid into removing her clothes, saying, “Never had he seen a woman this naked”, point to his reverence for the female form and of course their appearance in later lyrics.

When Breaveman's father, approaching death, pinned his medals to Breavemen's chest, I was vividly reminded of the following lines from The Captain:

Now the Captain he was dying
But the Captain wasn't hurt
The silver bars were in my hand
I pinned them to my shirt.

There are many more reminders of future lyrics in other parts of this book, but I am guessing you have read it already and are well aware of all this, so I won't go on and on about it. ;-)

I just love this book so much, because it tells me things about him that have only been hinted at in his lyrics and poetry. Yes, I realize that The Favourite Game isn't exactly a factual word-for-word diary, and obviously Leonard picked and choosed between those stories he wanted to share and those that he didn't and changed what happened here and there and everywhere to make his point. But it is exactly this that shows us more about who he was and what he believed in. It hides behind different things than his songs and poetry did. I wish we could read the original first draft of this novel, before it was edited and made ‘perfect’.

Does anyone want to share what they thought about this novel when they first read it? Or what they thought about it after reading it the second time?

My next reading is Flowers for Hitler.....So far, I have only found secondhand paperback copies that cost over $50. Gulp. If anyone knows of a good avenue to purchase a copy that is reasonable, please let me know. Otherwise..... I don’t know much French, but I think the phrase “c'est la vie” applies!

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!