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

Debate on Leonard Cohen's poetry (and novels), both published and unpublished. Song lyrics may also be discussed here.
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vlcoats
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Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Postby vlcoats » Mon Dec 31, 2018 10:19 pm

Hello-
Sorry I have been gone for so long. Although things may have kept me from posting, nothing has kept me from reading and listening to Leonard. I am about to start Book of Mercy, but before I do, I had a few more thoughts on DOALM. First off, I have to say, what a wealth of thoughts and feelings there is to explore in this little book!

Monica and Lilith- I had to do a little research on the meaning of these two names after seeing them appear multiple times--- sometimes alone, sometimes together. They seemed a bit ying/yang or dark/light. The name Monica was already of personal interest to me. One of my siblings was named Monica, but she died before I was born. My sister named my niece in her memory, but she too passed before her time. I am not sure why I had not looked up the origin of the name until now. Regardless, I found out that St. Monica is the patron saint of married women, who, according to the Google gods, is honored for her Christian virtues. She was remembered in particular for the suffering she endured, caused by her husband's adultery. Lilith on the other hand is a bit of a demon, and according to Jewish tradition was Adam's first wife and the embodiment of the temptations that a man is subject to before- and after- he meets the love of his life. I found this last info on the abarim-piblications.com website in their 'Biblical Name Vault' which was very interesting. Anyway, judging by some of Leonard's favorite subjects to write about, I can see why both of these women would interest him. By the way, the entry in Death of a Lady's Man that at last caused me to look them up is titled 'Traditional Training and Service'.

There was an entry in this book that made me think of another discussion in our forum (Along the Way... Discovering Leonard's Music) where we were talking about the song The Window. We were supposing different meanings of the rose as a symbol in Leonard's lyrics. Here in DOALM, he gives us the answer, or at least one of the answers, when he tells us that the rose symbolizes surrender. However, I have just looked through my copy to find the poem, and now I cannot find it! This cracks me up because I must have at least 30 sticky notes and torn scraps of paper tucked into this interesting book and not one was on the entr I am looking for. Anyway, I bring it up to point out that what B4 quoted earlier here from an interview of Leonard's seems to be true.
B4real post wrote:....“there are the answers to all your questions in this book” and “all the answers are here; it’s all in here.”...
Lastly, regarding the songs and seeds of songs in DOALM, I was happy to see the lines of one my favorites from Recent Songs appear as the last stanza in Everything That Is Unengaged:

and look, dear heart, how the virgin
she takes him into her gown,
and see how the stranger's armour
dissolves like a star falling down


I remember when we were discussing the album, I said that I liked Humbled in Love, but I was told that Leonard never played it live and had said it was an 'embarrasement' to him. I thought then that I could not imagine him being embarrassed since as we all know, he was very picky about what he thought was worthy of recording. The fact that these lines also appear in print in Death of a Lady's Man makes me wonder even more why he said was embarrassed by it.

I know I keep saying I love each of his books, but you will have to take my word for it when I say it yet again... I truly do love this interesting little book.

Now, as for the next one, Book of Mercy. I can't help but feel that it will be a marked change in style and substance, but maybe I am completely wrong. I will find out.

I admit that I am looking forward to 2019 with open arms and I wish anyone who happens to read this a very Happy New Year!

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

Postby vlcoats » Sun Jan 13, 2019 7:24 am

I have finished Book of Mercy. Actually, I finished it several days ago, but I have been mulling over how to approach describing my reaction to this book. I haven't read the reviews and threads on this book on the forum or anywhere else, but I am aware that it is an important book, so of course anything I have to add is a drop in a very large bucket, but still I feel called to comment. But I am not sure how it will be received.

There is a word going around lately that is used to describe a reaction to something that doesn't produce much of a reaction at all. The word is "meh'. I guess this is close to how I feel about Book of Mercy. Nobody could be more surprised or disappointed by this than me. Even Dave was taken back and asked me, "Are you saying that Leonard," and when speaking Leonard's name, Dave put his hand over his heart with fingers spread, (just as someone we met in Montreal did when we told them why were visiting their town) and continued, "Are you saying that your beloved Leonard has left you... wanting?" He was teasing of course, but Dave has witnessed my reaction to Leonard over the past 2 years, and he knew how much I was looking forward to Book of Mercy.

After trying to figure out why I feel like this, I have come up with a couple ideas---- I have never thought of myself as an 'old soul', so maybe here is my proof. Or maybe I am just not worthy of it? Another theory is that maybe there are just not enough cracks in my facade to let the light in. (I tend to be more proud and full of myself than I should be). I don't know the answer.

But there is one thing that I do know..... If there truly is a G*d, it is not by heeding the words of praise and private prayers of others that I will meet him. Not even if they come from our Mr. Cohen, whose words I have come to value over all.

I don't know why religious praise has always left me so cold. By praise, I am not talking about discussions about religion or religious stories and theories. I am not talking about soul searching and discovery. I am not talking about reasoning with him, bargaining with him, and arguing with him. That is the stuff of life and the stuff of great poetry and songs and stories! I am talking about out and out praise, as in "Holy Art Thou, Oh Great and Powerful Oz!" type of praise, the kind of stuff that seems to keep coming from those who have met him. I feel that kind of praise is not only very private but it is unnecessary and even redundant. Do you think he doesn't already know what you are thinking? Do you think you have anything new to say? There is no language needed.

But, I haven't met him yet, so I don't know what I am talking about, do I.

I am not saying that Book of Mercy is without merit, that would be totally ridiculous and untrue. Book I spoke to me the most. In an oversimplified way, I would say that Book I to me is mostly about struggle and searching, while Book II is mostly about acceptance and praise.
Poem 3- I liked this one because of how he described hearing his soul singing, but then when he tried to reach it, it was singing against him. I didn't like the last line, but that just goes to show that I am not getting this book.
Poem 11- I like dogs better than cats, but I ignored that. I identified with, "How can say this gently?" and "Your instructions are wasted here..."
Poem 22- Not for the donkey (that was a bonus), but for the sheer poetry of "He has some pictures in his mind, they're all round and wet, very pressing, and he has his belt, he's going to give her what he wants". I liked the whole thing, but I have to admit, maybe it is the sexual images that I liked the most. I am sure they were not his point probably, but after Beautiful Losers, I was glad to see that part of him was still there, even here in the gilded halls of the Book of Mercy, lol!
Poem 49- This was the only one in Book II that I marked with a scrap of paper.

So.... when it comes to Stranger Song, is it a collection of already released songs and poetry, or does it contain new stuff?

I hope I have not lost my standing in the fan club because of my difficulties with Book of Mercy....

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

Postby mat james » Sun Jan 13, 2019 10:04 am

Why do you care about your "standing"?
Keep doing what you do. Honesty and bravery will get you "there" .
...
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.
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Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Postby B4real » Sun Jan 13, 2019 10:12 am

Vickie, I wouldn’t worry too much about your reaction to this book because Leonard has often said that it’s really only useful to people who find themselves in such a position as he himself did at the time when he wrote it. Everybody has to travel their own path to find answers to the big questions and this book was part of Leonard’s personal trail. Noting that it was written between Recent Songs and Various Positions, some of the songs on those albums could suggest an indication to his thinking concurrent with writing this book which he calls a book of prayer and also “Sunday school”. But he also said quite emphatically that he didn’t wish to be known as a writer of prayers. I’m probably oversimplifying it but I see it as a one off, written in a despairing time of need, then he moved on as best he could. There is an extremely long thread on the forum which I haven’t ever looked at about this book and by its very length would indicate that it’s far from how I’ve quickly described it! Maybe I really should take a peek at it :)

I quoted the first part of psalm 19 as part of my Christmas 2016 design and message in memory of Leonard.
“You let me sing, you lifted me up, you gave my soul a beam to travel on. You folded your distance back into my heart. You drew the tears back to my eyes. You hid me in the mountain of your word.”

Stranger Music is a collection of previous poems but some of them are presented in a different form or added titles to those in the original books, notably from Death of a Lady’s Man and some prose from Beautiful Losers plus there are some previously uncollected (unpublished) poems as well. The book is divided into poems and song lyrics. I think it was meant as a general overall view of LC’s work to date.

....and Mat is so right!
It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to B4real ~ me
Attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy ~ me ...... The magic of art is the truth of its lies ~ me ...... Only left-handers are in their right mind!
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Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Postby vlcoats » Sun Jan 13, 2019 7:39 pm

mat james wrote:Why do you care about your "standing"?
...
Although I was worried some on how my opinion of BOM would be received, my statement about the fan club was made partly in reference to a funny conversation between 4 and Lisa in another thread where Curt was sheepishly admitting that he did not have the actual studio recording of Recent Songs
https://www.leonardcohenforum.com/viewt ... rd#p364906
It is very typical of me to assume everyone would know what I was talking about and would get my tongue in cheek reference.....I told you I was full if myself! :-|

I want to thank you, Matt, for the encouragement to continue on!

Bev, sounds like Stranger Music is well worth my time.

I was also struck by what you called psalm 19. It reminded me of You Got Me Singing, from Popular Problems. By the way, you are right that psalm is better than poem in reference to the entries in Book of Mercy.

Vickie
Edited to fix emoji :roll:
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Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Postby vlcoats » Mon Jul 08, 2019 11:33 pm

Hello again.

After a break to read a couple of guidebooks on Greece and Rome, and a detour (still in progress) to re-read The Emperor Series by Conn Iggulden, I have at last been able to finish reading Stranger Songs, and yes B4, it does seem like a general overall view of Leonard's work so far. It was fun to read the songs again. It took me back to how I would unwrap each of his studio albums for the first time and pause to read the songs as poetry before playing the album for the first time.

As for the poems that were new to me, I have to say that I loved the one called Peace the best. My favorite line is:

"That’s why I’m letting you go
that’s why I’m sitting here in my robes
with my eyes rolled back into my head."


I love surrounding myself with the picture those words draw in my head, although the room feels cold (if that makes sense?)

Next is the Book of Longing. I like this title better than the other "Book of..." so I am wondering if I will feel likewise about the poetry collection.

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

Postby vlcoats » Sat Oct 12, 2019 12:10 am

I have at last finished reading the Book of Longing.

By now, if you read any of this, you have an idea of my tastes, so you might guess that I loved this one, and you would be right. It was different than others. It isn’t that I feel Leonard wasn’t honest in other poetry books, but this one feels more open and personal than the others. From the words, “I was just showing off” on page 5 (One of My Letters) to where “...half the perfect world is found” on page 226 (Half the World), I felt more like I knew him. As if finally he said, “Alright Vickie, you have stuck around this long, so I guess I can really come clean with you now.”

What were some of my favorites?

The Collapse of Zen, pg. 19, where he asks the universe the very fair question of, “Why should I want to be enlightened?” Why indeed Leonard? As if you didn’t know.

Leaving Mt. Baldy, pg. 22. Leonard saying “I finally understand I had no gift for Spiritual Matters,” may seem at first a little like a famous chef who asks another to taste his soup to see if it has too much salt, but I think he meant it, and may even have been right. I don’t think he meant he had no gift at all for Spiritual Matters, I think he meant he wasn’t a messiah or a prophet as others might want him to be. A priest perhaps… ;-)

Some pages just made me laugh and shake my head. Like page 24 (The Luckiest Man in the World), where he talks about how to kill a poisonous mystic with a shoe or a large old vegetable. Good stuff! And another smile at his wry wistfulness on page 39 (Disturbed this Morning) where he said it all with the opening two words, “Ah. That.” Oh Leonard. Really. Funny.

All My News, pg. 42. Maybe it is the sing-song rhyming of this one. It is so attractive that lulls you into not paying enough attention, so you might miss “Do not decode these cries of mine—They are the road and not the sign.” Isn’t that exactly what he kept telling us over and over and over again?

I especially loved A Limited Degree on page 65. It is one of his most perfect poems, if you are looking for something easy to identify with. I mean, who hasn’t felt like that when they have been made to realize their place in the world, or in fact, their lack of one? The line about wearing his hockey uniform from the sixth grade and the self-portrait accompanying it are also perfect.

I had a hard time understanding Why I Love France, pg. 115, but that didn’t stop me from loving it anyway. I feel some of it was true, but what do I know? My favorite line in it is, “O France, where I was taken so seriously, I had to reconsider my position.” It reminded me of Groucho’s old line, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

Something from the Early Seventies, pg. 125 was full of gems like, “I am going to capture your tear without hardly trying, in the vast net of my idle prattle.” And I liked how it ended, “It can be quickly divined I am no friend of the age.”

One of the great things about this book is all of the illustrations of course. I loved We will all be airbrushed pg 128 that said, “people see us naked who are forbidden to see us naked.” How true Leonard!

A perfect example of how a single line can make the whole poem shine for me is in The Best, pg. 141, where he ends with “Fortunately there is no Space for Regret in The Poverty of these Reflections” Whatever it really means I don’t care a bit, but I know I like the sound of it. And once again, I am made to feel that Leonard Cohen just ALMOST makes me understand something very, very important that might give me the key to life, but I can't quite grasp it. All I can do is smell it, or taste it, or hear it, and I will never, ever, ever REALLY understand it. Why does he keep doing that?

What was my favorite poem in the book? Titles on page 159. It became a very personal poem to me when he asked me (and yes, he is asking me personally), “…in what name, in whose name, do you come to idle with me…?"

The words that accompany the self-portrait on page 172 (November 18, 2003)-- “As for the past… children, roshi, songs, Greece, Los Angeles… what was that all about?” sounds like Leonard is speaking from his grave in Montreal even still.

Pardon Me on page 187 was very distinctly Leonard, “Pardon me if I receive the Holy Spirit without telling you about it…. If you do not think I have suffered enough.” Exactly Leonard! I hear you.

The final poem in the book, Half the World on page 226 was simply beautiful. It is a perfect description of what it felt like to be in Hydra.

Back in 2016, when I first heard that Leonard had died, I had not yet listened to any of his music (except maybe a snippet on the radio in the background here and there) and had not read any of his writing. Still, I felt strangely stricken by the horrible thought that I had missed out on something extremely important. I went to the local library, but the only Leonard book they had was the Book of Longing. I checked it out and brought it home. I flipped through it briefly and then it sat on my kitchen table until it was due, and I took it back to the library. I remember after trying to read one or two pages that I was unmoved by the words. They were just words that seemed almost like they were in a foreign language to me. Now, to think that I could have felt that way is amazing to me, embarrassing even! Yet, I am looking at the road that I took to find my way back around to this little book, and I am realizing how it is only by taking this journey that I am able to read the Book of Longing now at all. It has been one hell of a ride! :)

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

Postby B4real » Sat Oct 12, 2019 3:10 am

Hi Vickie,
I enjoyed your personal analysis of BOL and a smile crossed my dial more than once while reading it :)

On a more reflective feeling -
The words that accompany the self-portrait on page 172 (November 18, 2003) -- “As for the past… children, Roshi, songs, Greece, Los Angeles… what was that all about?” sounds like Leonard is speaking from his grave in Montreal even still.
ending with -
page 24 (The Luckiest Man in the World)
You could say that he was indeed speaking from his grave and you heard him say those words at the Memorial Concert in Montreal in 2017. If you haven’t already done so, look and listen here – https://www.leonardcohenforum.com/viewt ... 30#p372500

Just remembering, The Flood, the last poem in this book was sometimes recited during the last World Tour just before singing Anthem as he does here – Thanks to Arlene’s relatives for leaving this video here for us to still enjoy - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHI06H6kczg

btw - I had read all of Leonard’s previous poetry books then first read BOL from the library and before it was due back, I ordered it locally ($25 inc delivery) at the same place I bought The Flame and Lorca’s Poet in New York. Seems on this LC journey, the road can take many a turn, double back or have a direct route ;-)

I have to say that I don’t have a favourite written poem except of course for the one that has been in almost every concert on the last World Tour - A Thousand Kisses Deep, ha! It has had some variance in line and verse over the years. This is the last time I saw Leonard recite it – Thank you Alan, for this wonderful video and the forever memory – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZecgBo9YWlo

I truly love the combo of written and visual lines with this poetry book in the way that it differs from all his previous books by including his drawings which most visually depict his unique sense of humour and style. If the written word makes you draw your own conclusions about its meaning, there is no denying the visual implication of the sketches!
It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to B4real ~ me
Attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy ~ me ...... The magic of art is the truth of its lies ~ me ...... Only left-handers are in their right mind!
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Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Postby vlcoats » Sun Oct 13, 2019 5:23 am

B4,
Thank you so much for all of your thoughts! And your links and special insight. ;-)

You have probably guessed that I haven't read any of the posts regarding the new album yet, but I did follow your link, and yes, I do remember what you are referring to at the concert. I am so grateful to Adam for everything he has shared with us.

I love that although Alan has professed that he does not like listening to spoken poetry (or maybe it was reading poetry he didn't like), he so perfectly loves A Thousand Kisses Deep and has given us that awesome video. You are a conundrum Alan!

Thanks again!
Vickie
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Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Postby B4real » Mon Oct 14, 2019 12:30 am

Oops! Vickie, I thought you might have succumbed and looked at the TFTD thread :oops: :) And I made you take a peak now, ha! I hope I haven’t spoiled your anticipation about the album!

I thought I’d share this following quote by Leonard because we were just above discussing paths and the directions they can take. I was then reminded of what Lisa said about his sketch “Grim Days” in Book of Longing that we recently spoke about in the music thread. I came across his words while I was looking for “The Flood” intro to Anthem. It was when he came back to Australia in 2009 after many years of not touring. He said:

“It’s been a long time since I’ve stood up on a stage; I didn’t think I’d ever get back but life leads the thoughtful man on a path of many wanderings”.

EDIT:
...and in keeping with that wandering theme, I've just remembered this poem/sketch on page 215 that is definitely one of my favourites :D
BOL-The road....jpg
It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to B4real ~ me
Attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy ~ me ...... The magic of art is the truth of its lies ~ me ...... Only left-handers are in their right mind!
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Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Postby AlanM » Mon Oct 14, 2019 2:07 am

vlcoats wrote:
Sun Oct 13, 2019 5:23 am
I love that although Alan has professed that he does not like listening to spoken poetry (or maybe it was reading poetry he didn't like), he so perfectly loves A Thousand Kisses Deep and has given us that awesome video. You are a conundrum Alan!
The brackets have it! (Or should that be the parentheses?)
I need someone to "speak" poetry for me, I rarely "get it" just by reading.
I have a recording of the WB Yeats poem "The Wild Swans At Coole" by the Clancy Brothers (I'm not sure which brother actually recited it) and I love it. On the basis of that I bought a selection of Yeats poetry, but it didn't grab me.
Regarding Book of Longing, I much prefer Leonard talking to me than reading it myself.
Totally the reverse with "spoken books", I tend to drift if I hear a book being read, whereas I can concentrate more thoroughly by reading.
A Thousand Kisses Deep - Yes. I love it, but I can't say how I would feel if I hadn't heard Leonard perform it first, initially the studio version, then the concert versions and eventually the Book of Longing audible version.

Vickie, I have been called much worse that a conundrum in my "shabby life".

Alan
Too much Leonard Cohen is never enough.
London 1972, Adelaide 1980, 1985, 2009
Sydney 2010; Adelaide 2010
Sydney 2013 X2; Melbourne 2013; Adelaide 2013

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