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Debate on Leonard Cohen's poetry (and novels), both published and unpublished.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 » Thu Apr 19, 2018 5:36 am

Well, I just finished reading Flowers for Hitler this afternoon as I sat with our 4 dogs to keep them from barking while Dave took the buyers of our precious little farm on their final walk-through. (I share this personal info not just to give context to my final reading but to explain my previous comments of 'stuff' going on and to make excuses for any sporadic posting in the future.)

My favourite poem from the final pages is the poem Lot on page 119. I especially liked the lines:

"or where does it come from
....this soft total chant that drives my soul
....like a spear of salt into the rock"

My final, preliminary (sorry for the oxymoron) verdict on Flowers is this.... I was surprised by how much I liked it and also frustrated that most of the time, I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. I think the rhythm of the music and the rhyming verse in his songs, as well as the narrative story behind his introductory novel have tricked me into thinking that I have understood what he is saying. But reading free-verse poetry is like tracking treasure through muddy marshes and dead ends, and reaching out for the ring and grabbing air... but I am committed to persevere.

I have been having a small look at some of the other threads here on The Poetry Place, and have been trying to understand the interpretations and explanations. I work as a paraprofessional (fancy word for teacher's aide) in the library of an elementary (primary) school, and when we are helping a student understand a new concept, we over-explain and simplify things in an educational technique known as "scaffolding". I especially appreciate members here on the Poetry Place that are willing to do that for someone like me who is new to Leonard and willing to learn.

I am moving on to either Parasites of Heaven or Beautiful Losers as soon as I figure out which one is next chronologically?

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

Postby vlcoats » Sat Jul 14, 2018 12:40 am

I decided to start with Parasites of Heaven and then move on to Beautiful Losers.

I just finished Parasites of Heaven. Unfortunately it took me longer than expected to complete it, because in the middle of it, we sold our house, moved from Idaho to Oregon and now are about to move again. After renting for just one month, we found a house to buy, but as we are in a little lull between houses or at least a breathing place, I was able to finish reading it.

I don’t know if I can say it is my favorite poetry collection of Leonard’s, because how can I make a statement like that with any true conviction? For one thing, I haven’t read all of his poetry books yet, plus I have learned that making that kind of statement, about his music at least, is like trying to choose between eating and drinking or which shades in a sunset you like the best.

This book’s title led me to expect that it would be full of cynicism and angst, or at least some bitterness. But then, I read somewhere (I think it was on the Goodreads.com site) that it is in Parasites of Heaven that Leonard’s poems “begin to show the forms and arcs that Cohen would develop most fully in his songwriting”. Now, I am not sure what poetry or songwriting ‘arcs’ are, but reading the review in Goodreads made me very excited to read this book.

I can see why they would say that Leonard showed his songwriting skills, since there were so many poems here that later became songs! I liked coming upon them like that, in the middle of all the other poetry and prose… so unassuming and almost normal but with a jolt… like being on vacation far away and suddenly seeing someone from your hometown as you round the corner at the zoo. At first you are almost angry, like, “Hey! I was trying to see something new and different here!” but then you are genuinely glad to see them. It made me the see the songs a little differently to come upon them here, and the poems in the book seemed more special because the songs were there among them.

There were so many things about Parasites of Heaven that I loved. First off, I like the picture of Leonard on the cover. It makes me want to see the whole thing so I can know where he is sitting, and it makes me wonder what he is thinking that makes him hold his head like that, or is it just a pose to let us know he thought long and hard about the poems in this book, dammit! ;-)

The two poems that had the biggest impression on me were found nearly next to each other in the book.

The first was on page 52 and begins, “I was standing on the stairs…” I think I have already mentioned that I love poetry that rhymes. I have always admitted that a bit sheepishly, because it makes me feel like someone who would prefer a nursery rhyme over Shakespeare. But this poem made me realize why it is that I like the rhyming so much. For one thing, the repetition of sound is beautiful to the ear, even though it plays silently in my head. But mainly it is because when it is done in the way that Leonard and other very good poets do it, I have a huge amount of respect for their ability to say something so unusual, so thought provoking, so stunning, AND to have it rhyme as well! I mean, admit it, can’t almost anyone write prose or free verse? To me, it is only when a poet does just as well in rhyme as he/she does without it that I truly feel they’ve got something special there. To be fair though, I guess one could argue for the opposite. Some favorite lines from this one are the two following stanzas:

And maybe I was waiting
but I knew you wouldn’t come,
the night was soft as ashes
that a moth leaves on your thumb.

My birthday travelled through me
like a thread goes through a bead,
when it frayed and parted
I floated like a seed.

I loved how he called the dust that a moth leaves behind ashes, and then used it to describe the night in such a way that you know just what kind of night he is talking about; the kind that isn’t only soft, but still. After the line about the seed, he goes on to talking about dandelions being yellow and then white as they die, and you know how dandelion seeds float in the air after the flower is dead. Copying down these words right now made me realize that actually the whole thing is very cool, so you will just have to read the whole thing yourself.

The second poem is on page 54 and it starts, “Here was the Market…” It did not rhyme, but still I loved it (sorry, I contradict myself sometimes). Maybe one reason it got my attention is that it came so close behind the first poem. I was still floating along from that, and this poem is definitely not one you want to float into. It was a little jarring, too real, as it described a meat market, and not the fun kind where you go to meet a mate. The descriptions of the animal heads with “dull-eyed slaughter-greeting looks” and the chunks of their bodies shaped not by muscle “but by cleaver, knife and appetite” were a bit gruesome, reminding me of the time I stayed to watch my dad butcher a deer not wanting to be “girly” and leave, even though he said I might not like it. He was right, but I couldn’t go could I? Anyway, it isn’t the gruesome parts of this poem that I like, it is the very last line......

“The men who sold and hosed the hanging meat were wet and bloody, painted like meat themselves, they seemed not so much vendors as kapos, prison trustees, favourites of the slaughter house who had been spared for their capacity to work, and they had a hundred sweets to bark at us as we moved in the crowd but not part of the crowd, down the corridor between the dripping walls, the staring fortresses, watching out for the black puddles underfoot, for who knows how deep they went.”

I just love that last bit. How deep indeed!

So now I get to read Beautiful Losers! So excited. I have heard so much about this book and how it was criticized by some and adored by a few. Maybe more than a few, but it seems the criticisms were louder. That is the nature of criticism isn't it? How sad that there were only 2 novels. I loved The Favourite Game so much. I know Beautiful Losers is nothing like that one, but still...

After that, will be more poetry, and I have a question... does the book "Selected Poems" contain a new collection of poetry or just as the name implies, selections from previous books? If it is the latter, I will move on to The Energy of Slaves.

Thanks for listening and thanks for your thoughts.

Vickie

edited for typos... hope I didn't miss too many more
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Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Postby B4real » Sun Jul 15, 2018 3:12 am

Hi Vickie,

I totally enjoyed what you had to say and your discoveries here :D

I thought I would add this as a further reference and happenings with "Standing On The Stairs".
https://www.leonardcohenforum.com/viewt ... rs#p343385

Anjani Thomas says that this is a World debut for the song to be on her new album "I Came To Love".
https://www.leonardcohenforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=33456

If you listen to the video you will find there are some different verses and alternate words with her and Leonard's collaboration. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhrXSSOHQEs

Sung at the same venue and another song on her album is "Song To Make Me Still" - LC's poem from Spice-Box of Earth which I know you have read :) and Standing On The Stairs again - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEIkjKgrYsQ

There are still more songs to be discovered in this section ;-) and I hope everything goes well with your new move!
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 smokeylives » Sun Jul 15, 2018 11:38 pm

Wow, where'd you manage to find all his works at? Maybe it's just my location, but I find it difficult to find books he's written. :( It's nice to read your posts -- it makes me want to work all the harder to find them myself.
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Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Postby vlcoats » Mon Jul 16, 2018 4:56 am

So nice to hear from you B4! I love that we have better internet, so I can finally listen to and watch the videos that you share!

It is easy to see how Leonard would be drawn to Anjani's interpretation of his poetry into song! I haven't listened to her much yet, mostly because of the internet issues before, but now that I have, she reminds me very much of Sade, an artist Dave likes a lot (along with the Beasty Boys, Steely Dan, Rob Zombie, Frank Sinatra, and the Reverend Horton Heat, LOL!). Sade has never been a favorite with me, but as I have mentioned before... Leonard has led me down paths that I am not sure I would have found otherwise.

I did prefer Leonard's lyrics of "My birthday traveled through me..." over Anjani's lyrics of "Beauty traveled through me..." (forgive me if I didn't get that one exactly right, because the volume was low on the video). The reason I prefer birthday instead of beauty is because the word birthday speaks to one of the milestones of one's life, like death, and it matches with the lines about the dandelions being yellow and then white. Anyone with dandelions in their yard knows how quickly they appear fully grown and yellow and then just as quickly (the next day it seems) are white and the seeds are floating and gone. That just sounds more like Leonard.

B4real wrote: There are still more songs to be discovered in this section
Yay!

Oh, one question regarding the pronunciation of Anjani's name. Dave said the 'j' is maybe silent. (His family has connections in Hawaii, and his sister still lives there). Do you know?

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

Postby vlcoats » Mon Jul 16, 2018 5:10 am

Hi Smokeylives!
smokeylives wrote:Wow, where'd you manage to find all his works at?
Where there is a will, there is a way, or so they say. Not sure where your location is, but I have gotten the harder to find ones on Abebooks.com (Sshhhhhhh!) I haven't come up empty as yet, but I am not done either.
Thanks for taking time to comment.
Vickie
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Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Postby mat james » Mon Jul 16, 2018 10:03 am

the night was soft as ashes
that a moth leaves on your thumb.
...love it..., thanks for the highlight, V.

A week or so ago I finished a book on "The origins and history of consciousness" by Erich Neumann (perhaps Jung's most gifted acolyte) . Great book though very heavy...it basically explains and sums up Jung's work.
...anyway...2 days later I had a beautiful dream of a charcoal-black-grey huge moth!...it flew in from behind and rested on the pillar I was standing by and lightly touching. I interpreted that it was my unconscious; my "constellated archetypes" saying hello to my conscious mind: very relevant to the book I just read and some sort of collective acknowledgement of my fruitful efforts, I suppose. My dreams are often doing things like that; creating symbols of meaning and understanding...
..and your choice of lines, of course, took me back to that "moth" and the dream, and now onto Leonard. Thanks for the connections. :)

By the way, I wouldn't be surprised if Leonard had read Neumann's book also...he would have loved it!

MatbellybuttongazerJ
"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 vlcoats » Mon Jul 16, 2018 6:08 pm

Thank you Mat!

This talk about moths reminds me how when I first heard Take This Waltz, I thought the lyrics said "And I'll bury my soul in a scrapbook, with the photographs there, and the MOTHS". I remember B4 commenting that others had thought the same. I still find myself singing "moths" inside my head by accident sometimes when I hear that song. It just seems to fit, and it sounds like something Leonard would say.

I don't know a thing about Jung to be honest, but I have read in various places that Leonard was fairly into him. I never thought of myself as interested in psychology much, but maybe I am more interested in it than the average bear, and maybe I will learn more about it as I go along. Just not sure if I want to be weighed down by anything too 'heavy'. It's kind of like the conversation some of us had in the other thread when we were talking about the danger of trying to over analyze Leonard's songs, and that it was like "cutting open the blackbird's throat to see what makes it sing". Psychology feels a bit to me like cutting open our brains to see what makes us think. However, since Leonard was into Jung, I think you might be right, that he may have read the Neumann book himself.

I wish I could interpret my dreams as well as you do yours. Maybe the symbolism in mine is hidden in straight forward ordinary-seeming situations about driving or working or not being where I am supposed to be. Well somewhat ordinary, I do tend to fly about from time to time, lol.

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

Postby B4real » Wed Jul 18, 2018 12:41 am

vlcoats wrote:
Mon Jul 16, 2018 4:56 am
Oh, one question regarding the pronunciation of Anjani's name. Dave said the 'j' is maybe silent. (His family has connections in Hawaii, and his sister still lives there). Do you know?
I guess all names vary with different accents :) the presenter at the start of this interview - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=570gL46ZmeI
and Leonard just after that at the beginning of the same interview - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2pFG9WoxfU
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 LisaLCFan » Wed Jul 18, 2018 8:07 pm

B4real wrote:
Wed Jul 18, 2018 12:41 am
I guess all names vary with different accents :) the presenter at the start of this interview - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=570gL46ZmeI
and Leonard just after that at the beginning of the same interview - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2pFG9WoxfU

Yes, "vary", as in, some people get it wrong. Personally, I would opt for "LAY-oh-nard"'s pronunciation of Anjani's name, since he ought to know the correct way to say it. ;-)
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Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Postby B4real » Fri Jul 20, 2018 12:23 am

Yes Lisa, a safe bet we would think, as he had many years of saying her name.... albeit it with a Canadian accent ;-)
And speaking of pronunciation, I've always had an affinity for the way Europeans say "LAY-oh-nard"'s name and I sometimes hear the written "Leonard" spoken phonetically as "Lee-on-ard" :)
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 mat james » Fri Jul 20, 2018 5:35 am

Hi V,
It's kind of like the conversation some of us had in the other thread when we were talking about the danger of trying to over analyze Leonard's songs, and that it was like "cutting open the blackbird's throat to see what makes it sing". Psychology feels a bit to me like cutting open our brains to see what makes us think.
Ha!!! That is so true....and of course I am very guilty of this 'throat cutting'. Perhaps it was me they were referring to as I am as guilty as any on this forum of that form of butchery! ;-)

But back to your thoughts... :) 8)

Mat.
"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 vlcoats » Sat Jul 21, 2018 5:15 pm

Thank you B4 for the links. The way Leonard pronounces Anjani's name makes perfect sense now that I have heard it.

And Matt, we are all guilty of a little bird slashing if you ask me, lol. I think it takes a certain kind of saint to accept things without wondering about all the how, what, where, and mostly why of it all.

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

Postby vlcoats » Tue Jul 24, 2018 9:07 pm

So. Beautiful Losers….

I am only about 1/3 way through this book, and so much has been said about it that I am almost afraid to comment. I will dive in anyway though.

If you have read it, and even if you haven’t, you know or have heard how depraved, dirty, and just plain nasty it can be, so I won’t go on and on about that. It can also be beautiful. For the most part, it has been rambling and downright crazy in parts… but also profound and truthful. And fun to read and just plain funny in parts too. It is written in such an unusual way that I immediately thought “Tom Robbins!”, because I have read Another Roadside Attraction, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Still Life with Woodpecker and Jitterbug Perfume (this last book one had such an impact on me that I never did read another Tom Robbins book and actually did not read anything at all for quite a while). Little did I know that Tom Robbins was copying Leonard!!! Or at least it seems to me that he was. The style of writing in several sections (chapters?) of Beautiful Losers is the same.

Back to the story… or at least I think it is a story. It is hard to tell sometimes. I have always had a difficult time reading books that jump back and forth chronologically too much or back and forth between plot lines. I never could understand how people can successfully read two books at the same time and enjoy them. So that aspect of this book is a little annoying to me... but it is Leonard. Besides, he was obviously under the influence of psychedelics during the writing process. I have a theory about that by the way…. I think that Leonard wanted so badly to express what was inside and wanted so badly to be honest, that he used drugs (as have many) to try to help him do that. But what he was trying to do is impossible in my mind. The things he wanted to describe were those big somethings for which there are no words, no matter how many drugs you take in your quest to find them. Take Death for example… Leonard himself says (#36) “O Death, why do you do so much acting and so little talking?” All of those big somethings like Death are like that; they are just there. You can't talk about them and expect to describe them with mere words. However, the very fact that Leonard wrote that sentence about Death shows that he did come so very close to doing that. In fact, to me, grazing the impossible is what he has done in all of his writings, songs, poetry, novels… all of them. He has come so very, very close to describing the indescribable.

What are some of my favorite parts so far? There is #12 (one of the longest chapters so far), after Edith dies, and he is talking all night to F about his indiscretions with her. I love the whole discourse between them, especially the parts where he says “I think you have ruined my life, F. For years I've been telling secrets to an enemy.” And “You’re insane. I’ve told my secrets to an insane person”. Who hasn’t been there before? To feel betrayed by someone but also to instantly forgive them? And just the way he describes how the main character talks to F. and the way he thinks in general makes me smile. Another favorite is #33 when the narrator goes into all of the different manifestations of religious medals based on the situation they are found in and who is wearing them and calls on them all to be with him as he witnesses the ordeal of Catherine Tekakwitha. It was just great fun to read.

So far, reading Beautiful Losers has me wondering all kinds of random things. Like- How much of it is true regarding the history of the French and the Native Americans in Quebec? And- The main character wants to go on a fast as if it will fix things in him that have him very upset... did Leonard fast with the same purpose in mind? And- What is the name of the main character anyway? Have I missed that somehow? And- What Is The Point Of All The Seemingly Indiscriminate Sentences Jumbled Together Without Any Cohesive Train Of Thought And Written With Each Word Capitalized? Is It To Make Us Pay More Attention To What Is Being Said, Or Less Attention? Or Is It Just Brain Candy Offered Up To Us By Mr. Cohen? And- What did he mean by (#36) “To discover the truth in anything that is alien, first dispense with the indispensable in your own vision.”? And- Did he really need to give some of the details that he did? :shock: LOL. I don’t think he was trying to shock or just be different, but maybe he was. He was young when he wrote this book, and G-d forbid any of us should be judged solely by just a few of the things we have said or done in our own youth.

I read somewhere that some of Leonard's fans, especially those that prefer their vision of him when he was older and some of the rough edges were off, have been surprised by some of his earlier writings. It is as if the person who wrote "those" things could not be the same person as the cute little guy with the "golden" voice and the hat that they love. But it is the same person! And if you ask me, I like him when the fuzz was still on the peach and the rough edges were still there. I like hearing about some of the things that made him human, because I know how easy it would be for me to deify him otherwise.

Back to the story, I am curious if there will be a resolution to any of the plot lines (if they can be even called that) or if they are just linear glimpses with no real beginnings and no real ends. I am still in Book One, so maybe the plot lines will become clearer as I go. Or maybe they will become more jumbled up, lol. But like a bucking horse (or a donkey), I have to get back on.

Wish me luck….

Vickie

PS- Sorry for my lack of education.... I was out mowing my lawn and suddenly realized the word I was searching for was deify not dietize.... so I fixed it. Being self-educated is often humbling like that. ;-)
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Re: Along the way... Discovering Leonard's poetry and novels

Postby mat james » Wed Jul 25, 2018 12:58 am

"...grazing the impossible..."
:)
What a great phrase/description of our attempts to understand those "big questions".
I am savouring you efforts V.
Thanks.
MatbbgJ...fellow "grazer of the impossible" :)
"Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart." San Juan de la Cruz.

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