Poet Father. Spirit Walker. Writer Father. Creative Teacher. Guru.
I knew it would happen eventually. He was in his 80s, right. He even announced that he might be ready. Even though he took it back…I still felt the illness of the possibility of losing him. The problem is, I was never able to imagine a world without Leonard Cohen. Today he has left us. Canada has gotten so much smaller…I can hardly see it. Canadiana itself has taken a blow today. Who we are, how we see ourselves. From the Atlantic to the Pacific…we were a Leonard Cohen nation. I don’t know how to do this without him. Who will be our voice? Our teacher? Our Poet? Our Guru?
I have just been flipping through the pages of an old copy of Leonard’s novel THE FAVOURITE GAME. All the highlighted passages have me feeling nostalgic for nostalgia. If I can read them all, take them in once more, I might bring him back to breath.
“The world was being hoaxed by a disciplined melancholy. All the sketches made a virtue of longing. All that was necessary to be loved widely was to publish one’s anxieties. The whole enterprise of art was a calculated display of suffering.” ~ L. Cohen, The Favourite Game
That one stands out quite illuminatingly among the vast sea of highlighted quotes. He is loved for his ability to stab a heart with frank honesty and emotion. He gave us himself in all his struggles, all his worries, all his anxieties.
I told this story before, but I will tell it again…to illustrate the profound effect Leonard Cohen has had on my creative life…
During the 2007 Muskoka Novel Marathon I listened to Cohen’s ANTHEM non-stop. For 48 hours. Looped over and over and over and over again. I wrote my novel SEBASTIAN’S POET in a fugue state…channeling the Canadian icon all the way through the marathon. For those of you who later read SEBASTIAN’S POET, you will know that the only thing that made the main ‘Poet’ character different than Leonard is the character’s name. TEAL LANDEN is Leonard Cohen in every way. It’s blatant and see-through, how much a modeled my character after Leonard. I had always seen Leonard as a father figure…a saviour figure. He is someone who would swoop in and save you. I needed to have his type of character in a story. I wrote the novel because of him.
I was thrilled when Cohen’s manager gave his blessing/permission for me to use the line from ANTHEM that I love so much as an epigraph at the beginning of my novel. THERE IS A CRACK IN EVERYTHING, THAT’S HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN. Using it was a nod to what was to follow it…the theft of a character. I also went one step further and had the line tattooed on my forearm…so I could read it whenever I felt the weight of the world dragging me down. I will be reading it a lot in the coming weeks.
I was blessed to have seen Leonard in concert a couple times. I was humbled to be in one of HIS audiences! It was the most diverse audience I had ever been in. Not only were there ten year olds and eighty year olds, and everyone in between, but it seemed every race was represented, every walk of life represented. There were businessmen and bikers, nerds and rockers, grandmothers and drifters, school girls and hooligans. It felt like a cross-section of the world had gathered together in his name. And it overwhelmed me. There was a man in front of me at one concert who was too big to fit into his chair. He had obviously struggled to get there. And he was uncomfortable and in obvious distress before Leonard came on. Once Leonard took to the stage, the gentleman forgot his worries and woes and he leaned down upon the arms of his chair and he began to listen. And then he was moved to tears to be in the presence of the greatness that was Leonard Cohen. It moved me to see him forgetting his distress and losing himself in the song and the voice he had come to see, at a great expense to his own personal well-being and pride.
Then I continued to look about me. The overweight man was not the only one with tears streaming down his face. I soon realized it was a thing. It was a Leonard-Cohen-Concert-Attendee thing. And in realizing it, I fell victim to it. I wept too. We had ensconced ourselves into the Church of Leonard Cohen. And it was beautiful. It left me wordless, breathless, empowered. It left me CANADIAN.
Poems I have written for Leonard Cohen…
POET (FOR LEONARD COHEN)
He is not yet comfortable
in his sparse new threads,
his Emperor’s clothing
borrowed from a man
no longer in need of illusions.
He is tempted by the romance of ellipses
those awkward little word bridges
like lead-bellied butterflies
on either end of his fractured thoughts.
He dreams of Cohen,
spots him dancing
on dimly lit street corners
spouting bravado to passers-by…music to his hibernating
but only when he’s sailing past Mont-real
through the orange glow
of veiny French highways.
refuses to accompany him
past the tunnel’s luminous threshold.
The crusty St. Lawrence–shrewd river mother–
stands guard over its aged Icons,
especially in the realm of dreams
where such beatific creatures
tend to get lost,
caught up in the fancies of dreaming poets
hurling recklessly throughout the darkened night
© 2007 Kevin Craig
LEONARD COHEN IS IN TORONTO
There’s a monster poet in town,
a laureate linguist, circus clown.
You can hear his heartbeat
in the city’s newfound heat,
the strum of bellows
in his liquid lungs, in flex.
I’ll take communion
within the milky thighs
of his every waking word,
take refuge in the spring
he calls to life
with his fervent golden voice.
There’s a God of light in town,
an ancient thread to beauty gone.
You can see his glow
above the night,
lift your hands into the bright,
and with nothing on your tongue
but a cold and broken hallelujah.
The Farmer’s Wife
(A retelling of an incident in the lives of Leonard Cohen and Irving Layton)
The farmer’s wife,
perhaps with a hint of a smile
on her wind-hardened face,
traces her willowy hands
through the work-stained apron
that covers her solid frame.
She has but one word
for the marauding poets,
stranded by the highway, laughing.
consecutive trips find them wanting…
what with opening the cosmos
with their wakening words,
they drove on in the midnight dark,
not stopping for the needed fuel
that would bring them to their now-forgotten destiny.
Running a hand across her weary brow,
looks to a sky not yet bruised
to the plum of dawn.
“Poets!” she exclaims
with a weariness bred of morning labour.
She walks away from the door,
leaving Layton to lean on its splintery frame,
while Cohen, sitting still in the dew
of his wakening mind, titters,
unable to believe the fortune
of landing, yet again,
on this kind woman’s porch.
Poets traveling onward of a night
can never be trusted
to find their distant shore…
but a beacon in dust,
a work-weary Mother of men,
they will trip upon lightly,
She, a harvest of needful things,
brought forth by the patron saint
resurrected to protect
the flighty of mind,
the absent men of omnipotent vision,
and masters of words un-spun.
Rest In Peace, sweet Prince and King of our Great Nation. You were loved. You were needed. You were appreciated. We will miss your golden voice forever. May you find your rightful place in the Tower of Song. You did well and you did good, Leonard Cohen. I will miss you always.
September 21st, 1934 – November 10th, 2016
a nation grieves
The first poem is haunting and very fitting for today.
Life bleeds words and you captured them in their rawness.
Thank you so much, Dale. ❤
wow what a tribute!! I knew him only by name until his song poured from many mouths Halleluhia…Halleluhia…. I didn’t indulge, but became more familiar. I was glad I did…before he had gone… then I could grieve, just a little, with my country.