amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Leonard Cohen, notes towards a flash haiku

On the night of November 7, 2016, Leonard Cohen died at his home in LA. That night, coincidentally, I was in Montreal, his home town, to do a reading as part of Vallum Magazine’s Issue 13.2 – The Wild launch at Bar Sans Nom/The Emerald Bar on Av. du Parc. I didn’t hear about his death until I left Montreal. I was off the grid, taking long walks and savouring my time in a city I fell in love with in part because of Leonard Cohen. Earlier on the 7th I had walked past the Parc du Portugal next to where he lived for 40 years and paid tribute in my own way (“As the mist leaves no scar on the dark green hill…)

I have enjoyed his music for many years and his poetry in the last few decades. I appreciated that he existed. I admired his view about the sacredness of language and the rituals he adapted for his creative and spiritual practices, often one and the same thing. And while it isn’t in vogue right now, I admired his reputation as a ladies’ man. I related to it. I have always wanted such a term for myself, but a mens’ lady doesn’t have the same ring to it and anyway, I’m no lady. I also adore Montreal and would live there were I single and young and capable of regularly climbing stairs and mountains on a full stomach of red wine, espresso, garlic laden everything and pastries.

On November 8, I returned home to Ottawa where I heard of the news of his death and later that night the dreadful news of the American election. For the rest of the week, these two stories would follow one another on CBC Radio, which I was listening to for tributes to one of Canada’s greatest and most well known poets and song writers. It was a strange combination of grief, grieving for Canada and those who loved Leonard, while also grieving for our neighbour to the South, to see the death of liberal and compassionate values as a megalomaniacal authoritarian rose to power, or at least to sense that this is the way it was going to be.

On the tv and in social media I saw photos of tributes, candles and cards and flowers heaped up against the door of Leonard’s house in Montreal and in Parc du Portugal. I listened to people singing Hallelujah and waving candles, coming together to  share theirgrief.

Two years later, I still feel the lack of this enormously talented artist and I’m still grieving for the state of a world without Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and many other great musicians and artists. And I link this lack of great and creative spirits to the death of kindness, openness, generosity that I associate with the results of the 2016 election in the USA.

When the opportunity came up to write something for the Blasted Tree’s flash haiku contest the weekend of July 7-8, a haiku about Leonard Cohen was the first thing that came to my mind. It was a Saturday night, I was noodling around on FaceBook, trying to ignore all the bad news of what the Ogre in the House of White is doing, of what Ontario’s own Ogre is going to do and I don’t know, maybe my ITunes shuffle landed on a Leonard Cohen song.
I’m thrilled that it was chosen as the winner of the contest and for publication.

If you’d like a copy of the haiku, please visit to acquire a copy of the haiku as a lovely mini-leaflet or just to read it. I hope he would like it.

Shortly after he died, I was attending the Sawdust Reading Series, the bartender accepted a request to make Red Needles, Leonard Cohen’s favourite drink, which he created: tequila, cranberry juice, ice, and lemon. Many of us had brought in his poems to read during the open mic. It was a good night. If you are an alcohol drinker, please toast with your own Red Needles cocktail (or a mocktail, if not) and know that I’m toasting back.


Amanda Earl said...
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Taliesin said...

My first introduction to Cohen’s work came as the result of unrequited love. A poet who yearned (lusted?) for me presented me with a volume of Leonard’s poetry. I can’t recall if it was “Spice-box of the Earth”, “Flowers for Hitler”, or “Let Us Compare Mythologies “. I suspect now it was the last of these. I was so enamoured by the notion that Canada actually had poets and they actually published books of poetry, it took my head off. What can I say? I was seventeen. While this gift did not seduce me into Roger’s bed, it did compel me to seek out his company. He continued to woo me unsuccessfully and I continued to tease and torment him with my presence, although I remained more-or-less self-consciously naive about the attraction.

Roger was a fascinating man. His mother was a M├ętis woman and his father, an Anglican clergyman, who while never acknowledging his son publicly, did ensure the boy had a decent education, sending him to St. John’s Ravenscourt, an all-boys live-in school. It was the devil’s playground and Rodger was an enthusiastic participant in the party games. He was a Wilde type character, witty and clever, with sharp comments and aphorisms which would have delighted Oscar. He was a poet too, but refused to share his work with anyone. I don’t think he ever did. He was also a nasty drunk and the bite of his tongue could be vicious and poisonous. His remarks were still brilliant, but destructive and cruel, frequently so cutting they reduced others to tears. AIDS took Roger in the early nineties.

Obviously, I have digressed. Leonard Cohen has been a touchstone for fifty years. His melancholy voice has always haunted me, resonating as it both pierced and soothed my spirit. Several years ago, I came to the conclusion that he was aging and I would never get to see him in live performance. Then, his financial misfortunes forced him back onto the road. His poverty was a gift to those of us who adored his work. I suppose, in one sense, this had always been the case. I went to see him in Montreal at Place des Arts. The theatre was full. When the Master walked out on stage the entire audience rose as one to give him a five-minute standing ovation. The love flowing from us to the stage and back from him was palpable. He was home. So were we. The moment was exquisite and I suspect I was not the only ones with tears in my eyes. Thank for your wonderful post and for inspiring my own poor words.