Talking to Leonard, the Poet

leonard_cohen_2107Lament is a strange thing and not being prone to it, it took me some time to decide that I want to tell you the story of how I spend numerous years talking to Leonard, the poet. You might have seen him with his modest demeanour, clad in black and always ready to greet the audience with a radiant smile. You might have also had the chance to hear his husky voice howling about topics ranging from faith and love, all the way to sexuality. And it is not by mere chance that I use the word ‘howl’ because that is how I experience the exchange between his words and my consciousness. His poetry speaks volumes to me and there is no need to stress that he is a master of both the written and the spoken word. I would also like to point out that there is no need to talk about Cohen in the past tense because his legacy will never be left in the times gone by. The man possesses the rare capacity to paint immortal landscapes and portraits with words and have his readers aware of the gentle sound of the guitar hidden behind syllables.

If the stars were all unpinned
And a cold and bitter wind
Swallowed up the world without a trace
Ah, well that’s where I would be
What my life would seem to me
If I couldn’t lift the veil and see your face
And if no leaves were on the tree
And no water in the sea
And the break of day had nothing to reveal
That’s how broken I would be
What my life would seem to me
If I didn’t have your love to make it real

Read a review of Cohen’s coming-of-age novel The Favourite Game

Reading poetry is always a way of having a conversation with the poet. What Leonard has told me on many occasions, when I would delve into his oeuvre, is that one should never stumble in the dark. Darkness has a way of surrounding you with its mean claws determined to swallow the light and leave you in a place of sadness. However, desire is there to help you burn bright and find a way out of the gloom. Melancholy is a different thing, at least that’s what Cohen has shared with me. Being melancholic does not mean being weak, it means finding a way of coping with life in times of hurt and pain. What more should you say to make someone understand that his strength lies in the melancholy within, which he carries with utmost bravery.

I can’t run no more 
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
a thundercloud
and they’re going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.

Having a way with words is both a blessing and a curse. It makes you one of those who read into everything and never stop seeking layers of meanings. Poets and readers spend hours talking about emotions, discussing lines and lines of words trying to light a desire in the flickering light or kill the burning of one’s heart. Both are gruesome, yet wonderful things. In times when everything hurts and blindness and rage grab you, I recommend reading poems. I cannot lie. I’ll tell you honestly that the burden will not be lighter. It’s actually going to hurt even more, to burn and claw at your heart. Your mind will rage and you will be at a loss for words. Nights will be long, lonesome and dark, but when you reach the end of that final poem in a book of poetry you’ll realize that you never felt so alive in your life.

I lit a thin green candle, to make you jealous of me. 
But the room just filled up with mosquitoes, 
they heard that my body was free. 
Then I took the dust of a long sleepless night 
and I put it in your little shoe. 
And then I confess that I tortured the dress 
that you wore for the world to look through. 
I showed my heart to the doctor: he said I just have to quit. 

Cohen has also told me once that sometimes you have to lose some things in order to find others, but never to give up seeking beauty. I remember laughing at him thinking that he’s just making it all up so as to sound all smart and wise. I nodded but looked away completely bitter and disheartened. Then time passed and he kept repeating and banging about the same thing – beauty is the key! Days and nights passed but time stood still. His words rang like bells, syllables burned into skin and bones, scratching with their claws all over my body. I endured in my bitterness and ignorance, yet he did not give up talking to me.

Your letters they all say that you’re beside me now.
Then why do I feel alone?
I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web
is fastening my ankle to a stone.

Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

For now I need your hidden love.
I’m cold as a new razor blade.
You left when I told you I was curious,
I never said that I was brave.

One day something strange happened. I started talking to his poetry and novels again and found out that he never left my side. He kept saying that beauty is omnipresent and that it will come to those who seek for it bravely. Sometimes all you need is that one person whose words never leave you alone until you start healing and preparing to negotiate with sadness and emptiness. Leonard, the poet, is my man and has never let me down.

What did she look like that important second? She stands in my mind alone, unconnected to the petty narrative. The colour of the skin was startling, like the white of a young branch when the green is thumbnailed away. Nipples the colour of bare lips. Wet hair a battalion of glistening spears laid on her shoulders. She was made of flesh and eyelashes.

In November 2016 Cohen might have left the table, but he will never be out of the game.


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Sanja Gligorić

Sanja Gligorić

Sanja Gligorić studied English Language, Literature and Culture at the Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade. She enjoys reading, writing and translating.
Sanja Gligorić