Leonard Cohen, Poet

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Today is the birthday of Leonard Cohen.

You may know Leonard Cohen as the cantankerous folk-singer from Canada who wrote “Suzanne” and “So Long, Marianne.”  However, Cohen was a poet and novelist years before his recording career began.  His career in poetry has spanned fifty years, from the release of his first book, Let Us Compare Mythologies, in 1956, to the release of his latest, Book of Longing, in 2006.  He also wrote two novels, The Favorite Game, in 1963, and Beautiful Losers, in 1966.
I must admit that my knowledge of his non-musical work amounts to a single poem, “A Kite is a Victim,” but it is a good one.  
A Kite is a Victim 

Leonard Cohen 

A kite is a victim you are sure of. 
You love it because it pulls 
gentle enough to call you master, 
strong enough to call you fool; 
because it lives 
like a desperate trained falcon 
in the high sweet air, 
and you can always haul it down 
to tame it in your drawer. 

A kite is a fish you have already caught 
in a pool where no fish come, 
so you play him carefully and long, 
and hope he won’t give up, 
or the wind die down. 

A kite is the last poem you’ve written, 
so you give it to the wind, 
but you don’t let it go 
until someone finds you 
something else to do. 

A kite is a contract of glory 
that must be made with the sun, 
so you make friends with the field 
the river and the wind, 
then you pray the whole cold night before, 
under the travelling cordless moon, 
to make you worthy and lyric and pure. 

Here is a very groovy animated version of the poem that I found on youtube.


An interesting note about this difficult-to-find poem:  I ran across it some time during my younger years, and was so taken aback that I never forgot it.  Looking for it years later, the only line I could remember from it was “A kite is a promise you make with the sky,” a line that does not appear in this poem at all.  So where did it come from?

Well, we’re here talking about Leonard Cohen, so I would be remiss not to include my favorite Leonard Cohen songs.  Here they are!

1. “Suzanne”
There may be songs more beautiful than “Suzanne,” but not many.

2. “Who By Fire”
A song about 24 deaths that does not include the words “death,” “die,” or “kill.”

3. “Everybody Knows”
I heard this song for the first time when I first saw Pump Up The Volume, circa 1992.  I wouldn’t be who I am now without either of them.  Plus, it has a balalaika solo!

(Also born on this date, my son.  Happy birthday, buddy.)

Sources Cited:

Ravvin, Norman. “Leonard Cohen.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 17 Sep. 2011.

“Leonard Cohen.” The Complete Marquis Who’s Who. Marquis Who’s Who, 2010.Gale Biography In Context. Web. 17 Sep. 2011.


2 thoughts on “Leonard Cohen, Poet

  1. Both very cool people to share a birthday with. I didn't know about the novels. I'll have to look for them. I can't see the Youtube videos at work, so I don't know if they're from the recent London Concert ablum, but be sure to check that one out. It gets a lot of play in my car.

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