At 32, Leonard Cohen was an established poet and novelist before deciding that songwriting might pay better. At McGill University, his friends were fellow poets. “Each time we met, we felt that it was a landmark in the history of thinking, let alone poetry.”
The Poet-turned-Pop Star published his first volume of poetry at 22, and later won a scholarship to travel around Europe. He says that poetry comes from a place that no one commands, that no one conquers.
Leonard Cohen is a living legend. That status was sealed when the Canadian singer/songwriter/poet was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.
His evil eye stares down hypocrisy and society’s ills. The serious, bass voice adds even more gravity. Wearing a graveyard grin, Cohen merrily skips across genres, just as he does onto and off of the stage. Some of his material is years old, and yet still arrests the modern age with pinpoint accuracy.
In 1992 he released Democracy, a song unlike anything else in his oeuvre or the pop canon ~ a satirical march, highly politicised but not party-political. It was later used by Ralph Nader in his presidential campaign, and sung by Don Henley at the MTV Ball during Bill Clinton’s inauguration. The song came out after the LA riots of April 1992, but was recorded before them. In an interview, Cohen says that some people suggested it was prophetic~ It’s hard to wear that mantle. But when you’re writing, your antennae go up, and you’re sensitive to nuances in the air.
Cohen is straightforward in both his criticisms of and support for the USA.
Take his song, Democracy, that came out years before Zuccotti Park hit the headlines. Idealistic. Realistic. Full of hope. Aching with sadness. And very now.
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It’s coming from the feel
that this ain’t exactly real,
or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
It’s coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don’t pretend to understand at all.
It’s coming from the silence
on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered
heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.It’s coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin’
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.It’s coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It’s here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.
It’s here the family’s broken
and it’s here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.It’s coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we’ll be making love again.
We’ll be going down so deep
the river’s going to weep,
and the mountain’s going to shout Amen!
It’s coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.Sail on, sail on …I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene.
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
Cohen says if knew where the good songs came from he’d go there more often. In November, Robert Lee Brewer is sending poets in search of words, to that elusive place Cohen goes. The goal ~ to write a poem a day in the hopes of getting a 10-20 page chapbook together.…
The November Poem-a-Day (PAD) Challenge increases in popularity each year. Many PAD participants place their poems with various publications and even publish whole collections. The challenge sparks an interest in poetry and, even better, brings poets back to their poem-ing ways.
If anyone wants to tweet poetic on Twitter, there are a few different hashtags for poets. On Tuesdays, you can use #poettues. Throughout the week, poets use #poettalk to share links, poems and poetic quips. @32poems hosts a #poetparty every Sunday evening from 9-10 p.m. ET. And, #novpad is the hashtag of choice for poets who are pushing through the November PAD Chapbook Challenge.
So go where the poems are. Live Leonard’s words. Hold up your own little wild bouquet.