Leonard Cohenís Book of Longing
By
J. Gordon
2/16/2008 6:21:05 PM

Aside from being a creative genius in a multitude of artistic disciplines, Leonard Cohen is an old man. And with age comes wisdom. Take for example, this stanza from ďBetter.Ē

better than art
is repulsive art
which demonstrates
better than scripture
the tiny measure
of your improvement


No dummy, this guy. But then, you knew that already.

Twenty years in the making, Book of Longing [Ecco/HarperCollins]was written on southern Californiaís Mount Baldy and in Los Angeles, Montreal and Mumbai. The author of twelve books and seventeen albums of music, this collection of poems follows his highly acclaimed 1984 publication, Book of Mercy. Containing his own wonderful, playful and provocative line drawings, Book of Longing is a celebration of one of contemporary timesí best and truest flesh-and-blood examples of unlimited artistic expression.

Leonard Cohenís poetry is loaded with Bukowskiís truth and simple statements, but without the ugliness. There are tons of love poems, reflections on drinking and God (oops, I mean ďG-dĒóheís Jewish, you know), loneliness, philosophy, aging, friendships, food, sober highs, celebrations of the body and sex, sex, sex. But itís all done with manners--a classiness Bukowski never knew-- a masculine sensitivity thatís never maudlin, and a ripe, heavy, juice-laden life that few words in print have ever had the strength to carry.

There are some moments when Cohen veers into classical meter and rhyme, but he pulls it off with the smart currency of the lyric, and yet somehow, even in the hipness, he can still manage to make the reader tear up:

And fragrant is the thought of you
The file on you complete
Except what we forgot to do
A thousand kisses deep


There is unresolved anger and hurt:

I could not kill
the way you kill
I could not hate
I tried, I failed


and

Fare thee well my nightingale
I lived but to be near you
Though you are singing somewhere still
I can no longer hear you


But mostly, in all its spiritual, physical and emotional forms, there is truth:

This is it
Iím not coming after you
Iím going to lie down for half an hour
This is it
Iím not going down
on your memory
Iím not rubbing my face in it anymore
Iím going to yawn
Iím going to stretch
Iím going to put a knitting needle
up my nose
and poke out my brain
I donít want to love you
for the rest of my life
I want your skin
to fall off my skin
I want my clamp
to release your clamp
I donít want to live
with this tongue hanging out
and another filthy song
in the place
of my baseball bat
This is it
Iím going to sleep now darling
Donít try to stop me
Iím going to sleep
Iíll have a smooth face
and Iím going to drool
Iíll be asleep
whether you love me or not
This is it
The New World Order
of wrinkles and bad breath
Itís not going to be
like it was before
eating you
with my eyes closed
hoping you wonít get up
and go away
Itís going to be something else
Something worse
Something sillier
Something like this
only shorter



And when the reader gets to the last page, they know it can never be it. There is no choice but to turn back to the first page and start again.


O my love
donít you know that we have been killed
and that we died together

 

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