Saturday, February 11, 2012

Readings: A Portrait of the Poet as an Old Man

Considering that I have absolutely revered the man since he came onto the scene back when I was in college, I have written very little about Leonard Cohen on this blog. He ranks near, or at the top, of my personal patheon of  'sixties-era singer-songwriters. His only competition would come from Dylan, Paul Simon, and Joni Mitchell. Honorable mention goes to Neil Young and Van Morrison. But, no--Cohen is king. There have been several pop stars who have published books of poetry. But I think that Leonard Cohen may be the only one who was a published poet (and novelist) prior to becoming famous in show biz.

For my recent birthday, my daughters gave me a gift certificate to the bookstore that one of them works in. And my father gave me a bit of money. I used some of the money to buy Leonard Cohen's new CD. I used part of the gift certificate to buy his 2006 book of poetry and drawings, Book of Longing. I have been reading in that book this evening.

The birthday was my 65th. Some kind of milestone, I guess. The birthday following which one can no longer deny being old. That being the case, the poem from Cohen's book that I will be sharing below definitely resonates with me tonight. As usual, he says it perfectly. He speaks for "Sixties Survivors" everywhere, I think, in the poem,


I am too old
to learn the names
of the new killers
This one here
looks tired and attractive
devoted, professorial
He looks a lot like me
when I was teaching
a radical form of Buddhism
to the hopelessly insane
In the name of the old
high magic
he commands
families to be burned alive
and children mutilated
He probably knows
a song or two that I wrote
All of them
all the bloody hand bathers
and the chewers of entrails
and the scalp peelers
they all danced
to the music of the Beatles
they worshipped Bob Dylan
Dear friends
there are very few of us left
trembling all the time
hidden among the blood -
stunned fanatics
as we witness to each other
the old atrocity
the old obsolete atrocity
that has driven out
the heart's warm appetite
and humbled evolution
and made a puke of prayer

In case you were wondering, that's exactly how some of us feel when we observe those who are left in power as we Boomers drop off the tree, over ripe; an invitation to bugs, scavaging birds and little furry rodents.