Monday, November 14, 2016

Arlene Corwin writes

This Fame Stuff

Cohen, Leonard, poet honored, songs esteemed,
Cohen, Leonard globally acclaimed,
The novelist and concert artist

Corwin, Arlene, poet, singer,
Pianist and cook unsung.
An unknown tongue but here,

Born one-nine-three-four both,
Paths crossing 1964,
Neighbors, Hydra, Marianne,
Gone both.
Its feeling myth.

Fame unasked.
What is it for? 
What was it for?

While skill and art endure long after,
Years and organs blur then fade,
Coming to an end, betrayed
By nature, having run their course for good.

Fame must be a good for some one/one
We’ll never meet.  One greets
The thought with sorrow
That one can’t be here tomorrow.
 deeply familiar

 Deeply Familiar -- Leonard Cohen


  1. Leonard Cohen died on 7 November 2016 in his home in Los Angeles; cancer was a contributing cause. His death was not announced until November 10, the same day the Congregation Shaar Hashomayim conducted his funeral in Montreal, and he was laid to rest with a Jewish rite in a family plot. He was born on 21 September 1934 in Westmount, Quebec, an English-speaking area of Montreal; his Hebrew name was Eliezer ("God is my help"). His mother, of Lithuanian ancestry, was the daughter of noted Talmudic scholar Solomon Klonitsky-Kline. His paternal grandfather, whose family had emigrated to Canada from Poland, was Lyon Cohen, founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. His father, Nathan, who owned a substantial clothing store, died when Cohen was nine years old. The family observed Orthodox Judaism and were members of the largest traditional synagogue in the country and the oldest traditional Ashkenazi synagogue there (incorporated 1846); the present structure began construction in 1922, its cornerstone laid by president Lyon Cohen. "I was destined to be a brain surgeon or a forest ranger or even just to go into the family clothing business." He attended Roslyn Elementary School and Herzliah High School, where his future literary mentor Irving Layton taught. But when he was 15 he wandered into a used bookstore and serendipitously opened a random book and "read the lines 'I want to pass through the arches of Elvira, to see your thighs and begin weeping.' I turned to the cover of the book, it was written by a Spanish poet by the name of Frederico Garcia Lorca.... I thought 'This is where I want to be'...That line burned itself into my heart and i've written it over and over again in a hundred songs. I read alone 'Green I want you green' I turned another page 'The morning through fistfulls of ants in your face' I turned another page 'Her thighs slipped away like school of silver minnows.'" He later named his daughter Lorca and translated the spirit of one of his poems into a song. 'The translation took 150 hours, just to get it into English that resembled - I would never presume to say duplicated - the greatness of Lorca's poem. It was a long, drawn-out affair, and the only reason I would even attempt it is my love for Lorca."

  2. This is Lorca's "Little Viennese Waltz," written in 1929/30 while he has a student at Columbia University School of General Studies in New York:
    In Vienna there are ten little girls
    a shoulder for death to cry on
    and a forest of dried pigeons.
    There is a fragment of tomorrow
    in the museum of winter frost.
    There is a thousand-windowed dance hall.

    Ay, ay, ay, ay!
    Take this close-mouthed waltz.

    Little waltz, little waltz, little waltz,
    of itself, of death, and of brandy
    that dips its tail in the sea.

    I love you, I love you, I love you,
    with the armchair and the book of death
    down the melancholy hallway,
    in the iris's dark garret,
    in our bed that was once the moon's bed,
    and in that dance the turtle dreamed of.

    Ay, ay, ay, ay!
    Take this broken-waisted waltz
    In Vienna there are four mirrors
    in which your mouth and the echoes play.
    There is a death for piano
    that paints the little boys blue.
    There are beggars on the roof.
    There are fresh garlands of tears.

    Aye, ay, ay, ay!
    Take this waltz that dies in my arms.
    Because I love you, I love you, my love,
    in the attic where children play,
    dreaming ancient lights of Hungary
    through the noise, the balmy afternoon,
    seeing sheep and irises of snow
    through the dark silence of your forehead.

    Ay, ay, ay ay!
    Take this "I will always love you" waltz.
    In Vienna I will dance with you
    in a costume with a river's head.
    See how the hyacinths line my banks!
    I will leave my mouth between your legs,
    my soul in photographs and lilies,
    and in the dark wake of your footsteps,
    my love, my love, I will have to leave
    violin and grave, the waltzing ribbons.

    And here's Cohen's "Take This Waltz" --not really a translation at all but a Cohenesque homage.

    Now in Vienna there's ten pretty women
    There's a shoulder where Death comes to cry
    There's a lobby with nine hundred windows
    There's a tree where the doves go to die
    There's a piece that was torn from the morning
    And it hangs in the Gallery of Frost
    Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay
    Take this waltz, take this waltz
    Take this waltz with the clamp on its jaws
    Oh I want you, I want you, I want you
    On a chair with a dead magazine
    In the cave at the tip of the lily
    In some hallways where love's never been
    On a bed where the moon has been sweating
    In a cry filled with footsteps and sand
    Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay
    Take this waltz, take this waltz
    Take its broken waist in your hand

    This waltz, this waltz, this waltz, this waltz
    With its very own breath of brandy and Death
    Dragging its tail in the sea

    There's a concert hall in Vienna
    Where your mouth had a thousand reviews
    There's a bar where the boys have stopped talking
    They've been sentenced to death by the blues
    Ah, but who is it climbs to your picture
    With a garland of freshly cut tears?
    Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay
    Take this waltz, take this waltz
    Take this waltz it's been dying for years

    There's an attic where children are playing
    Where I've got to lie down with you soon
    In a dream of Hungarian lanterns
    In the mist of some sweet afternoon
    And I'll see what you've chained to your sorrow
    All your sheep and your lilies of snow
    Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay
    Take this waltz, take this waltz
    With its "I'll never forget you, you know!"

    This waltz, this waltz, this waltz, this waltz ...

    And I'll dance with you in Vienna
    I'll be wearing a river's disguise
    The hyacinth wild on my shoulder,
    My mouth on the dew of your thighs
    And I'll bury my soul in a scrapbook,
    With the photographs there, and the moss
    And I'll yield to the flood of your beauty
    My cheap violin and my cross
    And you'll carry me down on your dancing
    To the pools that you lift on your wrist
    Oh my love, Oh my love
    Take this waltz, take this waltz
    It's yours now. It's all that there is

  3. In 1951 Cohen enrolled at McGill University and resumed his relationship with Layton as well as other poet/professors such as Louis Dudek, who were on the editorial board of the magazine CIV/n, which published Cohen's first poems in March 1954. Dudek published Cohen's first book, "Let Us Compare Mythologies" as the first volume in the McGill Poetry Series the year after his graduation, mainly containing poems he had written between 15 and 20. Cohen spent a year sudying law at McGill and then another (1956-57) at Lorca's old School of General Studies at Columbia University. After working a number of odd jobs in Montreal and living on a small trust income from his father, he published "The Spice-Box of Earth" (1961). After buying an inexpensive house on Hydra, a Greek island in the Saronic Gulf, he published "Flowers for Hitler" (1964), and the novels "The Favourite Game" (1963) and "Beautiful Losers" (1966), which attracted attention (but few sales) due to its many sexually graphic passages . He also published a new volume of poems, "Parasites of Heaven." It was on Hydra in 1960 that he met his most enduring muse, Marianne Ihlen, after her husband, poet/novelist Axel Jensen, had a liaison with Cohen's girlfriend and then ran off with another woman. Many years later, in late July 2016, as she was dying from leukemia, Cohen wrote her, "Well Marianne it's come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I've always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road."

  4. Financial pressure pushed him into becoming a singer/songwriter in 1967; at 33 he was already over the hill in terms of the 1960s ethos "Don't TRust Anyone Over 30" as coined by campus radical Jack Weinberg in 1964). When he met Judy Collins (who covered many of his songs with a good deal of financial success) he told her he couldn't sing or play the guitar, and he doubted that "Suzanne" was even a song; but the he played it for her, and she persuaded him to perform for a big fundraiser she was doing. Midway through his nerves gave out and he walked offsgtage, but agreed to return (with Judy) and finish the song. After performing at a few folk festivals (thiugh he didn't begin touring until 19790, and sporadically after that) John Hammond signed him to he came to Columbia Records. Recording and performing then took up more of his time than publishing poetry; it was not until 1978 that he published "Death of a Lady's Man" and not until 1984 that he published "Book of Mercy" and not until 1993 did he publish "Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs" with new poetry from the late 1980s and early 1990s and a major revision of "Death of a Lady's Man" and not until 2006 that he published "Book of Longing." But he hardly a prolific songwriter, either; his first album, "Songs of Leonard Cohen" (1967) was followed by "Songs from a Room" (1969)," Songs of Love and Hate" (1971), "Live Songs" (1973), "New Skin for the Old Ceremony" (1974) and "Death of a Ladies' Man" (1977) [co-written and produced by Phil Spector], "Recent Songs" (1979), "Various Positions" (1984), "I'm Your Man" (1988), "The Future" (1992), "Ten New Songs" (2001), "Dear Heather" (2004), "Old Ideas" (2012), "Popular Problems" (2014), "Can't Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour" (2015), and "You Want It Darker" (released on 21 October 2016, three weeks before his death). In 2006 Anjani released "Blue Alert" featuring new songs she had co-written with Cohen; on 13 May he made his first public appearance in 13 years, at a bookstore in Toronto, and sang "So Long, Marianne" and "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye" accompanied by the Barenaked Ladies and Ron Sexsmith; he resumed touring in 2008 and continued, with brief intermissions, until 2013. Cohen's famously slow, meticulous writing process, as he told an interviewer in 1998, was "like a bear stumbling into a beehive or a honey cache: I'm stumbling right into it and getting stuck, and it's delicious and it's horrible and I'm in it and it's not very graceful and it's very awkward and it's very painful and yet there's something inevitable about it." After years of depression, in 1994 he retreated to the Mt. Baldy Zen Center near Los Angeles, spending five years of seclusion; in 1996 he was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk and took the Dharma name "Jikan" (silence), though he continued to regard himself as Jewish.

  5. Mission

    I’ve worked at my work
    I’ve slept at my sleep
    I’ve died at my death
    and now I can leave.

    Leave what is needed
    and leave what is full
    need in the spirit
    and need in the whole.

    Beloved, I’m yours
    as I have always been,
    from marrow to pore
    from longing to skin.

    Now that my mission
    has come to its end
    I pray I’m forgiven
    the life that I’ve led

    the body I chased
    it chased me as well.
    My longing’s a place
    my dying a sail.

    --Leonard Cohen


Join the conversation! What is your reaction to the post?