Loving Leonard

Leonard Cohen turns seventy-seven today. The biographers have accelerated their attempts—three full-length studies have been published in the last few years—but Cohen remains attractively elusive, turning aside most attempts to pry or praise:

You know, you scribble away for one reason or another. You’re touched by something that you read. You want to number yourself among these illustrious spirits for one advantage or another, some social, some spiritual. It’s just ambition that tricks you into the enterprise, and then you discover whether you have any actual aptitude for it or not. I always thought of myself as a competent, minor poet. I know who I’m up against.

The theme of not really being a poet is often found in the poems, of course. This is “Thousands,” from Book of Longing (2006):

   Out of the thousands
    who are known,
    or who want to be known
    as poets,
    maybe one or two
    are genuine
    and the rest are fakes,
    hanging around the sacred
    trying to look like the real thing.
    Needless to say
    I am one of the fakes,
    and this is my story.

And as for the lover side of the legend:    

I wrote for love.
Then I wrote for money.
With someone like me
It’s the same thing.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.