Leonard Cohen Reads Prose Poem From Beautiful Losers In 1967 Film: Poen – Video & Commentary



Excerpt from The Poetry of Leonard Cohen Illustrated by Two Short Films by Josh Jones (Open Culture: July 18th, 2013)

Beautiful Losers’ dense system of historical references does put one in mind of Ulysses, but the language, the syntax, the eagle flights into the holy and dives into the profane, remind me somewhat of another Buddhist poet of Canadian extraction, Jack Kerouac. Cohen even sounds a bit like Kerouac, in the short 1967 film, “Poen,” an experimental piece that sets four readings of a prose-poem from Beautiful Losers to a montage of starkly provocative images from black-and-white film and photography, Goya, and various surrealists. Made by Josef Reeve for the National Film Board, the short reels out four different recorded takes of Cohen reading the poem. At the end of each reading, he says, “cut,” and the film fades to black. Taken from the novel’s context, the poem becomes a personal meditation on meditation, or perhaps on writing: “My mind seems to go out on a path, the width of a thread,” begins Cohen and unfolds an image of mental discovery like that described by Donald Barthelme, who once said “writing is a process of dealing with not-knowing…. At best there’s a slender intuition, not much greater than an itch.”

Excerpt from Deep Cuts: Leonard Cohen by Margaret Barton-Fumo  (Film Comment: Feb 6, 2017)

“My mind seems to go out on a path the width of a thread and of endless length…” opens the prose poem excerpted from Cohen’s novel, Beautiful Losers (1966). Cohen begins to recite the poem four times, getting further into the text with each try. A rapid montage of black and white still images accompany his voiceover up until the fourth iteration of the poem, which includes archival footage of people shooting guns, war zones, and general destruction. Each image connects in some way to a line of the poem, an individual word or interpretation, and each series of images is different from the next. The camera zooms and pans penetratingly over the shifting images, creating a live collage that both augments and is augmented by Cohen’s multivalent poem.

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“You wanted to be the Superman who was never Clark Kent.” From Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen


Note: Leonard Cohen was, like me, a comic book aficionado. For more about this often overlooked early influence on the Canadian singer-songwriter, see

Note: Originally posted April 5, 2012 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

2 Photos: A Very Young Leonard Cohen & His Sister Esther Visit Kahnawake – Once Home To Kateri Tekakwitha

indianKateri Tekakwitha (1656 – April 17, 1680), the Algonquin–Mohawk woman featured in Leonard Cohen’s 1966 novel, “Beautiful Losers” and canonized as a saint in 2012, moved to the Jesuit mission village of Kahnawake, south of Montreal, after she converted to Roman Catholicism at age nineteen and lived there the last five years of her life.

Thanks to Maarten Massa for access to these images


This Time Miley Cyrus Hearts Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers

Six hours ago, the official Miley Cyrus Twitter account displayed a copy of Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers held in hand with a half-dozen gold heart emoji in the caption This comes on the heels of her May 31, 2016 performance of Cohen’s “I’m Your Man” on NBC’s Maya & Marty show.

Credit Due Department: Thanks go to the ever vigilant Henry Tengelsen, who spotted this item.

Leonard Cohen: Literary Marksman

Leonard Cohen’s work contains too many allusions, references, and metaphors related to firearms to provide an exhaustive list in this post. The following samples are representative.

From “Love Calls You By Your Name:”

Shouldering your loneliness
like a gun that you will not learn to aim,

From “Hallelujah:”

Well, maybe there is a God above,
But all that I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you.

From “Field Commander Cohen:”

Leave it all and like a man,
come back to nothing special,
such as waiting rooms and ticket lines,
silver bullet suicides,
and messianic ocean tides,
and racial roller-coaster rides
and other forms of boredom advertised as poetry.

From “Night Comes On:”

We were fighting in Egypt
When they signed this agreement
That nobody else had to die
There was this terrible sound
And my father went down
With a terrible wound in his side
He said, Try to go on
Take my books, take my gun
Remember, my son, how they lied
And the night comes on

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