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Beautiful Losers’ dense system of historical references does put one in mind of Ulysses, but the language, the syntax, the eagle flights into the holy and dives into the profane, remind me somewhat of another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.