Leonard Cohen Invokes Irving Layton’s Dictum: “Whatever else, poetry is freedom”


Q: What is your opinion on the proposition that ‘the visions of poets may teach those who do not want to know it that there is more in shadow than in light?’

I don’t think the poet has a mission. I think that activity more appropriately applies to the priest, the teacher, the politician, and the warrior. As my friend Layton wrote: ‘Whatever else, poetry is freedom.’ It seems a very aggressive proposition to teach someone something they don’t want to learn.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From a 2001 online chat. Photo of Leonard Cohen by Roland Godefroy (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Originally posted March 20, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen On Writing The Future Album To Deal With “The Fascist” & “The Terrorist” Who Arise Within Him


Excerpt from The Future by Alberto Manzano. El Europeo: Spring 1993 (click on image to enlarge):


Leonard Cohen On Songwriting: “There is only one way you can really speak. And it can drive you mad if you’re not speaking in your own voice”

Well, you do find that there is only one way you can really speak. And it can drive you mad if you’re not speaking in your own voice. So, for example, a song like ‘I Can’t Forget’ – that started off as a religious hymn about the liberation of the soul. The metaphor was the exodus of the Hebrew children from the land of Egypt. I’d worked on the lyric over a number of years – but when I tried to sing the lyric I choked on it. It was a total lie in my mouth, because the theme was too ambitious. I don’t know anything about the liberation of the soul in that sense; it wasn’t true so I couldn’t sing it. So I had to get right back to zero and that is where the language on this album really began to gel. I started again at the bottom line: I stumbled out of bed – that was true. I got ready for the struggle – that is true. And now I am addressing that eternal struggle this way.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


From Read Leonard Cohen’s exclusive interview with Hot Press from 1988 by Joe Jackson (Hot Press: 11 Nov 2016).  Photo by Gorupdebesanez (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Hear Leonard Cohen Talk About Lines Written Under “The Tyranny Of Rhyme,” Politics, Love As An Ailment, Anjani, Recycling His Art & More – 2006


This Feb. 7, 2006 interview offers an impressive range and depth of material (albeit organized in a somewhat random manner).

From CBC description:

Leonard Cohen has reasons to celebrate. Five of his songs are being inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. As heard in this in-depth radio interview, the usually reserved artist reflects back on his life. He talks openly about his days at a Buddhist monastery, his love of wine, his failure at love and what this latest honour means for the 71-year-old artist.

The five songs by Leonard Cohen inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006 were

  • Ain’t No Cure For Love
  • Bird on the Wire
  • Everybody Knows (co-written with Sharon Robinson)
  • Suzanne
  • Hallelujah

Program: Sounds Like Canada
Broadcast Date: Feb. 7, 2006
Guest: Leonard Cohen
Host: Shelagh Rogers
Duration: 21:02

Leonard Cohen on The Story Of Isaac “The song doesn’t end with a plea for peace. It doesn’t end with a plea for sanity between the generations.”


It has fathers and sons in it and sacrifice and slaughter, and an extremely honest statement at the end. It does say something about fathers and sons and that curious place, generally over the slaughtering block where generations meet and have their intercourse. I think probably that I did feel [when I wrote it] that one of the reasons that we have wars was so the older men can kill off the younger ones, so there’s no competition for the women. Also, completely remove the competition in terms of their own institutional positions. The song doesn’t end with a plea for peace. It doesn’t end with a plea for sanity between the generations. It ends saying, ‘I’ll kill you if I can, I will help you if I must, I will kill you if I must, I will help you if I can.’ That’s all I can say about it. My father died when I was nine, that’s the reason I put that one of us had to go.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Interview,by Robin Pike. ZigZag: October 1974. Image by Ji-Elle – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikipedia Commons

Leonard Cohen On The Significance Of Who Sent The Monkey And The Plywood Violin In First We Take Manhattan

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I thank you for those items that you sent me,
the monkey and the plywood violin.
I practiced every night, now I’m ready.
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.

From First We Take Manhattan by Leonard Cohen

[The sender of the monkey and the plywood violin is] that part of ourselves that diminished that voice that . . . was demanding a spiritual aspect to our lives . . . . We gave that aspect of ourselves that was hungry some kind of perverse and obscene charity. We made him into an organ grinder . . . . We gave that part of us a monkey and a plywood violin, so that it would screech away and amuse us with its anticsquotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen, Personal Interview with Winfried Siemerling. 2 November 1990, North York. Unpublished. Quoted in Interior Landscapes and the Public Realm: Contingent Mediations in a Speech and a Song by Leonard Cohen by Winfried Siemerling. Canadian Poetry: No. 33, Fall/Winter, 1993. Originally posted Mar 22, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric