Louis Dudek, Upon Reading A Leonard Cohen Poem: “I told him his sex life was no longer a secret”

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Louis Dudek Enlightens Leonard Cohen About Self-Revelatory Poetry

A 1970 newspaper article, McGill Prof Calls Youth Cult Rotten, Crude by Ron Campbell (Winnipeg Free Press August 21, 1970) offers an anecdote Dudek told about an early interaction with Cohen:

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Now, this Cohen-Dudek Poetry Moment does raise certain questions:

  1. Which Cohen poem betrayed the secrets of his sex life?
  2. Since when did Leonard Cohen have secrets about his sex life?
  3. Was Leonard Cohen’s giggling episode described by Dudek the inspiration for his “Laughing Lenny” nickname?
  4. Why did Dudek think it important to mention that Cohen came back the next day with a poem about sparrows?

I suspect this was the poem about sparrows Cohen offered Dudek:

The Sparrows
By Leonard Cohen (Let Us Compare Mythologies, 1956)

Catching winter in their carved nostrils
the traitor birds have deserted us,
leaving only the dullest brown sparrows
for spring negotiations.

I told you we were fools
to have them in our games,
but you replied:
They are only wind-up birds
who strut on scarlet feet
so hopelessly far
from our curled fingers.

I had moved to warn you,
but you only adjusted your hair
and ventured:
Their wings are made of glass and gold
and we are fortunate
not to hear them splintering
against the sun.

Now the hollow nests
sit like tumors or petrified blossoms
between the wire branches
and you, an innocent scientist,
question me on these brown sparrows:
whether we should plant our yards with breadcrumbs
or mark them with the black persistent crows
whom we hate and stone.

But what shall I tell you of migrations
when in this empty sky
the precise ghosts of departed summer birds
still trace old signs;
or of desperate flights
when the dimmest flutter of a colored wing
excites all our favorite streets
to delight in imaginary spring.

Note: Originally posted July 27, 2012 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen On Louis Dudek: “Louis Dudek is a legend for me”

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“My Dear Teacher Louis Dudek” by Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen & Louis Dudek

Louis Dudek, who reigned as Canada’s premier man of letters until his death in 2001, was Leonard Cohen’s Literature professor at McGill University. It was his McGill Poetry Series for Contact Press that published Leonard Cohen’s first book, Let Us Compare Mythologies.

Cohen described Dudek as one of the most important people he met in college:1)

[Interviewer:] What was the importance of the people you met in college?

[Leonard Cohen:] I met some very nice people, in particular, 3 men. Louis Dudek, Hugh MacLennan, a Canadian author who died last year, and Irving Layton, who didn’t go to school with me but was a writer in town. We would organize parties or little get-togethers with women. Professors were always there; there were no barriers, no master/student relationships. They liked our girlfriends (laughs). They were in their 30s or 40s; they liked the people we brought to their parties.

[Interviewer:] Were those 3 men influential to your relationship with literature and poetry?

[Leonard Cohen:] The fraternal aspect was most important. They gave me friendship, their time, the feeling of belonging to some kind of community.2  It was like a period of mutual apprenticeship where we all read our poems to one another. Training was intense, rigorous, taken very seriously but the atmosphere was friendly. Once in awhile there were tears; someone would leave in a rage, we would argue but interest in the art of writing was at the center of our friendship. …

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  1. Comme Un Guerrier by Christian Fevret (Throat Culture magazine, 1992 []
  2. An indication that the friendship between Dudek and Cohen superseded the professor-student relationship comes from a fellow McGill student, Ruth R. Wisse, who wrote “I believe it was Louis who introduced me to Leonard; certainly it was because of Leonard that I began to call my teacher Louis. Still an undergraduate in the English department –and reputed to have failed his third try at then-compulsory Latin– Leonard did not treat his teacher with my kind of deference but more like a colleague, on equal terms. Louis seemed to prefer it that way.  (Source:  My Life Without Leonard Cohen By Ruth R. Wisse. Commentary, October 1, 1995. []

Leonard Cohen & Pierre Trudeau: “Reading To The Prime Minister”

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Leonard Cohen and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau were long time friends who often met on the rooftop deck of the Montreal home of their mutual friend, Nancy Southam. This drawing from Book Of Longing by Leonard Cohen commemorates one of those meetings during which Trudeau asked Cohen to read a poem to him and then another and another. It was not long afterward that Cohen’s service to Trudeau was as honorary pallbearer.

The words superimposed on the graphic are reproduced below.

He was kind and powerful.
He asked me to read him
a poem. And then he asked
me for another. And another.
This was on the roof of
Nancy’s house, which she
called The Firestation.
Nancy gave us lunch, and
then I read some more. Later
many sorrows befell them
both.

Note: Originally posted July 21, 2010 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

An Halloween Poem to Delight My Younger Friends: Leonard Cohen’s First Published Work – With Notes

CIV/n #4 - The literary magazine that first published Leonard Cohen

CIV/n #4 – The literary magazine that first published Leonard Cohen

 

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I had started writing before I met [Louis Dudek] but it was he who published me first in CIV/n 4, a piece called ‘An Halloween Poem to Delight My Younger Friends.’quotedown2

Leonard Cohen1

An Halloween Poem to Delight My Younger Friends
by Leonard Norman Cohen

(Ou sont les jeunes?)2

Impassive frogs, skins stretched taut,
grey with late October,
the houses down my street
crouched, unaware of each other.

Unaware of a significant wind
and mad children igniting heaps of rattling leaves
and the desperate cry of desperate birds.

Dry, stuffed, squatting frogs.

I don’t know where the children got the birds.
Certainly, there are few around my house. Oh,
there is the occasional sparrow or robin or wren,
but these were big birds.
There were several turns of parcel twine about
each bird to secure its wings and feet. It was
that particularly hard variety of twine that can’t
be pulled apart but requires a knife or scissors
to be cut.
I was so lost in the ritual that I’m not sure if
it was seven or eight they burnt.

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  1. Louis Dudek: A Biographical Introduction by Susan Strumberg-Stein (Dundum: Jan 1, 1983) []
  2. See first entry under DrHGuy’s Notes []

Hear, Download Leonard Cohen’s 1966 Poetry Reading

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Leonard Cohen 1966 Poetry Reading At 92nd St YMHA-YWHA, NYC

While Leonard Cohen’s 1996 reading of his own poems is well known and has been available in the past in various formats, this podcast features excellent audio and an easy to download MP3 file.

An excerpt from the official blurb describes the content:

The video podcast above features Leonard Cohen reading here on February 14, 1966. He read several poems and performed one song that would become an all-time classic. In the excerpt above, Cohen reads two poems—“For E.J.P” and “You Have the Lovers”—and performs “The Stranger Song,” which became popular in 1967 with the release of Cohen’s debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen.

The recording may be heard via the player embedded below or downloaded as an MP3 at 92Y Podcast: From the Poetry Center Archive: Leonard Cohen In 1966.

Credit Due Department: “92Y jeh” by Jim.hendersonOwn work. Licensed under CC0 via Commons.

Note: Originally posted Apr 10, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

2006 Interview: Hear Leonard Cohen Talk About Fame, Getting Older, & The Difference Between Songs & Poems

Shure_mikrofon_55S-700 Leonard Cohen Discusses Life is a PBS interview first broadcast 28 June 2006.  This link leads to an audio recordings of the interview by Jeffery Brown as well as a transcript.

While Leonard Cohen, in this interview, focuses primarily on the process and significance of writing poetry,1 he also deals with aging.

JEFFREY BROWN: This sense of aging is in this book.
LEONARD COHEN: Yes, definitely.
JEFFREY BROWN: Does that signify you are, in fact, feeling that?
LEONARD COHEN: Oh, of course, sure. Of course you feel it, you know. My friend, Irving Layton, our greatest Canadian poet, he said, ‘The inescapable lousiness of growing old.’
JEFFREY BROWN: ‘The inescapable lousiness of growing old?’
LEONARD COHEN: That’s right. That’s right.

My own perception is that Jeffrey Brown sounds, like most of us, as though he is in denial about Leonard Cohen’s age and mortality. That this situation mirrors the denial most of us maintain about the surety of our own demise because our discomfort with the notion is no less true for being a pop psychology cliche.

Leonard Cohen, on the other hand, seems determined to focus and refocus on the issue, mining his own aging as one more rich vein of human experience to be transformed into images and texture for his poetry, his songs – and his interviews.

The broadcast, which is well worth a listen, can be found at Leonard Cohen Discusses Life

Credit Due Department: Photo atop this post “Shure mikrofon 55S” by Holger.EllgaardOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Note: Originally posted January 21, 2008 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

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  1. Leonard Cohen also recites two of his poems. These recitations have been extracted and can be heard without the interview at Video: Hear Leonard Cohen Recite “Thousands” & “Mission” From Book Of Longing []