“This book moves me from the world of the golden-boy poet into the dung pile of the front-line writer” Leonard Cohen’s Letter To Jack McClelland Printed – Against His Wishes – On Flowers For Hitler Back Cover

This book moves me from the world of the golden-boy poet into the dung pile of the front-line writer. I didn’t plan it this way. I loved the tender notices Spice-Box got but they embarrassed me a little. Hitler won’t get the same hospitality from the papers. My sounds are too new, therefore people will say: this is derivative, this is slight, his power has failed. Well, I say there has never been a book like this, prose or poetry, written in Canada. All I ask is that you put it in the hands of my generation and it will be recognized.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


The above quotation was excerpted from a letter from Leonard Cohen,to Jack McClelland (the head of McClelland and Stewart, Cohen’s publisher) which was reprinted – against Cohen’s express wish – on the back cover of Flowers for Hitler.

The following excerpt is from The Fiction of Leonard Cohen by T.F. Rigelhof (published in This Is Our Writing by T.F. Rigelhof, Porcupine’s Quill, October 1, 2000):

Jack McClelland did take his next poetry book but gave the poet a lot of grief. McClelland insisted on changing the title from Opium and Hitler to Flowers for Hitler, dropping its dedication to “The Dachau Generation”, proposing a cover which featured a drawing of a nude female with Cohen’s face for tits before grudgingly accepting a compromise cover featuring elements from six different ones Cohen had designed. Then McClelland published it with a back cover blurb (taken from a letter) that was used against Cohen’s express wish. When Cohen remonstrated that “It was very important that a Jew’s book about Hitler be free from arrogant personal promotion…”, McClelland responded that the blurb didn’t hurt sales. Cohen continued to play McClelland’s games: he didn’t have many alternatives. [bolding mine]

See also Leonard Cohen Battles Publisher Over Cover Of Flowers For Hitler

Note: Originally posted January 12, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen Battles Publisher Over Title & Cover Of Flowers For Hitler

It Could Have Been “Opium and Hitler”
By Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen argued with publisher Jack McClelland over the title and covers of Flowers For Hitler. This account is from Frank Newfeld’s Masterpiece (And Leonard Cohen’s Unseen Face For Tits) by Brian Busby (The Dusty Bookcase: Sept 20, 2009):

In retrospect, The Spice-Box of Earth seems to have enjoyed a fairly easy birth. Not so, Flowers for Hitler, Cohen’s next book of verse. Jack McClelland thought the quality of the poems uneven, while Cohen considered the collection ‘a masterpiece’. Then, there was the matter of the proposed title, Opium and Hitler, on which publisher and poet could not agree. The two were still arguing in September 1964, mere months before the pub date, when a new battle flared up. At issue was Newfeld’s cover image. I’ve not seen the design, so rely on imagination coupled with Cohen’s own description in a letter to McClelland:

Nobody is going to buy a book the cover of which is a female body with my face for tits. You couldn’t give that picture away. It doesn’t matter what the title is now because the picture is simply offensive. It is dirty in the worst sense. It hasn’t the sincerity of a stag movie or the imagination of a filthy postcard or the energy of real surrealist humour. It is dirty to the brain.

Adding that he refused to ‘preside over the distribution of a crude hermaphrodotic distortion of the image of my person’, Cohen suggested canceling the book altogether. With the book in production, McClelland could only back down.

What became the cover is, according to Nadel, an amalgamation of six designs Cohen himself provided.

Update: Also see “This book moves me from the world of the golden-boy poet into the dung pile of the front-line writer” Leonard Cohen’s Letter To Jack McClelland Printed – Against His Wishes – On Flowers For Hitler Back Cover


Note: Originally posted January 29, 2011 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen Invokes Primo Levi To Explain “That’s what ‘Flowers For Hitler’ is all about”

Interviewer: Are you suggesting the disintegration of personality when you quote from Primo Levi at the beginning of Flowers for Hitler?

That quotation [by Primo Levi, used at the beginning of Cohen’s Flowers for Hitler] is, ‘Take care not to let it happen in your own homes.’ He’s saying, what point is there to a political solution if in the homes these tortures and mutilations continue? That’s what Flowers For Hitler is all about. It’s taking the mythology of the concentration camps and bringing it into the living room and saying, ‘This is what we do to each other.’ We outlaw genocide and concentration camps and gas and that, but if a man leaves his wife or they are cruel to each other, then that cruelty is going to find a manifestation if he has a political capacity; and he has. There’s no point in refusing to acknowledge the wrathful deities. That’s like putting pants on the legs of pianos like the Victorians did. The fact is that we all succumb to lustful thoughts, to evil thoughts, to thoughts of torture.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


Leonard Cohen quoted in “After the Wipe-Out, A Renewal” by Sandra Diwa, published in The Ubyssey (the student newspaper of the University of British Columbia), February 3, 1967. Originally posted August 5, 2011 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric