I’ve always had the sense of, if you’re going to think of yourself in this game, or in this tradition, and you start getting a swelled head about it, or exactly where your place is, then you’ve really got to think about who you’re talking about. You’re not just talking about Randy Newman, who’s fine, you’re not just talking about Bob Dylan, who’s sublime, you’re talking about King David, you’re talking about Homer, you’re talking about Dante, you’re talking about Milton, you’re talking about Wordsworth, you’re talking about some spirits who are… we haven’t come up for descriptions for their contribution, for their embodiment of our highest possibility. So I don’t think it represents a particularly modest or virtuous assessment of one’s own work to think of oneself as a minor poet. It’s not bad, I’ve loved the minor poets, I mean Herrick, a poet like Herrick, who’s not considered one of the great ornaments of the tradition, but a small gem in the crown, and I really do feel that, I feel that you know, the enormous luck I’ve had in being able to make a living, and to never have had to have written one word that I didn’t want to write, to be able to have satisfied that dictum I set for myself, which was not to work for pay, but to be paid for my work, just to be able to satisfy those standards that I set for myself has been an enormous privilege. But I don’t fool myself, I know the game I’m in, and I know the tradition I’m in, I feel very privileged to have been accepted at whatever level, and when I wrote about Hank Williams “a hundred floors above me in the tower of song”, I’m not trying to present some kind of inverse modesty, I know where Hank Williams stands in the history of popular song. Your Cheating Heart, songs like that are sublime, in his own tradition, and I feel myself a very minor writer. You know, I’ve taken a certain territory, and I’ve occupied it, and I’ve tried to maintain it and administrate it with the very best of my capacities. And I will continue to administrate this tiny territory until I’m too weak to do it. But I understand where this territory is.
From the transcript of a BBC Radio 1 programme about Leonard Cohen, broadcast Sunday 7/8/94.
Note: Originally posted Oct 23, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric