Interviewer: Perhaps your most interesting lines come from a poem in The Energy of Slaves, where you write, “My own music is not merely naked, it is open-legged, it is like a cunt, and like a cunt, must needs be houseproud.” Now, that’s quite a line, Len.
Leonard Cohen: “Well people should have a kind of nervous reaction to that word. It is one of the sacred words and it deserves to be whispered. I’m glad you whispered it when you said it.”
Interviewer: Could you just as easily have said that your work was like a prick?
Leonard Cohen: “Not myself, no. I guess a woman could have said that (laughs). I’m starting to remember the line now. It takes a while for it to return. I guess, at the time I wrote that (around 1969), I felt in a grieved state where I somehow felt that everything I was coming across in writing and everything around me was false. I was hungry for a kind of expression that was a lot more raw than what I was getting. I wanted to read something that was on the front-line, that comes from real, undiluted experience and I wasn’t defending anything. Now that word belongs to the woman and to her nakedness and that is still the prerogative of the woman to uncover and that power is still not diminished.”
From Having Lunch With Leonard Cohen by Jon Wilde, Sabotage Times. Dec 3, 2015 (the quote itself is taken from a 1988 interview).
Note: The poem referenced is This Is the Only Poem from The Energy of Slaves. Those lines were removed in the Stranger Music version (and the name of the poem is changed to The Only Poem).
Various Positions became a new turning point for Leonard Cohen. Suddenly he jumped straight from the cult status to the super-status, and in the transition he brought a fan base without age limit… In Bergen yesterday he was stopped on the street by teenage girls who wanted his autograph…
I think it’s great fun! I take it as a sign that I now write songs that people can understand. Recent Songs (1979) was a difficult LP full of symbolism and oriental music. People did not understand anything, and it had a direct result on the album sales. I did not go to the studio again in five years. I was losing my footing – and I admit it willingly.
Bård Oses intervju med Leonard Cohen by Linn Gjerstad [via Google Translate] (BA: March 26, 2012). From May 4, 1988 interview.
His satisfaction on finishing the new album [Popular Problems]
I don’t know how other writers feel but I just have a sense of gratitude that I could bring anything to completion in this vale of tears. So it’s the doneness of the thing that I really cherish… I think it was Auden who said ‘A poem is never finished, it’s just abandoned’ … So yes that’s all there is. Anyway, these are technical questions that I don’t think anybody really has the answer to. You can speculate on these things after the thing is finished, but while you’re working at it you just hope that you can come up with something that is respectable and you know you can get behind.
From Leonard Cohen: ‘I’m a closet optimist’ [a report on the Sept 16, 2014 London Press Preview Of Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems] by Andy Morris. Gigwise, Sept 16, 2014. Photo of Leonard shining his shoes prior to a concert was taken by Kezban Özcan. A set of these photos, graciously shared with Cohencentric, also appeared in stylized format on the insert sheet of the Popular Problems album.
DrHGuy Note: About That “A poem is never finished; it’s only abandoned” Quote
Well, Auden did indeed say “A poem is never finished; it’s only abandoned,” but the context was as the answer to a question raised at An hour of questions and answers with Auden (November 15, 1971) at Swarthmore College “Do you ever find yourself going back and correcting?”
Oh, yes, because I agree very much with Paul Valéry, who said: “A poem is never finished; it’s only abandoned.”
Yep, the original source is Paul Valery is, who wrote1
A work is never completed except by some accident such as weariness, satisfaction, the need to deliver, or death: for, in relation to who or what is making it, it can only be one stage in a series of inner transformations.
Auden’s “A poem is never finished; it’s only abandoned” is one of several variant translations and paraphrases.
- Recollection, Collected Works, Vol. 1 (1972), as translated by David Paul [↩]
Stina Lundberg: In the Book of Longing there is a long poem, and I probably don’t remember the lines right, but it is something like “My dick is the horse and my life is the chart…”
Leonard Cohen: Is the cart.
Stina Lundberg: Is the cart, sorry.
Leonard Cohen: Yeah, very vulgar line, I wish I hadn’t written it. In fact I changed it.
Stina Lundberg: To what?
Leonard Cohen: I don’t remember… what I changed it to now, because, er… I had a growing sense of dissatisfaction with that poem. I must remove it from the site (chuckles) or at least it needs more work. It came out of a time when I’d just come down from Mount Baldy and I was writing very, very quickly and with a great sense of, a kind of wild sense of freedom from the schedule, and I was blackening a lot of pages and sending them off to the website, and that’s one I have to look at.
Stina Lundberg: Why? It’s very direct.
Leonard Cohen: It’s very direct but I think the language – it could be… it could be as direct… a little bit more musical. Try for a different music.
Stina Lundberg: But what did it mean? What is the content?
Leonard Cohen: I think the content is that, you know, that’s where a man’s brain is. And you know, when I watch the young, as I do because I have two young – they’re not children, they’re young adults – I remember going to a party that my son invited me to, and I sat there just thanking my lucky stars that I wasn’t 25, because I saw this… the level of suffering at one of these events was overwhelming, you know, the mutual displays of attraction, the effort that had gone into each personal presentation, the expectations, the disappointments… it seemed to be one of the circles of hell that I was pleased not to be in.
From 2001 Leonard Cohen interview with Stina Lundberg. Originally posted May 12, 2010 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
The verse to which Stina refers follows:
I followed the course
from chaos to art
My dick was the horse
my life was the cart
Accessed at Book Of Longing – LeonardCohenFiles
In the Book Of Longing published in 2006, that verse reads
I followed the course
From chaos to art
Desire the horse
Depression the cart
I think about all writing the same way. It takes me as long or as short to write a letter as a poem or a laundry list. Whenever I apply myself to blackening a page a certain mechanism is thrown into operation and I am facing it in exactly the same way that I have faced my life, probably all wrong. Probably clumsy and aberrated and completely mistaken; but that’s the way I happen to face myself.
From An Interview with Leonard Cohen by Michael Harris. Duel: Winter 1969. The photo of a young Leonard Cohen at his desk is credited to: Allan R. Leishman/Montreal Star/Library and Archives Canada/PA-190166.
Marie at Speaking Cohen has discovered an ABC In Concert (posted July 15, 2018 on YouTube) featuring Leonard Cohen (as host), Mick Jagger, & Mother Love Bone. The video automatically begins with a segment comprising Leonard talking about Mick Jagger. The second Leonard Cohen segment begins at 12:00 and includes more commentary as well as (prerecorded) portions of Democracy, Closing Time, and The Future.