Over the years people have said that the white man can’t sing the blues. And on the same level, for great poetry there has to be great suffering.
Well, I’d like to down play that side of it. I think great suffering is available to everybody, not just artists. This is a very self-righteous vision that artists like to present about themselves, that they suffer more than anyone else. This can’t be true. Great suffering is available to everybody. I think it should be discounted from the equation. What I think that is forgotten about art, is that it demands work. I think Yeats said it very nicely, ‘poets, like women, know that we must labor to be beautiful.’ Of course then as Browning said, you have the ‘first fine, careless frenzy.’ You may be able to pick those phrases out of the air, especially at the beginning of the whole affair. But what has been forgotten, I think, is that it’s work. Forget the suffering, forget the anguish, forget the agonizing characteristics that have been ascribed to the whole activity. A lot of people have forgotten that this is work. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to forget it because I’m not one of that tribe that does the great song in the cafe or the back of the taxi cab. So suffering, I’d remove that from the equation because everyone has got that. Hard work, almost everyone has got that but artists. So, Irish poets, learn your craft. [Both laugh.]
Leonard Cohen radio interview by Dave Fanning (RTE: Jan 21, 1993)
The Yeats allusion is to these lines from Adam’s Curse by William Butler Yeats: