Leonard Cohen On The Difference Between Writing A Poem And A Song

What’s the difference for you between writing a poem and a song?

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A poem has a certain — a different time. For instance, a poem is a very private experience, and it doesn’t have a driving tempo. In other words, you know, you can go back and forward; you can comeback; you can linger. You know, it’s a completely different time reference. Whereas a song, you know, you’ve got a tempo. You know,you’ve got something that is moving swiftly. You can’t stop it, you know? And it’s designed to move swiftly from, you know, mouth to mouth, heart to heart, where a poem really speaks to something that has no time and that is — it’s a completely different perception… Oh, I’m not saying [poetry] is not musical; it’s just a different tempo. And it’s a tempo that migrates, depending on what the mood of the reader is… Sometimes, you know, a [song] lyric can survive on the page. You know, sometimes it can’t, but sometimes it can. And I’ve tried to choose the ones that can survive on the page.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From Songwriter Leonard Cohen Discusses Fame, Poetry and Getting Older by Jeffrey Brown. PBS: Broadcast June 28, 2006.

“I always thought of myself as a competent, minor poet. I know who I’m up against. You’re up against Dante, and Shakespeare, Isaiah, King David, Homer, you know. So I’ve always thought that I… do my job OK.” Leonard Cohen

Did you start out seeing yourself as a poet or aspiring to be a poet?

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I never thought of myself as a poet, to tell you the truth. I always thought that poetry is the verdict that others give to a certain kind of writing. So to call yourself a poet is a kind of dangerous description. It’s for others; it’s for others to use… You know, you scribble away for one reason or another. You’re touched by something that you read. You want to number yourself among these illustrious spirits for one advantage or another, some social, some spiritual. It’s just ambition that tricks you into the enterprise, and then you discover whether you have any actual aptitude for it or not. I always thought of myself as a competent, minor poet. I know who I’m up against. You’re up against Dante, and Shakespeare, Isaiah, King David, Homer, you know. So I’ve always thought that I, you know, do my job OK.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From Songwriter Leonard Cohen Discusses Fame, Poetry and Getting Older by Jeffrey Brown. PBS: Broadcast June 28, 2006.

“Ten New Songs – There’s a sense of relaxation in the tunes that comes through, there’s a kind of pulse, an invitation to get into it – a groove. A lot of people have danced to it… well, actually, one person. And she was erm, an executive of Sony in France, & she’s a trained dancer.” Leonard Cohen

From I Never Discuss My Mistresses Or My Tailors by Nick Paton Walsh. The Observer, October 14, 2001

“I’ve always seen song and poetry as the evidence of the life rather than the life itself, the picture of life is straight and if you really are experiencing things then this work is the evidence of that experience.” Leonard Cohen

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I don’t want to get into performing too much because I’ve always seen song and poetry as the evidence of the life rather than the life itself, the picture of life is straight and if you really are experiencing things then this work is the evidence of that experience. If your experience only becomes putting out for the public, and we are all whores in a certain level because we’re out there every night like the entertainer, but for me I couldn’t live that life totally because I know it would dry things up.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From The Sounds Interview 1971 by Billy Walker. Sounds: October 23, 1971. The image atop this post is the back cover of Flowers for Hitler by Leonard Cohen Jonathan Cape (UK): 1973. Photo by Sophie Baker.  Originally posted June 14, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“If I could really sing well I’d sing everybody’s songs but I feel if I sing my own songs nobody can complain. I think if you sing your own songs you can really embody the vision in the song” Leonard Cohen 1971

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The reason I’ve stayed away from it [other people’s materials] mostly is because I started writing my own songs because I couldn’t really learn the tunes of other songs. I would love to and if I could really sing well I’d sing everybody’s songs but I feel if I sing my own songs nobody can complain. I think if you sing your own songs you can really embody the vision in the song but I wouldn’t like to try it with ‘0 Sole Mio’.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From The Sounds Interview 1971 by Billy Walker. Sounds: October 23, 1971. Photo Credit: Peter Brosseau/Library and Archives Canada/PA-170174. Note: Originally posted June 13, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“I’d like to connect with those songs that write themselves. Once you get hooked on this idea of refinement and impeccable structure [in songwriting], forget a human life.” Leonard Cohen

From Leonard Cohen Highlights His Latest, ‘I’m Your Man’ by Tom Moon. Philadelphia Inquirer: November 4, 1988. Originally posted Aug 18, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“Can I dig deep enough inside to say something that matters?” Leonard Cohen

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I never had the luxury of standing in front of a buffet table saying, ‘I’ll write this kind of song today and that kind tomorrow.’ It was like: ‘Can I scrape some words together and write anything? . . . Can I dig deep enough inside to say something that matters?’quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

From “Robert Hilburn Interviews Leonard Cohen” by Robert Hilburn (Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1995). Photo of Leonard Cohen by Pete Purnell. Originally posted July 2, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“Freedom and restriction are just luxurious terms to one who is locked in a dungeon in the tower of song… I don’t have the sense of restriction or freedom. I just have the sense of work. I have the sense of hard labor.” Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen – Los Angeles 1992 from Songwriters On Songwriting By Paul Zollo. Found at LeonardCohenFiles. Originally posted Dec 29, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric