What’s the difference for you between writing a poem and a song?
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.
From Songwriter Leonard Cohen Discusses Fame, Poetry and Getting Older by Jeffrey Brown. PBS: Broadcast June 28, 2006.