Daniel Williams

Posts Tagged ‘poetry review’

‘The Energy of Slaves’ (1972) Leonard Cohen

In Canadian, Literature, Poetry Review, Review, Writing on 06/08/2011 at 15:07

For a songwriter to be called a poet is a compliment, but poetry and lyrics are two different beasts. One man who really is a lyricist and a poet is Leonard Cohen, he published poetry years before he recorded his first album. The collection The Energy of Slaves (1972) was published after his first three albums. Here is one of the poems:

Whenever I happen to see you…

Whenever I happen to see you
I forget for a while
that I am ugly in my own eyes
for not winning you

I wanted you to choose me
over all the men you know
because I am destroyed
in their company

I have often prayed for you
like this
Let me have her

That break between the penultimate and final lines just amazes me. That last line contains such power but is so underplayed. I hear it read in Leonard Cohen’s wry tones. In fact, I hear all of Leonard Cohen’s poems been read by the man himself. His wry, mordant voice echoes through the collection.

Like ‘Whenever I happen to see you…’ the more depressing poems are underplayed in their forms. The poems are often only a handful of lines long, but each word, punctuation or line break counts for something. The poems in The Energy of Slaves are very economical in terms of their form and structure. This next poem is quite probably my favourite break-up/put-down poem ever:

 I did not know until you walked away…

I did not know
until you
walked away
you had the perfect ass

Forgive me
for not falling in love
with your face or your conversation

The oft forgotten side of Leonard Cohen is just how damn funny he can be. Some of his poems really make me chuckle. The wry sarcasm shines through against the more depressing of his poems.

This book is a huge, huge influence on my own poetry. The minimalist style is one I’ve tried to make my own, though I owe Mr. Cohen a large debt in terms of style and in wry humour.

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