Leonard Cohen: Travels with the "Tourist of Beauty"
- Leonard Cohen (Author)
Book of Longing. McClelland & Stewart Ltd. (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Ira Bruce Nadel
This review coincides with a Leonard Cohen year. From financial disarray to artistic success, Leonard Cohen has been a cultural Everyman: in August 2005 it was the cover of Maclean’s; in February 2006, the induction of five of his songs into the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame; May 2006 saw the release of his new album Blue Alert; and on 21 June 2006 a feature documentary entitled, “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man” opened in theatres throughout North America. And after some 22 years—his last book of original poems was Book of Mercy in 1984—Leonard Cohen has published a new book.
At first, it is hard to know what to call Book of Longing: poetry, prose, autobiography, song or art? A portion of the text reproduces Leonard’s handwriting to provide authenticity and intimacy, while other sections reveal his talent at computer-generated images. But he unifies the book with themes we have encountered and experienced as early as The Spice-Box of Earth and Death of a Lady’s Man. They include loss, remorse, isolation and that damned search for love and companionship.
As always, the heart “is in sad confusion,” although this time it has an edge of humour:
I’m angry with the angel
Who pinched me on the thigh
And made me fall in love
With every woman passing by
Wit, however, mellows the disillusionment, as if age has not altered but intensified desire. The quest is the continued search for love.
In Book of Longing, Cohen sees light rather than darkness, a smile not a frown. Even the postponement of the book—it had been promised years ago—is subject to humour. In his poem “Delay,” after the narrator comments on his great capacity to hold back, he turns a negative into a positive, congratulating himself that he was “able to delay this book well beyond / the end of the 20th century.”
But Leonard has not lost his flair, nor his sense of the surreal in the cause of love, which the opening of “Split” displays:
What can I do
With this love of mine
With this hairy knob
With this poison wine
Who shall I take
To the edge of despair
With my knee on her heart
And my lips in her hair
His answer is simple. Split his love in two so that “there’s one part for me / and there’s one part for you.”
Numerous self-portraits populate the collection, creating a mirror text offering visual glimpses of Cohen in states of confusion and clarity, some images displaying both. “A private gaze” shows a stocky, well-built Cohen who criticizes his stocky, well-built image. But another, entitled “We will all be airbrushed,” and dated 25 January 25 2003, shows the poet disconsolate and frail. Book of Longing is a book of portraits capturing Cohen looking through his dreams to discover what has happened and where he has been with a whimsical sense of uncertainty expressed in the caption “one of those days when the hat doesn’t help.”
Poetically, the prose-like poems reverberate with a personal voice that never quite settles. And while the language has ripened, his experiences have not. They are always new as he transforms himself into “a tourist of beauty / in full disappointment / ready to fall in love / with a ghost.” But this is recognition, not regret.
Book of Longing is a self-reflective, confessional work, an omnibus collection with certain contributions reaching as far back as 1973. The drawings complement the text, heightening Cohen’s presence and reaffirming his characteristic pose as the energetic lover of longing:
The old are kind
The young are hot,
Love may be blind.
Desire is not.
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- À tire-d'aile by Emmanuel Bouchard
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- Nature, Wild and Tamed by Hilary Turner
Books reviewed: Arctic Adventures: Tales from the Lives of Inuit Artists by Jirina Morton and Raquel Rivera, The Summer of Marco Polo by Kasia Charko and Lynn Manuel, and In My Backyard by Ron Broda and Margriet Ruurs
- Poetic Off-roading and the Roads More Travelled by Joel Deshaye
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MLA: Nadel, Ira Bruce. Leonard Cohen: Travels with the "Tourist of Beauty". canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #192 (Spring 2007), Gabrielle Roy contemporaine/The Contemporary Gabrielle Roy. (pg. 150 - 151)
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