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Book of Longing Ecco First Edition edition Leonard Cohen

31st May 2012 Literature & Fiction 19 Comments

Internationally celebrated for his writing and his music, Leonard Cohen is one of the legendary writers, performers, and most consistently daring artists of our time. Book of Longing is his dazzling new collection of poetry — twenty years in the making — written on southern California’s Mount Baldy and in Los Angeles, Montreal, and Mumbai. Following his highly acclaimed 1984 publication, Book of Mercy, and containing Cohen’s own playful and provocative line drawings, Book of Longing brings together all the elements that have elevated Leonard Cohen’s artistry to worldwide recognition.

Renowned singer-songwriter Cohen also boasts a reputation as a writer for the printed page, especially in his native Canada. This capacious collection (his first since 1993′s Stranger Music) compiles musings, jottings, quatrains, brief lyrics, prose meditations and offhand epigrams, along with Cohen’s ink drawings and work in his own handwriting. The melancholy Cohen displays both a surface humility and an underlying self-confidence as he reflects on women (as when recalling his seduction of “the most beautiful girl/ on the religious left”), Zen doctrine, his own advancing age (Cohen turned 70 two years ago) and the legacy of the ’60s. Many poems feel like his song lyrics: “Sometimes just a list/ Of my events/ Is holier than the Bill of Rights/ And more intense.” The volume will get a boost from Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, a documentary scheduled for theatrical release. (May)
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Book of Longing has exceptional range. It is clear yet steamy, cosmic yet private, both playful and profound. (New York Times )

. . .alive and contradictory. . . you should read the whole volume. . . (LA Weekly )

Book of Longing has exceptional range. It is clear yet steamy, cosmic yet private, both playful and profound.

. . .alive and contradictory. . . you should read the whole volume. . .

Book of Longing

  • 19 responses to "Book of Longing Ecco First Edition edition Leonard Cohen"

  • Leah Hort
    3:44 on May 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Cohen calls himself “a competent minor poet.” He’s right. But minor competence these days is a supreme thing. Cohen is wry, profound, and always surprising. His humility never cloys. He means what he says, even when he’s kidding. The illustrations, by the way, add much to the reader’s experience.

  • ChitownWriter
    5:13 on May 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    I anticipated enjoying Cohen’s first book of poetry, after all, I have been a fan of his music for nearly 40 years. However, I was truly surprised at the wonder of his language and the emotions that the works convey. I highly recommend this volume, not only to Cohen fans, but to poetry lovers in general.

  • Crystal
    6:59 on May 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    These are just some of the themes explored by Leonard Cohen in this very excellent volume of verse.

    But hold on – how do cigarettes qualify as a theme? Well perhaps they don’t quite make it to the thematic level, but they do put in enough appearances to be seen as noteworthy.

    Here is an excerpt from a poem entitled “The Cigarette Issue”:

    But what is exactly the same
    is the promise, the beauty
    and the salvation
    of cigarettes
    the little Parthenon
    of an unopened pack of cigarettes

    and Mumbai, like the Athens
    of forty years ago
    is a city to smoke in

    Cohen manages to weave a smoke into his deft handling of the tension and attraction of opposites in “What Did It”, which follows in its entirety…

    An acquaintance told me
    that the great sage
    Nisargadatta Maharaj
    Once offered him a cigarette,
    “Thank you, sir, but I don’t smoke.”
    “Don’t smoke?” said the master,
    “What’s life for?”

    And so it goes, dealing with life and death, love and lust, spirit and truth, and the path the author has walked in his quest for God, or G-d, as he chooses reverentially to refer to him.

    While Cohen’s wry humor and self deprecating detachment are at times in evidence, some verses are almost terrifying in their seriousness and immediacy. The following is from “By the Rivers Dark” which makes up the lyrics of a song by the same name on the excellent CD “Ten New Songs”…

    then he struck my heart
    with a deadly force
    and he said, “This heart
    it is not yours.”

    Interspersed throughout the volume is a series of self portraits of the artist as an apparently angst filled old man, juxtaposed against his arresting sketches of a number of exceedingly voluptuous women.

    But in the end this is a wistful book and it is appropriate that it is entitled “Book of Longing”.

    Here is “Nightingale”, in its entirety:

    I built my house beside the wood
    So I could hear you singing
    And it was sweet and it was good
    And love was all beginning

    Fare thee well my nightingale
    `Twas long ago I found you
    Now all your songs of beauty fail
    The forest closes `round you

    The sun goes down behind a veil
    `Tis now that you would call me
    So rest in peace my nightingale
    Beneath your branch of holly

    Fare thee well my nightingale
    I lived but to be near you
    Though you are singing somewhere still
    I can no longer hear you

  • George A Wallace
    8:51 on May 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Okay, it’s a mixed bag, like most of Cohen’s work – ranging from the confusing and chaotic through to the sublime. It’s a bit like the curate’s egg, only the other way around, in that it’s mostly good, and even the bad bits are still pretty good. For me, part of the pleasure of Cohen is precisely the chaotic mass of material, from which many gems emerge, glowing into the strange half-light of Cohen’s percetions and vision.
    It’s also filled with fundamental material for those with an interest in Cohen’s life, evolving ‘philosophies’ and emerging opus.

  • William M Drapcho
    19:57 on May 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Transcending the sum of his arts, The Book of Longing is a miraculous surprise, commingling poems and songs, sketches and musings, the erotic and the divine in the poignant and profound way that is Cohen’s saintly and sensual signature.

  • Ismael Tabije
    21:09 on May 31st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Loved it! See also George and Condi: The Last Decayed: A Collection of Poems from the Last Decade Beaver Tales and a Canada Goosing: Poems Illustrating a Uniquely Canadian Perspective (See ArtisanPacificPublishing Website).

  • Mark Marvel
    2:51 on June 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing

    Aside from being a creative genius in a multitude of artistic disciplines, Leonard Cohen is an old man. And with age comes wisdom. Take for example, this stanza from “Better.”

    better than art
    is repulsive art
    which demonstrates
    better than scripture
    the tiny measure
    of your improvement

    No dummy, this guy. But then, you knew that already.

    Twenty years in the making, Book of Longing [Ecco/HarperCollins]was written on southern California’s Mount Baldy and in Los Angeles, Montreal and Mumbai. The author of twelve books and seventeen albums of music, this collection of poems follows his highly acclaimed 1984 publication, Book of Mercy. Containing his own wonderful, playful and provocative line drawings, Book of Longing is a celebration of one of contemporary times’ best and truest flesh-and-blood examples of unlimited artistic expression.

    Leonard Cohen’s poetry is loaded with Bukowski’s truth and simple statements, but without the ugliness. There are tons of love poems, reflections on drinking and God (oops, I mean “G-d”–he’s Jewish, you know), loneliness, philosophy, aging, friendships, food, sober highs, celebrations of the body and sex, sex, sex. But it’s all done with manners–a classiness Bukowski never knew– a masculine sensitivity that’s never maudlin, and a ripe, heavy, juice-laden life that few words in print have ever had the strength to carry.

    There are some moments when Cohen veers into classical meter and rhyme, but he pulls it off with the smart currency of the lyric, and yet somehow, even in the hipness, he can still manage to make the reader tear up:

    And fragrant is the thought of you
    The file on you complete
    Except what we forgot to do
    A thousand kisses deep

    There is unresolved anger and hurt:

    I could not kill
    the way you kill
    I could not hate
    I tried, I failed


    Fare thee well my nightingale
    I lived but to be near you
    Though you are singing somewhere still
    I can no longer hear you

    But mostly, in all its spiritual, physical and emotional forms, there is truth:

    This is it
    I’m not coming after you
    I’m going to lie down for half an hour
    This is it
    I’m not going down
    on your memory
    I’m not rubbing my face in it anymore
    I’m going to yawn
    I’m going to stretch
    I’m going to put a knitting needle
    up my nose
    and poke out my brain
    I don’t want to love you
    for the rest of my life
    I want your skin
    to fall off my skin
    I want my clamp
    to release your clamp
    I don’t want to live
    with this tongue hanging out
    and another filthy song
    in the place
    of my baseball bat
    This is it
    I’m going to sleep now darling
    Don’t try to stop me
    I’m going to sleep
    I’ll have a smooth face
    and I’m going to drool
    I’ll be asleep
    whether you love me or not
    This is it
    The New World Order
    of wrinkles and bad breath
    It’s not going to be
    like it was before
    eating you
    with my eyes closed
    hoping you won’t get up
    and go away
    It’s going to be something else
    Something worse
    Something sillier
    Something like this
    only shorter

    And when the reader gets to the last page, they know it can never be it. There is no choice but to turn back to the first page and start again.

    O my love
    don’t you know that we have been killed
    and that we died together

  • merry ourkij
    5:38 on June 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Fairly good poetry, but have given the book away–not enough space on my bookshelves, and one tends to save that which they’ve become attached and will wish to re-read.

  • Nellie Chant
    6:57 on June 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Leanard Cohen is obscure and beautiful and has plumbed the depths of love. These poems can be read again and again and still another layer is found in them.

  • Phil G
    11:30 on June 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    This is not a book of great poetry, but there’s enough good poetry to sustain the reader’s interest.

    On the positive side, the Mt. Baldy poems take Cohen away from his usual material and provide the reader with some off-beat insights and ironic, self-effacing humor since the monastery lifestyle seems so unsuited to Cohen’s nature.

    Those looking for stronger efforts should purchase “Stranger Music,” or his serious poetry books from the `50′s and `60′s that are due to be reissued soon.

  • Japanimation
    13:40 on June 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    What a soul this man has. I have read Mr. Cohen’s poetry before, and enjoyed it, yet there is something about this collection that has made it one of my favorites. I will go back to it many times. It has something to say. Highly recommended.

  • More Losers
    14:20 on June 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Not having read anything deep and stimulating for a long time, this was brain growing.
    Texts I don’t know, I look up. Really am enjoying.

  • Steven Chabotte
    18:20 on June 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Though not Leonard Cohen’s best poetry book, 2006′s Book of Longing is a very worthy addition to his incredible canon, especially impressive in that it came out when he was seventy-two, an age when even the best artists have usually long since stopped producing quality work. It was appropriately titled in that fans had longed for a new book in the long years since 1984′s Book of Mercy, his prior release. This work did not disappoint. It consists primarily of poems written during Cohen’s 1990s sojourn at Buddhist retreat Mount Baldy as well as more recent ones but actually includes pieces dating back to the early 1970s. These works deal with classic Cohen themes like love, lust, religion, Judaism, and music with trademark wryness, black humor, and wit that is often self-deprecating. In contrast to some of his other collections, there are a variety of forms: rhyming and non-rhyming poems, various traditional pieces, prose poems, epigrams, and more. Also included are some lyrics from Ten New Songs and Dear Heather, his two most recent albums, sometimes with interesting changes and additions. As has been his recent wont, Cohen also inserts numerous drawings; while not his writing’s visual equivalent, these are charming and often humorous, adding spice and effect. Anyone who likes Cohen’s poetry or songs will enjoy this fine collection, but those new to him or familiar only with his music would be better off starting with the Stranger Music collection or a stronger work like Death of Lady’s Man or The Energy of Slaves.

  • Jon Marshall
    18:34 on June 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    This is Leonard Cohen. You get tongue-in-cheek self portraits dispersed amongst words that are sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, sometimes brilliant observations and sometimes self depricating honesty that reveals the always human-ness and always unique voice of this living legend of a song writer, writer and poet, Mr. Leonard Cohen.

    This guy is Interesting with a capital “I.” Reason enough to check out his long awaited book of poems, drawings and essays. Another reason is that unlike most books of poetry it is ‘entertaining’ without sacrificing intelligence. His wry humour is laugh out loud funny in the the short essay, “The Luckiest Man in the World” and poems such as, “Never Once.”

    He speaks of things that matter to him: his teacher, Roshi, pine trees, G-d, women, sex, laughter, mists, women and most of all from what I see the unending mystery of “self” (and women). When that self is Leonard Cohen it is worth stopping what you are doing and reading what he has to say.

    Then, if you are not familiar with Cohen’s music, you are missing some of the best written lyrics and music, ever.


  • N-n-Done
    20:09 on June 1st, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Leonard Cohen’s book is beautiful. Got it as a gift for a friend and she loves it.

  • Jude Paw
    0:11 on June 2nd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    For anyone who loves Leonard Cohen’s music, this book is a wonderful collection of poems, drawings, images, rants, recollections and celebrations. Some of the material is in the film called Leonard Cohen/I’m Your Man, and like the songs, the book speaks of love and loss, pain and sorrow in his inimitable, elliptical style. Fun to read and easy to pick up and put down at any point.

  • Softy
    13:57 on June 2nd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    The vulnerabilty of the work in Book of Longing speaks to my soul, the humour makes me laugh, and the politics strengthen my spine. It sits with Shakespeare’s sonnets on my living room table, within reach for spiritual nourishment

  • Greg Wosnoth
    15:38 on June 2nd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    If you’re a Leonard Cohen fan(which I kind of am,which is why I bought this book)then you’ll probably like it a lot more than me,but all I kept longing for was another book to read.
    There are some good poems,but there is a lot of repetitive themes and mediocre poems as well.
    At least it’s given me confidence that even I could write poems just as good,if not better.
    Thanks Leonard,but I’ll stick to Bukowski for my poetry.

  • Jefferson
    18:01 on June 2nd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Sensitive and restless, Mr. Cohen’s reflections and title are apt. There does seem to be a bit of self indulgence and immaturity here, and some equating of contentment with complacency, but it is clear he has led an examined life thus far, and may he do so for many more years.

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