Mini interview re: Leonard Cohen with Karla Linn Merrifield

Here is the first in the “What I Know How To Do” series–and what a fun topic!
If you want to participate, check it out.
Karla Linn Merrifield originally wrote me: I’m an expert on poet/singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen. I’m a Cohen mega-fan, a junkie, a scholar, divinely be-Mused by him.


Mini interview for Miriam Sagan re: Leonard Cohen
with Karla Linn Merrifield

1. What was the start of this fascination?

Back in the ’60s, when Leonard Cohen’s song “Suzanne” was a big hit, I was your typical angst-ridden teenager living in a household with estranged parents. As I entered puberty, my mother became menopausal while my Methodist minister dallied with a parishioner and punished me for dating Jewish boys. Cohen was one of them in a way. His intimate voice, his seductive but sad lyrics, his older-man sexiness fed the emerging poet in me. I’ve remained passionate about “my” Canadian poet-singer-songwriter ever since, scribbling poems to or about him.

2. How did you become an expert?

Going on three years ago, I finally got to see Leonard in person. Swoon, swoon. Rapture, rapture. I decided that night to assemble the Cohen poems I had in manila folders and computer files to see what I might have. The task became something much bigger. Being a compulsive researcher, I began reading or rereading everything he’d written and anything about him I could get my hands on. From those books of his and others’ biographies and philosophical and literary explorations of the man and his work, and from listening ad nauseum to his music, a Krakatoa of poems erupted. They’re now a completed manuscript under consideration with two publishers. But, as Cohen has emerged at the ripe age of 80 as a superstar, a flood of new books about him have come out just this year, so I’m still reading, still writing him poems, and learning. Just yesterday I found out all of Cohen’s songs are composed from a combination of only six chords from the flamenco tradition, taught to him by a Spanish guitarist. It’s fun, but certainly exposes my compulsive streak.

3. What have you learned about yourself?

Until I was immersed in “the Cohen poems,” I hadn’t realized just how important – vital – a role music plays in our human lives. Cohen’s songs (along with his poetry) kept me more or less sane during those tumultuous teen years. He and his music have been constant companions through other dark times, and, yes, times of joy as well. When I need to smile, I just turn on his “Tower of Song” and instantaneously the knitted-brow of anxiety vanishes and I’m grinning widely. And I now know with absolute certainty that his poetry has informed my poems again and again.

4. Any general words of wisdom on having a muse?

Give thanks to the Universe for your muse. Always leave the door open for him or her or it. Trust that your muse(s) will be there for you. And remember: “There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in” (from L.C.’s “Anthem).


To read more on Cohen, see what some other contributors say.

When You Died by Martin Willitts Jr.

When You Died

Although you were dead after ten days,
you went to the church not far from your farm.
Although not Christian, you knelt in the pew.
The one with red plush carpet to protect
old knees from feeling Penance. You prayed
like a bowl needing to empty its self.
You could hear the wagon nearing. The one
drawn by horses you could not see.
You were praying like falling apples
and a goat was nibbling the worst of them.

Although you could not see the horses,
you could tell how their hooves
clicked on the groves of the ground
following the same trail it always had
with the same purpose
of sending its contents to a final resting place
where death had no control anymore.
You could hear the small colt alongside
its mother, following instinct, like farming
the same crops and falling into more debt.
You could hear inside the wagon,
your own coffin shifting side to side.
It was then you had a type of belief.

What Do You Know How To Do?

Hi friends and readers-
I’m thinking of doing a series of interviews with people about what they know how to do. Can you cook, drive on snow, calm people down, play the drums, create a ruckus, write a haiku, organize grassroots, buy a becoming hat, say no, or…
If you are interested–send me your expertise and a note at and I’ll send you a mini-interview.

I’m reblogging below at bit of an interview in the same spirit, with my friend Kath, done several years ago in Iceland.


Question: Kath, you are in search of a good desert. What is your usual process in a foreign land?

“My process is to ask the opinion of whoever happens to be at hand, a local. And if possible I try to get them to tell me why this their first choice and then I assess their standards. Also, hit and miss. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Remember all those times I ordered the wrong thing in China? I would just pay for the meal, mortified, leave, go someplace else, and try again.”

What have you tried so far?

“They have a lot of blond desserts and not that much chocolate.A nice sort of softish cookie with marzipan in it, I had a chocolate muffin but it was really a cupcake (it wasn’t bad) and now I’ve just bought some soft shortbread stuff with rhubard and also oatcakes. So we’ll see. I don’t think these are going to be the end of my searching,but I like the oat cookies!”

Question: off the topic of dessert, what is the U.S.’s best export?

“Bob Dylan–you are so struck it makes you gasp hearing how great he sounds coming out of the speakers at the Samkaup (local store) or the boom box at the gym in Iceland.”

Meetings With Remarkable Poets: in which Peggy Pond Church holds my hand

It’s funny how and when certain memories surface.On Friday, I was honored to be interviewed by Lynn Cline on KSFR. She is very knowledgeable about New Mexico literary history, and mentioned Peggy Pond Church.
In 1985 or so, soon after I came to New Mexico, I had the remarkable experience of giving a poetry reading with Peggy Pond Church in Taos. Already blind and quite deaf, she sat right next to me when I read, holding my hand. She seemed like a darling old lady, but her toughness was also in evidence. I don’t think I had even yet read her masterpiece “The Woman At Otowi Crossing.”

An excellent article about her life appears at

Her death was also to have meaning for me. As the Taos profile says: “Eventually, however, her eyesight and hearing began to decline and diminish her quality of life. She died October 23, 1986, a date of her “own choosing.” In a letter left for friends and family, Peggy explained her decision.
‘It has long been my belief that in old age when the body fails we should be permitted to lay it down at a time of our own choosing and allow the spirit to go free. To a poet, death is another phase of life. In this age of vociferous right-to-lifers, I feel that death has rights too and needs to be made a friend of.’ “
I remember discussing this with my friend Elizabeth Searle Lamb. As a young person, I was somewhat shocked. “Now dear,” Elizabeth began. That “dear” always signaled to me that she was about to impart something important. And she explained to me why she was sympathetic to this way of thinking.
Elizabeth died many years later of natural causes, but as I am now 60 and looking forward with some of the same focus and trepidations I feel grateful to have known of Church’s decision.
And I’m amazed that I held her hand.

Mythic Tanka: Call for Submissions

Submit to: Send submissions to with the subject line: “Submission – “Myths and the Creative Imagination.” Complete information below.

IN CONTEMPORARY TIMES A MYTH IS PERCEIVED AS A FALSEHOOD, SELF-DELUDING, SOMETHING THAT IS NOT TRUE. However, myths have been a part of human civilization from the earliest times.

The Scottish anthropologist James Frazer saw myths as pre-scientific attempts to explain the natural world.

Mircea Eliade, a historian of religion and myths, took a wider perspective. He defined myths as stories of origins, of how the world and everything in it came to be. Therefore, myths are basic tools humans use to make sense of our world and who we are.

Joseph Campbell extended this creative aspect of myths, when he said that the first function of a myth is to reconcile waking consciousness to ‘the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of this universe’. In other words, myths point people to the metaphysical dimension of their existence – the origins and nature of the cosmos.

The psychoanalytical interpretation of myths as expressions of the human psyche in the works of Freud and Jung was one the most influential theories of the 20th century.

Freud focused on the ritual significance of myths. In his study, Totem and Taboo (1912-13) he compared taboo beliefs to neurosis and concluded that individual neurosis and social taboos have psychological roots.

Jung’s interpretation of myths has particular significance for the creative imagination. According to him an individual is on a quest for self-realization. He called this the ‘individuation process’. Myths provide the blueprint for this quest. Myths emerge from the unconscious and contain archaic truths about existence and are our fundamental source of inspiration.

Jung argued myths contain messages to the individuals, not the group, no matter how many people are involved in retelling and listening to them. ‘Myths are first and foremost psychic phenomena that reveal the nature of the soul.’

The power of myths to open up the world of imagination (Samuel Taylor Coleridge) is undeniable. However, the fate of myths has not been a happy one. Ironically, the critique of myths began in Greece, where myths inspired epic poetry, tragedy, comedy and visual arts. The Greeks subjected myths to a long and penetrating analysis as a result of which myths were radically demystified. This was influenced by the rise of schools of thoughts like Ionian Rationalism and the Materialists. Democritus criticized the gods in the works of Homer and Hesiod as being “capricious, unjust, immoral, jealous and vindictive”.

Christianity continued this demystification to undermine paganism. However by destroying myths as pagan falsehood, Christianity damaged the belief in the interaction between the cosmic and the natural world.

The steady disjunction between myths and the individual took a particular turn in modern times as disenchantment. It forced poets and writers to create their own private imaginative worlds and present it to a frequently uncomprehending public.

Rilke was one such disenchanted poet who resurrected the myth of Orpheus in his 55 Sonnets to Orpheus (1922).

WB Yeats similarly turned to the ancient Celtic myths for inspiration. TS Eliot drew on James Frazer’s study of comparative religions and myths, for his Waste Land.

How important are the religious/sacred aspects of myths to your own inspiration?
Do you think that these are relevant in our times for poets and writers?
Do you draw on any mythic traditions to write?

Myths and the Creative Imagination will be published as a Special Feature on the Atlas Poetica website at: The general guidelines for Atlas Poetica apply. Myths and the Creative Imagination will publish spring, 2015.

Please submit up to five of your tanka about myths that have a special resonance for you. Only one tanka per individual poet will be selected, so please send us your best poems. The poems must be original, previously unpublished and not under consideration by any other journal. Poems posted in social media fora like twitter, facebook or personal blogs will be considered.

Send submissions to with the subject line: “Submission – “Myths and the Creative Imagination.” Please send your tanka in the body of the email and include a brief (not more than 5-lines) bio-note about your writing. Do not send attachments, which will be deleted.

Submission deadline: 1 December —28th February 2015.

Acceptance or non-acceptance of submissions will be notified as soon as possible after the deadline.

Poem by Rudy Rios

Mile 293
Dry crisp cutting
Blow East windmill

Pissin behind
Skinny fencepost

Seagull life
Stock tank

Call liquor
Bovine shots

Tan weeds fight
Barren prairie

Desert trees
Not existent

Weary feathers
What shade

Rusted Iron
Wave wind

Weather beaten man trees
Fragile form held

Rattlesnake share
Intersections clad

Steel hoofs beat
Forward Paths