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.

Review of Leonard Cohen Concert by Clara Rosemarda

Clara Rosemarda

Leonard Cohen in concert Monday night 4.13.09 the Paramount Theater, Oakland, CA

The palatial beauty of the Paramount Theatre equaled the intrinsic and intimate perfection of this Jewish Buddhist monk dressed in a fedora, a charcoal grey suit, and string tie, shiny black shoes that covered slender feet, and a voice that emanated from the minor key of God’s repertoire. Not a movement, not an action out of place. This slim and agile troubadour with a nose that stands larger than ever on his aging but not aged face, moved only his mouth; his eyes held shut as he allowed the words, the rhythm, the melody, the message from some force running through him to emerge and be magnified by the microphone he gripped tightly with his right hand, his left hand mimicking the fist of his right, as if to distill every last drop of this elixir he was placing on the altar of his devoted disciples.
Every so often he knelt on one knee honoring the spirits around him, humbling himself to his master musicians, to the sounds of a mandolin, the call of a saxophone, to a world of vibration, initiated not only by him, but by that which moved through him.
No one missed the meaning of this once in a life-time experience, the modern-day revival, the Monday that is all Sundays for all times compressed into a three-hour journey through the halls of God’s apartment filled with sacred sex and hate and love, filled with divine detritus of lost loves, empty whisky glasses, and songs floating every where. Dreams and prayers braided into naked bodies in single-room walk-ups, silence flowing through minuscule monk’s cells, love walking out the door. The sacred and profane floating on the sounds of a supple seventy-four year old voice, seeping through the cracks where the light comes in, the simple ray of light that breaks through without being asked, Leonard Cohen, our twentieth century prophet with his twenty-first century creations, promises nothing and gives everything.