photo by ©Robert Sward
as interviewed by Robert Sward
This interview took place in Montreal, Quebec - 1984.
INT: Your latest album is called " Various Positions. " Why that title?
LC: When you're gathering songs together, the ones that you have and the ones that you can finish, they generally fall around a certain position: and this position seemed to me like walking, like walking around the circumference of the circle. It's the same area looked at from different positions. I like to have very neutral titles. My last album was called " Recent Songs " and that was the most perfect title I've ever come up with. But " Various Positions " is okay. My next one is going to be called " Songs in English. "
INT: What connections are there between " Various Positions " and " Book of Mercy, " your new book of poems?
LC: " Book of Mercy " is a secret book for me. It's something I never considered, although it has an organic place, I guess, among the things I've done. It is a book of prayer and it is a sacred kind of conversation; the songs are related, of course. Everybody's work is all of one piece, but " Book of Mercy " is somehow to one side. For me personally it's just a document, an important document. But a popular song has to move more easily, lip to lip. Songs are addressed and constructed that way. "Book of Mercy " is a little book of prayer that is only valuable to someone who needs it at the time. It isn't aimed in the same way that a song is aimed.
INT: Yet I find it reads very much as if it were a love poem. It is a book of love ... without the kinds of tensions that are in your other love poems and songs. It's very much an I-Thou relationship.
LC: Well, I hope it has those qualities, because if a thing doesn't have those qualities it doesn't go anywhere. It doesn't even touch yourself. But it is a particular kind of love poem. We always have someone looking over our shoulder when we write and we always have an idea of a public. But I think that in " Book of Mercy " that process was as rarefied as possible. The public almost evaporated in the construction of that book. It really was meant for people like myself who could use it at a particular time.
INT: Have you been surprised by the audience that it has found?
LC: I'm always happy that a thing finds any audience at all and I've gotten some very kind letters from people who are not readers of poetry. I've gotten letters from soldiers and people I ordinarily never hear from.
INT: In an early poem of yours, " Lines from My Grandfather's Journal, " you write, " Even now prayer is my natural language." It strikes me that you may, to some extent, have found your natural language in Book of Mercy. And of course a psalm is also a song.
[for more, please see http://www.robertsward.com/lcohen.htm]
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