Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Kudos and a Sadness

Well, maybe that’s a little over the top.  But, maybe not.  But kudos to The New Yorker for publishing Leonard Cohen’s “Going Home.” 

The album, Old Ideas, is streaming here:

Why kudos?  Well, I’ve been a fan of Leonard Cohen’s for about 30 years now.  It’s great that he’s coming out with a new album, and it’s even better that the new album is good.  Dear Heather, his last, was not among my favorites.  So here I am, cruising through The New Yorker, and there he is.  Nice. 

Now for the sadness.  First, it’s a song lyric.  For that, it’s an excellent song lyric. 

I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit

It’s a clever approach, and, when it’s surrounded by the light treatment of the song, it’s quite effective.  But here, as simply the lyrics, I feel myself wanting to sing it, not speak it.  I look at it imagining the music, and without the music, it deflates.  Still and all, I’m happy to see it. 

The sadness is that there are only two poems in this issue, and one of them is a song lyric.  So this is what poetry has come to.  Publications like The New Yorker bring poetry to people who might well have this as their only poetry contact.  Leonard Cohen, as few albums as he will probably sell, and as worthy of wider notice as he is, no matter how few albums he sells, he will sell many times as many albums as the most widely distributed book of poetry.

We have these conversations now and then, about song lyrics and poetry, and I’m not interested in starting that conversation back up.  What I’m interested in is a wider readership for poetry, and publishing Leonard Cohen (whom I admire very much) in the place of a poem that needs the readership much more, saddens me. 

This is what I wish.  I wish The New Yorker had published the lyrics to “Going Home” as an extra, a plus, to the regular poems.  There are so few opportunities out there for poetry to get in the hands of a wider audience, that to lose even one is a pretty heavy loss. 

That said, I also want to say that I’m pleased that publications like The New Yorker continue to publish poetry at all, and I’m doubly pleased to see that there is a new spirit of inclusiveness these days. 

So there we are. 


At 1/25/2012 5:58 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Now you're making me want to re-read Campion (the Elizabethan one).

I understand choosing to print lyricists in with the poets, though. (Cohen's not the first, though I don't remember whether it was Muldoon or Quinn who ran Joni Mitchell's "Bad Dreams Are Good.")

At 1/25/2012 6:40 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Campion. Yikes. Now I want to go back and read him too.

I also like that lyricists are published with the poets (beside the difficulty of the genre distinction in the TOC). This is part of my ambivalence on this. I like that Cohen is there, but I don’t like that something else had to be bumped for it. I wish Cohen could have been there (Mitchell too) as extras to, not in place of, poetry.

At 1/25/2012 7:50 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

The last issue of The New York Times Book Review contained no reviews of new poetry at all. There was an article about Ben Jonson, and that was it for poetry. I used to think TNYTBR was a civilized publication.


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