Leonard Cohen was beloved by many, not just as a singer-songwriter, but equally as a thinker, a writer, and a gentleman. In a year that has seen the Nobel Prize committee recognise Bob Dylan for “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”, it is perhaps fitting that we now extend a similar recognition to Cohen.
Below, writers and artists from Northern Ireland give their personal tributes to a man of great gift and influence.
Sheena Wilkinson (novelist)
Leonard Cohen was one of my first and most enduring musical loves. We had Songs From A Room on an old eight-track and I could sing along with every song before I started school. Being a LC fan lasted into my teens and all my life. He offered a glimpse into a world I didn’t always understand but wanted — something shimmering and subtle, where darkness wasn’t frightening, but a part of the whole. I saw him live only once, in Belfast in 2009, and for once a hero did not disappoint. He was so gracious, seemed genuinely moved by the standing ovation he was given the moment he walked on to the stage. I was always puzzled by non-fans saying his music was depressing; I always found it life-affirming, wry and sexy. I’m listening to Songs From A Room as I write this; LC has been my soundtrack and he always will be.
Glen Wilson (poet, musician)
Leonard Cohen was a gentleman poet of wisdom wit and grace .I was blessed to have seen him live in Belfast a few years ago with my good friend Darren Matthews. It was an unforgettable night where he made the Odyssey arena feel like an intimate coffeehouse poetry reading, and made it as spiritual as a Pentecostal Meeting. His words inspired and will continue to do so.
Csilla Toldy (poet, writer)
Cohen’s words to Marianne from earlier in the year, “I think I’ll follow you very soon”, echo in my mind, together with his harrowing deep voice narrating a Canadian documentary on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. His metaphors are unforgettable – for he found the humour in the reveal that come about when we match two unlike things to express our complex minds or emotions. I don’t believe in chance and Cohen’s leaving reassured me. Enlightened beings choose when to go. Cohen opened each of his concerts with ‘Bird on a Wire’ – and for many of us, he was an ambassador of freedom. It is no chance that he left the day after a weakly disguised dictator was elected in the US. For us, who are left behind there is still solace in the Tibetan Book of the Dead: “Recognition and liberation are simultaneous.” Thank you for the wisdom and the pain, the light and darkness, I hope your journey is smooth.
Gerard McKeown (writer)
I’d tattoo ‘You loved me as a loser, now you’re worried that I just might win,’ inside my eyelids, if I could squeeze it in. My introduction to Leonard Cohen came in my early teens, while starring in an am-dram comedy in Ballymoney. Someone played him on a mix-tape during the interval. Audience members remarked Cohen didn’t suit the mood for comedy. Subsequent mentions informed me he was the go-to-man for misery. When I went looking for misery, I found his sat alongside poetry, humour, waltzes, snatches of country, amphetamine-fuelled arpeggios, then later synths and a tobacco-lowered voice. Raver friends didn’t want him played at parties, but warmed to him by the end of the night, when they were stoned or drunk and in a mood for introspection. We pretended to know more about sex and death than we did, but who didn’t at that age?
David Braziel (writer)
Poets are awake
hearing the world crack, praying
only light gets in.
Geraldine O’Kane (poet, facilitator)
I came late to Leonard Cohen, I was on a night shift in 2005 in a call centre which normally held up to 600 people during the day. There were just two of us in the building that night. Suddenly my colleague says “do you want to hear something? I know you’ll totally get it.” In the quiet of the room came the eerie devastation of Jeff Buckley singing Hallelujah, I was mesmerised, haunted by the words as she knew I would be. When it was over she said “you know Leonard Cohen wrote that?”, and I was all “who is Leonard Cohen?” She looked at me like I lived under a rock! She told me he was a poet as well as a singer and that was it, I was hooked, I looked up everything I could find about this man who could get into the gritty souls of others, swim in their darkness and come out triumphant holding their light aloft; that’s how I feel every time I encounter Leonard Cohen in all his forms.
Judith Thurley (poet)
& i remember you well in the dark rooms of war; firelit red curtains in bay windows & i singing with you, a third higher. we lived in black & white & sepia back then & then you sang poems to this womanchild in a voice from elsewhere. now you journey on beautifully in your boat of the soul going downriver. you are passenger & helmsman & your eyes are full of wisdom & wonderment & love.