The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Wordsworth’

The Favorite Game

September 19, 2014 | by

Leonard Cohen in love.

leonard cohen

Cohen in 1988.

“Desperation is the mother of poetry.”
—Leonard Cohen

Like most people, I remember the first time I had sex pretty well. I can recall the surprisingly adept flirting I carried off beforehand, and the moment of pleasant shock when she kissed me. I remember how we stayed in bed until three the next day and how when we finally got up, faint from hunger, we went to eat at a greasy spoon that had a little jukebox by each table. I have no idea what I ordered, but I do remember that she got a grilled cheese sandwich. In the next year and a half that we were together, I don’t know if she ever ate another one.

We all have memories like that, jumping out of oblivion like buoys in the water. The facts might be fuzzy, but the moments are clear. Leonard Cohen describes such a memory in his first novel, The Favorite Game, published in 1963, when he was twenty-nine:

What did she look like that important second?

She stands in my mind alone, unconnected to the petty narrative. The color of the skin was startling, like the white of a young branch when the green is thumb-nailed away. Nipples the color of bare lips. Wet hair a battalion of glistening spears laid on her shoulders.

She was made of flesh and eyelashes.

Cohen, who turns eighty on Sunday, is exceptionally good at drawing out those moments of sexual crystallization. It’s a skill that, along with his gravelly voice and poems about women’s bodies, has given him a reputation for being a “ladies’ man.” Judging by the adoring crowds at his shows, it’s a reputation he deserves.

Yet it isn’t success with women that accounts for Cohen’s particular vision, even if his fame as a lover may have, over time, borne the fruits of self-fulfilling prophecy. Rather, his work is shot through with fears of physical deficiency and sexual deprivation, loneliness and insecurity. “He could not help thinking that … he wasn’t tall enough or straight, that people didn’t turn to look at him in street-cars, that he didn’t command the glory of the flesh,” he writes of his autobiographical protagonist in The Favorite Game. Decades later, in his 2006 poetry collection Book of Longing, Cohen confessed: “My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke / that caused me to laugh bitterly / through the ten thousand nights / I spent alone.” Read More »

7 COMMENTS

If You See Wordsworth at the Side of the Road

September 26, 2012 | by

I once enjoyed a gamboling lamb as much as the next pastoralist, and hiking, too—through forests, over peaks—but Wordsworth, laureate of the Lakes, has maddened me. In life and verse, he set an irresistible but inaccessible standard of contact: of enlivening intimacy with wind, water, earth, and sun—a marriage of mind and matter in which mind never feels abandoned.

Depressed and isolated, I have craved this union. I have studied Wordsworth assiduously. I have become an expert in the Romantic school of which he is the prime exemplar. For twenty years, I have taught his poetry. I have memorized the daffodil poem, “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud.” This flower I have pressed into a book of his poems. I’ve already undertaken two pilgrimages to the Lakes.

But poet’s abundance has mocked my poverty. When I glimpse the blooms he immortalized, and so gorgeously described—buttery, frilly, dancing in the breeze—they hiss to me: loser. They make the hurt worse, my self-loathing sharper. I’d kill Wordsworth if I saw him on the road.

Read More »

6 COMMENTS

On the Shelf

November 16, 2011 | by

A cultural news roundup.

  • Winners of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards.
  • Stephen King helps heat Maine.
  • The real Tintin!
  • The X-Men archive goes to Columbia.
  • Penguin takes the self-publishing leap.
  • The LA Times pubs its first e-book.
  • Meanwhile, authors charge that the Kindle library is “boldly breaching its contracts.
  • In brick-and-mortar news, Ann Patchett opens a bookstore.
  • Wordsworth House (#4) opens in the Lake District.
  • Salman Rushdie fights Facebook, and wins.
  • Writers restock the OWS Library.
  • Speaking of public libraries ...
  • RIP legendary publisher Morris Philipson.
  • “We’ve just lost the Norman Rockwell of comic strips.”
  • Jane Austen ... murdered?
  • NO COMMENTS

    On Not Letting Go

    October 6, 2011 | by

    "Notebook on an Intended Dictionary." Bound manuscript written on wrappers from the 1855 edition of 'Leaves of Grass.' Courtesy The Library of Congress.

    Probably no writer ever finishes a book without wishing he could keep it to himself. For one thing, a book is company, during the writing of it; it’s hard to accept its departure. For another, a book is never free of flaws, its author being human. Poets have long been able to console themselves for the loss and the exposure by revising and republishing. Thus Whitman expanded, aggrandized, and eventually bloated Leaves of Grass; thus Wordsworth enlarged upon and finally diluted The Prelude. Some writers of fiction, too, have indulged themselves. Henry James returned to his early prose to render it more ineffable. Raymond Carver restored some of the fullness that a charismatic editor had cut from his early stories. Read More »

    Comments Off