An Halloween Poem to Delight My Younger Friends – Leonard Cohen’s First Published Work

 CIV/n #4 - The literary magazine that first published Leonard Cohen

CIV/n #4 – The literary magazine that first published Leonard Cohen

“An Halloween Poem to Delight My Younger Friends” by Leonard Norman Cohen

(Ou sont les jeunes?)1

Impassive frogs, skins stretched taut,
grey with late October,
the houses down my street
crouched, unaware of each other.

Unaware of a significant wind
and mad children igniting heaps of rattling leaves
and the desperate cry of desperate birds.

Dry, stuffed, squatting frogs.

I don’t know where the children got the birds.
Certainly, there are few around my house. Oh,
there is the occasional sparrow or robin or wren,
but these were big birds.
There were several turns of parcel twine about
each bird to secure its wings and feet. It was
that particularly hard variety of twine that can’t
be pulled apart but requires a knife or scissors
to be cut.
I was so lost in the ritual that I’m not sure if
it was seven or eight they burnt.

(“The effluvia of festering bodies was so great
that even the Mongols avoided such places and
named them Moubaligh, City of Woe.”)

Soon they grew tired of the dance
and removed the crepe-paper costumes
and said prayers and made laments.

It was a quarter-to-nine
when one bright youngster
incited the group to burn the frogs,
which they did at nine.

(Now that I think about it, the birds
must have been pigeons.)

If one of Temujin’s2 warriors
trapped a deer to eat,
it was forbidden
to slit its throat.
The beast must be bound
and the beast’s chest opened
and the heart removed
by the hunter’s hand.

DrHGuy Notes On “Halloween Poem”

Louis Dudek (1950s)

  • Ou Sont Les Jeunes: “Ou sont les jeunes?” which translates into “Where are the young?” was also the title of an essay by Cohen’s professor of poetry at McGill, Louis Dudek3 The first paragraph follows:

Poetry in Canada needs a new start. To the young, the field is wide open. Our younger poets are getting grey about the temples. The work of the forties is by now old and yellow: it was a good beginning, but not yet the real thing. There is now a ready audience for any young writer with something fresh and bouncing to say, someone with a new technique, a vision, or a gift for making art out of matters of fact. But where are the young? Where is the “new” generation?

An Halloween Poem to Delight My Younger Friends is, at least on one level, Cohen’s response to his teacher’s titular query.

  • Source Material: The following stanza, sans parentheses and quotation marks, is quoted from Genghis Khan The Emperor Of All Men, a well known book by Harold Lamb (Thornton Butterworth Ltd London, 1927):

(“The effluvia of festering bodies was so great
that even the Mongols avoided such places and
named them Moubaligh, City of Woe.”)

  • Publication in CIV/n: “An Halloween Poem to Delight My Younger Friends” and “Poem en Prose” were Cohen’s earliest published works (Cohen would have been 19).4 Both were published in CIV/n (No. 4, Oct 1953), a short lived (7 issues) but influential literary journal arising from Montreal’s school of poets edited by Louis Dudek and Aileen Collins (who married Dudek). CIV/n was the abbreviation Ezra Pound used for “civilization.” Below the title in the CIV/n masthead was the legend

Civilization is not a one man job

Louis Dudek’s memoir, “The Making of CIV/n,” identifies a letter from Ezra Pound as the source of the slogan.5 Copies of CIV/n were sent to Pound, who found it unpolemical and too local, questioning whether the magazine had any interest in “standing for maximum awareness.”6

  • Publication In Let Us Compare Mythologies: The poem, retitled as “Halloween Poem,” was also published in Leonard Cohen’s first collection of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956)
  • Reviews:
    • One need not go far to draw a correlation between the enthusiastic cruelty of these children and the genocidal cruelty of some modern adults. Ritual, itself the manifestation of profound influence, takes the form of torture and cremation. The victims are the hitherto timeless images of creative, and thus poetic, freedom.7
    • Mr. Cohen’s outstanding poetic quality, so far, is a gift for macabre ballad reminding one of Auden, but thoroughly original, in which the chronicles of tabloids are celebrated in the limpid rhythms of folksong. The grisly Halloween Poem, with its muttering prose glosses, is perhaps the most striking of these …8

Credit Due Department: The photo of Louis Dudek was found at Poetry Quebec.

Leonard Cohen & Halloween  

Over the years, the Heck Of A Guy and DrHGuy sites have accumulated a significant number of items associated with Leonard Cohen and Halloween (how many other sites need a Leonard Cohen – Halloween tag?) that are brought back to life for reposting this time of year. An Halloween Poem to Delight My Younger Friends – The First Published Work By Leonard Cohen was first posted October 29th, 2011. The version in this post has been modestly revised.

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  1. See first entry under DrHGuy’s Notes []
  2. in 1206, at the age of 42, Temujin took the title Universal Ruler, which translates to Genghis Khan []
  3. Dudek, Louis. “Oú Sont Les Jeunes” Contact, I, No. 1, January 1952. Rpt. The Making of Modern Poetry in Canada Eds. Louis Dudek/Michael Gnarowski. Toronto: Ryerson Press 1967, pp.142-144. []
  4. Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen by Ira B. Nadel. Random House of Canada 1996 []
  5. Editing modernity: women and little-magazine cultures in Canada, 1916-1956 by Dean Irvine. University of Toronto Press, 2008 []
  6. Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen by Ira B. Nadel. Random House of Canada 1996 []
  7. Neurotic Affiliations: Klein, Layton, Cohen, and the Properties of Influence by by Michael Q. Abraham. []
  8. Northrop Frye on Leonard Cohen from from ‘Letters in Canada‘ University of Toronto Quarterly – 1956 []

The Lost Leonard Cohen Halloween Album

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Leonard Cohen’s Record Company And Other Scary Things

Disappointed with the sales of Leonard Cohen’s first two albums, Songs Of Leonard Cohen and Songs From A Room, his record label demanded that he produce a novelty LP tied to Halloween to increase his commercial appeal. His protests that issuing an album in this genre would be incongruent with his style were countered by the corporation’s argument that “no one is buying the poet turned singer-songwriter shtick.”

The result was Songs of Love and Halloween, a collection of tracks which included

  • Nightmare On Boogie Street
  • Bates Motel #2
  • Monster Mash Me To The End Of Love
  • Tacoma Trailer Park Murders
  • Hey, That’s No Way To Say Trick Or Treat

Declaring the songs “too depressing for Halloween,” the recording company executives canceled distribution of the already pressed album.

Songs of Love and Hate, rather than Songs of Love and Halloween, eventually became the third Cohen album.

The songs themselves, refitted with new titles and minor modifications of the lyrics, formed the nucleus of Cohen’s repertoire over the course of his career.

Songs of Love and Halloween – The Afterlife

Leonard Cohen and his record company have consistently denied the existence of Songs of Love and Halloween, but to this day, those passing by a certain Montreal warehouse near the harbor after sunset on October 31st report hearing a low-pitched, gravelly voice singing – or wailing – about a woman “cutting off my head on the unmade bed”

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Leonard Cohen & Halloween

Over the years, the Heck Of A Guy and DrHGuy sites have accumulated a significant number of items associated with Leonard Cohen and Halloween (how many other sites offer a Leonard Cohen – Halloween category?) that are brought back to life for reposting this time of year. Leonard Cohen’s Songs Of Love & Halloween, a highlight of DrHGuy’s Leonard Cohen-Halloween catalog, was first posted Oct 31, 2008.

I’ve seen the future, baby. It is – well, you’ll find out next week: DrHGuy.com & 1HeckOfAGuy.com Changes To Be Announced Nov 3, 2014

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Watch The Leonard Cohen Comedy Video Endorsed By Nick Cave “Beautiful!!!” & Larry Ratso Sloman “Loved your comedic stylings of LC video!”

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A couple of weeks ago, my inbox was favored with an unexpected email from Larry “Ratso” Sloman.1 As an aside to the primary business of the message, Mr Sloman noted,

Loved your comedic stylings of LC video!

He went on to explain he had sent the link to Nick Cave, whose response was

Beautiful!!!

These kind words refer to “The Comedic Stylings Of Leonard Cohen,” a video of Cohen humor I put together to counter the grotesquely mistaken perspective that Leonard Cohen is gloom incarnate.

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The majority of this video is devoted to remarks Cohen makes during his concerts presented here without the annoying interruptions of those songs he insists on performing between comic turns.

1. Acceptance of 1993 Juno Male Vocalist Award & demonstration of Cohen’s golden voice (1988)
2. Warning to audience that he is going to “fire up” his synthesizer & an exhibition of his solo skills on that instrument (2013)
3. Reverend Leo’s Toronto Revival Meeting (1993)
4. Five words Cohen chooses to describe himself
5. Meeting Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel
6. The Saga of Raphael Gayol (2010)
7. Cohen’s Zen names
8. Everybody wants a long stem (2012)
9. Cohen’s six stages of man’s allure to women (2013)
10. Cohen announces plan to resume smoking at age 80 (2013)
11. Leonard Cohen – Just a kid with a crazy dream (2009)

The Video:

The Comedic Stylings Of Leonard Cohen
Video by Allan Showalter

Note: For another celebrity-sanctioned video from Heck Of A Guy Studios, see “I Really Love It!” Don Was Endorses Heck OF A Guy Video Of Elvis’s Rolls Royce Performed By Was (Not Was) & Leonard Cohen

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  1. For the uninitiated, Larry “Ratso” Sloman has written for several decades about music, counter culture, and, on occasion, Howard Stern and the New York Rangers. As Wikipedia has it, “Larry “Ratso” Sloman is a New York-based author best known for his collaboration with Howard Stern on the radio personality’s two best-selling books, Private Parts and Miss America. He also appears in all of Kinky Friedman’s mystery novels as the Dr. Watson to Kinky’s Sherlock. Sloman wrote an account of Bob Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour, On the Road with Bob Dylan. He has also penned Reefer Madness, a history of marijuana use in the United States, Thin Ice, an account of one season with the New York Rangers hockey team, Steal This Dream, an oral biography of Abbie Hoffman.”Bob Dylan referred to Sloman’s account of the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue, On the Road with Bob Dylan, as, ‘…the War and Peace of Rock and Roll.’ He has written about and been a friend of Leonard Cohen’s for 40 years. Most recently, he authored the foreword for Sharon Robinson’s “On Tour with Leonard Cohen” to be released December 2014. []

“Ol’ Man River” By Ray Charles Is On Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox

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Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox

Biggest Influence on My Music – The jukebox. I lived beside jukeboxes all through the fifties. … I never knew who was singing. I never followed things that way. I still don’t. I wasn’t a student of music; I was a student of the restaurant I was in — and the waitresses. The music was a part of it. I knew what number the song was.

- Leonard Cohen (Yakety Yak by Scott Cohen, 1994)

Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox: Over the years, Leonard Cohen has mentioned a number of specific songs he favors. Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox is a Heck Of A Guy feature that began collecting these tunes for the edification and entertainment of viewers on April 4, 2009. All posts in the Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox series can be found at the Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox Page.

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“Ol’ Man River” By Ray Charles

When people ask me, ‘What’s your favorite song?’ I say “Blueberry Hill.”1 “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill / The moon stood still on Blueberry Hill.” That’s as good as it gets, as far as I know. You know everything about that moment. You know, you’re continually see-sawing back and forth between the secular and the spiritual until from time to time you hit it right. It’s there on “Blueberry Hill,” or “Old Man River” from Ray Charles. And what is that? What is that about? Is it about work? Is it about God? Is it about love? It’s impossible to say; it’s been transmuted into the world, and the song doesn’t invite you to examine your achievements in the realm of piety or religiosity or even love, but the song itself is embracing all those elements! [emphasis mine]
Leonard Cohen2

Ol’ Man River, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, was written for the 1927 musical Show Boat. Ray Charles released his version of the song on his 1963 album, Ingredients in a Recipe for Soul.

Video: “Ol’ Man River” By Ray Charles

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  1. See “Blueberry Hill” Is On Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox []
  2. Sincerely, L. Cohen by Brian Cullman. Details for Men, January, 1993. Found at Speaking Cohen []

1988 Leonard Cohen Profile Now Online: Profits Of Doom by Steve Turner

Profits Of Doom by Steve Turner
Photo by Michael Putland
Q Magazine: April 1988

This article includes some stellar Leonard Cohen quotes:

  • “There is a whole tradition of music where you just want to hear the man telling a story as authentically as you can. That is why there is a place for singers like me.”
  • “They’re just songs & they’re meant to do what songs are meant to do. To get you through a moment.”
  • “Buddhist meditation frees you from God and frees you from religion. You can experience complete at-homeness in this world.”
  • “I used to be a restless young man but now I’m a restless middle-aged man. You can’t help but change, though I’d be hard pressed to say in exactly what way.”

Click on images to enlarge

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Credit Due Department: Contributed by Dominique BOILE