Poem of the Week: This Is It // Leonard Cohen

This is it
I’m not coming after you
I’m going to lie down for half an hour
This is it
I’m not going down
On your memory
I’m not rubbing my face in it anymore
I’m going to yawn
I’m going to stretch
I’m going to put a knitting needle
Up my nose
And poke out my brain
I don’t want to love you
For the rest of my life
I want your skin
To fall off my skin
I want my clamp
To release your clamp
I don’t want to live
With this tongue hanging out
And another filthy song
In the place
Of my baseball bat
This is it
I’m going to sleep now darling
Don’t try to stop me
I’m going to sleep
I’ll have a smooth face
And I’m going to drool
I’ll be asleep
Whether you love me or not
This is it
The new world order
Of wrinkles and bad breath
It’s not going to be
Like it was before
Eating you
With my eyes closed
Hoping you won’t get up
And go away
It’s going to be something else
Something worse
Something sillier
Something like this
Only shorter

This Is It, Leonard Cohan
From ‘Puppets’ by Leonard Cohen

I am perpetually scouring the shelves of my local bookshop, searching for another poetry book to add to my ever-growing collection. I recently struck gold on discovery of Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing. Mostly written during his time spent in India and at a Buddhist monastery, these poems are raw, moody and erotic. He touches upon notions of fading love, sensuality, ageing and spirituality, crafting his words in a darkly humorous yet playful manner. Accompanying each poem is a stark, charcoal line drawing, often an erotic outline of a woman, or a brooding sketch of his aged self. His ironic and tender verse attracted me immediately, Book of Longing being a collection perfumed with yearning and weary bitterness that proves an enchanting read.

Born in Montreal in 1934, Cohen’s artistic career spanned seven decades, having produced ten collections of poetry, two novels and fourteen albums. I am ashamed to admit that upon first discovering this collection, I had never read any of his work, nor had I been aware that he was a published poet. He released his first collection of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies, in 1956, and has since established himself as a canonical American writer. In fact, even if he had never ventured a career in music, Cohen would still have an important and prodigious literary voice.

Having spent five years on Mt. Baldy, a Buddhist monastery in India, Book of Longing is a distillation of what he learnt during his time there. The collection is littered with spiritual imagery, meditating upon the mystical and magnetic forces of romance and religion. Cohen entwines religious and sensual imagery to create a book which maps his melancholic, longing heart, undoubtedly intensified by his abstinent years spent as a Buddhist monk.

From ‘This Is It’ by Leonard Cohen

I have chosen ‘This Is It’ for this week’s Poem of the Week, a poem which emanates the desire to sever yourself from your partner entirely, once the relationship has inevitably crumbled. Cohen adopts a voice of certitude, assuring his lover that the end of their relationship is “it”, it is permanent and resolute. It’s a place we all find ourselves residing in after a torturous breakup, one of self-denial, believing that you have the capacity to erase them from your mind completely. Of course, this is rarely the case. The use of the anaphora “This is it” asserts the desire for finality, yet the irony lies in his repetition of the phrase, as though the more he recites it, the more he is deluding himself into believing it to be true. This implausible assurance he offers to the reader, though assertive, gives the poem a sense of naivety. It is impossible to entirely wipe your memory of someone.

Cohen meditates upon the, often unhealthy, intimacy we seek in relationships. The line “I want your skin/ to fall off my skin” creates an image of dependency, implying that romantic relationships are often so immersive, our beings entwine with theirs. This notion juxtaposes with his assurance that “This is it”, for it is futile to assume that it can ever be “it” with someone you were once so close to. Memories may fade and tatter, but they cannot be expunged by the sheer force of will.

Like much of Cohen’s work, this poem is sensual, reinforced by the accompanying sketch, which depicts the groin of a woman, perhaps his lost lover. A number of critics claim that his sketches dilute the impact of the text, existing merely to fill up blank spaces on the page. I hold no such view, however, for his dolorous self-portraits and seductive sketches add another layer of poeticism to his words. His drawing, coupled with the poem, suggests the prevailing memory of his partner will be an intimate one. The memory most difficult to shed, the one he thinks of often, is the raw, unveiled intimacy they shared, vulnerability which is difficult to recapture. An intensely personal poet, his writing seeks to exhibit the inner turmoil of a pained artist, afflicted by a wounded heart and whittling optimism. In fact, by the end of the poem, the reader is left hesitant in believing it really is “it” for the speaker and the lover in question.

Words by Sylvia O’Hara

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