The Friday Poem on 06/08/21
We chose Amlanjyoti Goswami’s poem because it evokes the simplicity and craft inherent in the music of Leonard Cohen himself. It speaks to our understanding that nothing comes from nothing — that Cohen stands on the shoulders of all those who came before him. Who is the ‘unknown teacher’ of the poem? Is it the continuous tradition of folk / ethnic memory that goes back generations? Is it Federico Garcia Lorca’s concept of ‘duende’, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity? Or is it the flamenco teacher from whom the teenage Cohen learnt the six chord progression that he later said was the basis of all his music? Goswami’s poem explores all these possibilities, and more, beautifully.
Leonard Cohen’s unknown teacher speaks from his strings
I taught him ways to hold time
By his fingertips.
String moments in palm
Park bench, oak and mahogany,
Girls playing tennis and that kid
Had a way with music.
If you start from So Long, Marianne
You could find me breathing among those chords.
Try the opening bars of Suzanne
Famous Blue Raincoat, yes that’s what I taught him –
Deep breath, hold it, the moment passes
And it won’t come back.
In Hallelujah, he did let on a few secrets:
‘The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift’.
How time plucks strings of our life.
Time that’s never on our side.
My time was up when I met him,
The kid with the Conde guitar, smelling of cedar.
Born for poetry, born for song.
Six chords, all moments between
Strung in string, breathing between the lines.
He remembered me, but didn’t know my name.
I learnt my lessons from the old masters and just passed them on.
Escudero, Ramon Montoya, the many unknowns
Who once played in the squares of Toledo, Seville, Granada …
The rest he learnt from Lorca.