'Stranger Music' by Leonard Cohen (1993)

Stranger music - Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen, Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs (London: Jonathan Cape, 1993), 415pp


Having been impressed by Leonard Cohen's Book of Longing, I sought out another collection of his poetry to enjoy. Stranger Music is not as overpowering as Book of Longing, though it still has a sizeable number of gems peppered throughout. Unlike the leaner and more focused Book of Longing, this collection draws from a number of sources, including previously-published poetry collections like Let Us Compare Mythologies, The Spice-Box of Earth, Flowers for Hitler and Book of Mercy, and Cohen's albums from 1968-1992. This means that whilst the usual Cohen themes of romance, spirituality and eroticism are present, their power is diluted by the broader spread of Stranger Music.

Perhaps it is wrong to compare Stranger Music to Book of Longing too heartily. Whereas the latter was a focused collection written (for the most part) in a short timeframe, Stranger Music collects material (poems, songs and prose) from across his entire career until 1993. Book of Longing convinced me, a long-time fan of Cohen's music, of his ability as a poet. What Stranger Music does is convince us of Cohen as a sort of artistic polymath, equally adept with poetry, music or prose. Whilst I would recommend Book of Longing as an introduction to Cohen's artistic power, if you want a broader appreciation of the man's talents than Stranger Music is the perfect herald.

Personal favourites include: 'These Heroics', 'The Fly', 'Gift', 'Travel', 'Isaiah', 'All There is to Know About Adolph Eichmann', 'The Way Back', 'Ugly in My Own Eyes', 'There Are No Traitors', 'Paper-Thin Hotel', 'The Dream', 'How to Speak Poetry', 'Ballad of the Absent Mare' and 'Not Knowing Where to Go'.