When I taught English at LCC, I began every class with a poem. I would read the poem twice and everyone in the class would then share their favourite line. Sometimes we moved immediately on to the rest of the class, but sometimes we just needed to discuss it. I think those were my favourite times – when the students would be so moved or so interested that I just couldn’t think of what would be more important than that conversation. We studied a poet for one month, which meant studying 15-20 poems per month and nine poets per year.
One day, a visitor to the school stopped by our classroom and asked what the students were studying. “Poetry” was the answer. “And who is your favourite poet?” The class tossed a few names around then agreed that Leonard Cohen was definitely at the top of the list. The visitor was impressed. But then one boy stood up – and everyone knew that he was not the usual poetry-type of guy, (I suspect that even our visitor had that feeling), and he offered to recite one of Cohen’s poems:
With Annie Gone
whose eyes to compare
with the morning sun?
Not that I did compare,
but I do compare
now that she’s gone.
On this day, September 21, I hope that some of my students from Lower Canada College might notice it’s Leonard Cohen’s birthday and think back to those times when we just had to have the conversation. Maybe that boy has used his poetry recitation skills to woo a girl! Maybe they are still having those conversations in their own lives, where ever they might be now.
Maybe that’s the true power of the poet.