Louis Dudek, After Reading A Leonard Cohen Poem: “I told him his sex life was no longer a secret”

Louis Dudek Enlightens Leonard Cohen About Self-Revelatory Poetry

Louis Dudek, who reigned as Canada’s premier man of letters until his death in 2001, was Leonard Cohen’s Literature professor at McGill University. It was his McGill Poetry Series for Contact Press that published Leonard Cohen’s first book, Let Us Compare Mythologies. (See Leonard Cohen On Louis Dudek: “Louis Dudek is a legend for me”) A 1970 newspaper article, “McGill Prof Calls Youth Cult Rotten, Crude” by Ron Campbell (Winnipeg Free Press August 21, 1970) offers an anecdote Dudek told about an early interaction with Leonard:

Now, this Cohen-Dudek Poetry Moment does raise certain questions:

  1. Which Cohen poem betrayed the secrets of his sex life?
  2. Since when did Leonard Cohen have secrets about his sex life?
  3. Was Leonard Cohen’s giggling episode described by Dudek the inspiration for his “Laughing Lenny” nickname?
  4. Why did Dudek think it important to mention that Cohen came back the next day with a poem about sparrows?

I suspect this was the poem about sparrows Cohen offered Dudek:

The Sparrows
By Leonard Cohen (Let Us Compare Mythologies, 1956)

Catching winter in their carved nostrils
the traitor birds have deserted us,
leaving only the dullest brown sparrows
for spring negotiations.

I told you we were fools
to have them in our games,
but you replied:
They are only wind-up birds
who strut on scarlet feet
so hopelessly far
from our curled fingers.

I had moved to warn you,
but you only adjusted your hair
and ventured:
Their wings are made of glass and gold
and we are fortunate
not to hear them splintering
against the sun.

Now the hollow nests
sit like tumors or petrified blossoms
between the wire branches
and you, an innocent scientist,
question me on these brown sparrows:
whether we should plant our yards with breadcrumbs
or mark them with the black persistent crows
whom we hate and stone.

But what shall I tell you of migrations
when in this empty sky
the precise ghosts of departed summer birds
still trace old signs;
or of desperate flights
when the dimmest flutter of a colored wing
excites all our favorite streets
to delight in imaginary spring.

I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted July 27, 2012 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric.

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