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The stories we tell...
The case for
 Leonard Cohen

“…He locked himself in a library shelf…”: This is the sole direct reference to libraries in Leonard’s works, but we at the JPL are honoured to open up Cohen-related items from our Archives and Ephemeral collections, on display in our exhibit cases located just outside our main entrance.

Among our photos is one of Leonard’s Polish-born great-grandfather, Lazarus Cohen, a Yeshiva graduate who arrived in Montreal in the late 19th century and became president of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, Leonard’s lifelong synagogue. Others show his grandfather, Lyon Cohen, a community leader and founder of one of Montreal’s most-successful clothing companies, and Leonard’s father, Nathan Cohen, an owner of a prosperous high-end clothing store for which he briefly worked and where he assuredly picked up some fashion tips.

Leonard’s influences and mentors included well-known Jewish poets and Montrealers Irving Layton and A.M. Klein, but his Judaism and birthplace weren’t all that earned him the Canadian literary scene’s attention. Early reviews of Leonard’s debut poetry collections, included in our exhibit, indicate the literati’s rapid approval. Still later journals feature his poems in English as well as in French translation, and show Leonard quickly establishing himself as meriting serious consideration no matter the language.

Cohen’s appeal also began extending to the general public. One example is his participation in a 1964 JPL-hosted symposium on English-language Jewish writers (audio of which can be found by clicking on the links below).

It’s said that there are no second acts in life, but Leonard’s later years proved to be perhaps the most productive, creative and highly-regarded period of his life. He achieved this, remarkably, in the face of considerably difficult professional and personal circumstances. Yet he had faced such obstacles before, as detailed a 1972 Maclean’s cover story in our display, during which he expressed hope it would be “[my] last interview”.

Luckily for us, as in 1972, it wasn’t.

All together, these items from the JPL collections demonstrate something about how Leonard Cohen could ultimately say “I’m Your Man” to us – and we, like much of the world, could unreservedly reply “Yes”.

This mini-exhibit was curated by JPL Staff: Nicole Beaudry, Eddie Paul and Eddie Stone
Audio links for the 1964 JPL-hosted Symposium on English-language Jewish writers:

The JPL also holds other Cohen books, ephemeral and archival materials in its collections; for our main library catalogue and for our Archives catalogue