The Energy of Slaves.

Last weekend I gathered all of my Leonard Cohen belongings and formed a small mound– of bodies of work to plough through over the coming months—next to a pile of clean laundry on the sofa in my apartment.

The laundry doesn’t fit anywhere else, and now, neither do the books.

Like a reversed out-of-sight-out-of-mind arrangement.

If the clothes are visable I will remember to dress and if the books are visable I will remember to read.

One book in particular has captured my fascination all week long. It’s possibly the oldest book I own. Not that it was the first I bought. Books get lost. We all know that. It is, however, by far, the oldest-looking book I own. Most of the pages are dog-eared and there are pen parks on each of the pages. I’ve always read like this—with pen in hand. This is one of the reasons I advise people not to loan me books for the temptation to mark is just too great. As well as being one of the reasons I no longer loan books. You want to read it? Go buy the fucking thing. Swipe it. Whatever. Just don’t take my well-loved little friend.

This particular book I speak of is Leonard Cohen’s ‘The Energy of Slaves.’

I must’ve been 15 or so when I bought it as I have always had this particular daggy habit of dating everything, including books. Oddly though, I noticed, there is no date in the front of this book which leads me to believe that I was either sans pen for a time upon purchase, or in some other strange state of mind, possibly trying to outgrow my daggy habit of dating things.

This well thumbed manuscript however, the one I must be careful not to bend the spine of when I read, for fear of the glue that binds it, giving up the ghost, and releasing pages at the most inopportune time, has a couple of dates scribbled on various pages, an effort on my part, I believe, to remind me of a time and place. Which it does.


Which would’ve made me 17, not 15. Though by the nature of the things I underlined I remain convinced I was possibly even younger than that.

It’s been a wonderful little thing re-reading this book. Being reminded of where my head was at, at the time.

The poems are short and Leonard seems tired. Which is fitting as in all honesty I’d rather be napping right now than writing this.

Still there is something that spurs me on.

A peculiar thing I can only really describe as being all too familiar and stolen.

Stolen in the sense that we all learn how to write, initially by copying. My writing professor at RMIT would say that a child learns to read by flirting with the idea of reading. By holding the book upside down and inventing words to match the pictures.

I used to do this with kanji.

I would stare, for great lengths of time at a sign or an instruction on an ATM and assure myself that while, for now, I was only pretending, one day this ancient foreign script would start to make sense. Which it did. Thank fuck.

And in re-reading The Energy of Slaves I am reminded of how much of this particular style I was interested in recreating as a young woman, bored witless, sitting in a classroom, staring out the window, writing poems for most of the day.

I have boxes of these poems which I would type out on my fathers computer of an afternoon and then present to him that evening at the family dinner table. I was always too shy to read them out loud, so I’d just print them out and leave them behind as I cleared the table, for his perusal.

My grandmother came to stay with us once. I remember her being surprised at my behaviour. I remember her demanding that I stop being such a child and sit with her and read them to her. I remember wanting to please her and feeling like perhaps that with menstruation came a certain new, additional pressure to grow the fuck up and do something brave.

So I read to her.

For hours, if I’m not mistaken. She would stop me and ask me what I was on about. How I’d come to see the world quite like that. And why everything was so depressing. ‘Because it is nan, because it is.’

I remember thinking she was hard and soft in equal measure, and that perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing.

I also remember how I’d often change the swear words to more mock-expletives like bloody and shit instead of cunt and fuck.

I remember also wondering, during this time, if there was such a way to be a writer without ever having to be in the room at the same time. I’ve always secretly envied this of painters. I’ve always wished I could stick something to a wall and run away. Why must I stand up and read before you? As you hold your face like that and ask a thousand questions before you think…

That always struck me as being rather un-necessary. My mind began to wonder, even then, how to get around this wee hurdle.

I suppose blogging is as close as leaving the room gets. Certainly there are some of you whom I will have to speak to on the street or in the hall, but largely this is a solitary adventure. Which brings me to this on page 54.

Leaning over his poem
From a standing position
Wearing underwear
The bed unmade
The poem half made
He crosses out a line
He stands back
The serious worker
The teen-age craftsman
The poem is found later
In a collection
We are left alone the boy and me
The boy and me are married by my will
They retire happily
To the unmade bed
I arrange the divorce
I refrain from comforting tonight
Treacherous girls hide my songs
Under drifts of make-up
Leaving the company of great thieves
I return to my solitary adventure.

– 1972.


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