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The World

The Leonard Cohen campaign
The Leonard Cohen campaign
This month the Nobel Committee will present a list of candidates for the Nobel Prize for Literature to the Swedish Academy. Canada is pushing for singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen to receive the prize this year for his lyrical writing. Derek Stoffel has the story. The Leonard Cohen campaign

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April 21, 2005

Past winners include Kipling, Camus, Hemingway, Yeats, and Bellow. Only the world's greatest authors can lay claim to having won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But now, a campaign is underway in Canada to award the prize to someone who doesn't seem to belong in that company.

It's not that Leonard Cohen isn't a gifted writer. He certainly is. It's just that people think of him as a tunesmith as much as a wordsmith. Derek Stoffel reports from Toronto.


Listening to Leonard Cohen it's hard not to agree that he's not a singer... he's a poet who allows his poems to come alive as songs.

But is this Nobel Prize winning material? Paul Kennedy thinks so.

Paul Kennedy: "It's sort of the soundtrack of my life, in some ways. That goes back to the 1960s even."

A veteran Canadian broadcaster, he started his campaign on his radio program heard on Canada's public broadcaster the CBC.

Paul Kennedy: "Songs like "Suzanne", or "Democracy" or "Closing Time" have sort of come up and acted literally as my soundtrack. They sort of provided punctuation to periods of my life -- that make him a profound influence."

Leonard Cohen was born into a wealthy Montreal family in 1934. His first book of poetry appeared twenty two years later the first of several volumes of poems. He's also written fiction including "Beautiful Losers" -- a novel about sexual obsession that was panned by the Canadian literary world but became a cult hit, selling more than four-hundred thousand copies worldwide.

For Paul Kennedy, the poems the novels and the haunting lyrics of Cohen's songs all have literary merit.

Paul Kennedy: "There's something -- if you could define that you can define what greatness is, what genius is, what poetry is. But he's managed somehow to make words fit together -- very simple words -- fit together in a way that is totally profound and affecting."

So the Campaign for Cohen is underway. But just how much influence will it have? You have to remember those Swedes on the Nobel selection committee are a secretive lot who aren't known for being swayed by campaigns.

And what would Leonard Cohen himself think of all this? Here he is back in 1966 talking about the importance of his work.

Leonard Cohen: "Well, ah, I think that history and time pretty well builds obselecense into poetry, unless it's really, really the great stuff, and you don't know if you're hitting that. Sometimes you know about it. Sometimes it has a kind of ring. But I'm not interested in posterity. I like the stuff I do to have that kind of horizontal immediacy rather than something that is going to be around for a long time. I'm not interested in an insurance plan for my work."

For The World, I'm Derek Stoffel in Toronto.