Saturday, November 19, 2016

How To Speak Poetry

In early 2004, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery mounted a solo exhibition of my work entitled My Hand Sings Red and Lakehead University invited me to speak while I was in the city for the opening.  I introduced my slide talk by reading part of Leonard Cohen’s prose poem "How To Speak Poetry" , backing each line with a detail of what was then my recent work.

“How to speak poetry” is advice to poets on how to read their own work out loud.   It's a beautiful and powerful piece of writing, and it resonated deeply with the audience reeling from current world events.  For this post, I've scanned some of those slides.

How To Speak Poetry
There is nothing you can show on your face that can match the horrors of this time.
Do not even try
We have seen newsreels of humans in pain and dislocation
You are playing to people who have experienced catastrophe
This should make you very quiet
Speak your words.  convey the data.  Step aside
Everyone knows you are in pain
Step aside and they will know what you know because they know it already
You have nothing to teach them
You are not more beautiful than they are
You are not wiser
You are among the people
Then be modest
Speak the words, convey the data, step aside
This is an interior landscape
It is inside
It is private
Respect the privacy of the material
These pieces were written in silence
The courage is to speak them
The discipline is not to violate them
Let the audience feel your love of privacy
Even though there is no privacy
The poem is nothing but information
It is the constitution of the inner country
Do not be afraid to be weak
Do not be ashamed to be tired

Leonard Cohen


  1. Rare and fine--This post is one of your perfects--I can feel the cloth--I will always always feel Leonard in his every expression and you have chosen well from them--I stole the LINK and intend to exploit it shamelessly. Do post this one at Face book which is much in need of illuminating moments like this.

  2. love your work and the poem

  3. Really touching, beautiful and true. Your work radiates the sentiment.

  4. thank you for these beautiful words and the way your work speaks with them so clearly

  5. The poem, the cloth, the post, all are perfect

  6. I have forwarded this on to a friend who will I'm sure truly appreciate the words, images and work
    Thank you for such a poignant piece

  7. Anonymous5:59 am

    I love your work.
    so honest and human.
    too bad he is not here to enjoy it too.
    Nona Orbach

  8. "Do not be ashamed to be tired"

    Words I needed to hear, images I needed to see. And in my mind, I heard Leonard Cohen's words read by a beloved creative writing professor who was a mentor and a friend.

    Thank you for all of this. Your art touches me once again and I am grateful.

  9. well orchestrated, judy

  10. Leonard Cohen's death at this time brings his work back into the general consciousness as a needed antidote to the events of the day. This seems like synchronicity to me. Your work is the perfect compliment. Thank you.

  11. Thank you Dana.
    I agree that Leonard's words and spirit are looking over us, but I hadn't thought of that before you said what you did in your comment. I remember being so moved and saved by these same words in the early part of this new and frightening millennium when I was making the work for the 2004 exhibition. His work has always been important to me and I refer to it often.


  12. Judy! I am really behind! I have missed so many of your posts!! I will have to make a cup of tea and concentrate a while! I did quickly view your photos from World of Threads. We photographed the same pieces! I am about to post about it myself. Congratulations on being selected for the exhibit.

  13. So beautiful Judy!

  14. I love this. Thank you.

    Privacy interior silence honoring. Thank you both.


Thank you for taking the time to connect. Much appreciated.xx