In the early 1960s, U of T’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library purchased manuscripts from young poet and writer Leonard Cohen – including drafts of Beautiful Losers (acquired before publication) and Let Us Compare Mythologies.
Almost half-a-century later, Canada’s most revered poet has contributed more of his literary past to U of T: a staggering 140 banker’s boxes that trace his life from bohemian writer to iconic singer-songwriter to Buddhist monk. “U of T’s been very kind to me over the years – and when I really needed it. They bought manuscripts when I was about 25 years old – and they did that twice – so I feel very grateful to the university and to the library,” says Cohen, 71. U of T archivist Richard Landon and his wife, Massey College librarian Marie Korey, packed the first 99 boxes during a visit to Los Angeles in 2005. Cohen and his partner and musical collaborator, Anjani Thomas, also sifted through the papers, which were housed at his daughter’s antique store.
The day before Passover, Cohen sang part of the Seder service to the U of T couple and regaled them with stories over dinner. (Cohen, who lived for many years at Mount Baldy Zen Center in L.A., said his teacher, Joshu Sasaki Roshi, taught him the art of contemplation. He, in turn, taught Roshi how to drink single malt scotch.) The newly acquired literary treasures include manuscripts of Death of a Lady’s Man and Stranger Music, and a handbound copy of The Spice-Box of Earth (inscribed “For Mother with love, Leonard. December 1965, Montreal”).
There is correspondence with poets Irving Layton and Allen Ginsberg, and photos taken at a studio session with Phil Spector and Joni Mitchell in the 1970s. There is also an abundance of fan mail that ranges “from the serious to the seriously disturbed,” jokes Landon.
When the last of the banker’s boxes have been catalogued and put in order, is there anyone in particular Cohen envisions studying his literary material? “Oh, any kind person,” says Cohen. “Anyone with the capacity to forgive.”