Leonard Cohen: My Inspiration by Branka Cubrilo

His work reveals his soul to the world – religion and spirituality, isolation, depression, loss, sadness, death, politics and romantic relationships.

Just like any other person, an author too has their favourite authors, ones they prefer for a variety of reasons, and probably the strongest one is finding with them a deep connection on numerous levels; their writing style that might be close to our own sensibility and style; the depth of thought and soul that comes through the writing, and then all the rest falls into the mystery of subconscious connections invisible to the mind but unescapable to the inner, subtle energies and feelings.

A long time ago I had chosen (for me) the most inspiring writer, novelist and poet – Leonard Cohen, or, as I believe that rather his words had chosen me when they fell on my young, inexperienced soul, thirsty for mysteries or even some esoteric knowledge. His work explored topics and themes (that I had always cared about) revealing his soul to the world – religion and spirituality, isolation, depression, loss, sadness, death, politics and romantic relationships.

I always had the need for solitary moments, sometimes they were just moments, but sometimes those moments lasted for hours if not for days. Just me and my thoughts, walking among an invisible and unheard crowd as I wouldn’t notice anyone when I was in that mood or in the need to be alone. The first chords of his song played with my mind, my heart, with my imagination, and it formed the need to wander, to search, to immerse myself into the deep waters of the mysteries of his words, of this damp, melancholic atmosphere where I could find solace within my own soul, leaving me often to wonder if we all go to the same source, the same place where we can meet those who are waiting for us to tell their stories, to convey their messages, to hear their words, their cries in order to settle and to soothe our own soul and the souls of those who find themselves through our writing.

Leonard Cohen: Poet and Novelist

When I read “James Joyce is not dead. He is living in Montreal under the name of Cohen” (the Boston Globe), I knew I was right – this statement confirmed it, for James Joyce was a kind of a measuring stick for me – an aspiration that could be achieved only by a few.

Time and again, in my interviews I was asked the very same questions – “Why do I mention Leonard Cohen in each of my novels?” My novels have characters; or at least one of my characters have those Cohen-esque characteristics: they are lost, alone, melancholic, mysterious, always wandering, always in search of something, moody and distant, just like the latest character Pia Odak (Dethroned), who was a self-sufficient poetess unceasingly in search for a lost piece of herself not knowing where, not knowing which part exactly was broken or lost, who never knew where, or how, to soothe her aches, which religion, which mystery to turn to for an answer, although she knew that the balm wasn’t a person, a man, a destination but that mysterious spark of the divine which was always unattainable, always several steps, or years in front … the reason to search for the answer of why she was broken like a seal, the reason to wander, to be alone.

Leonard plunged himself deep into Judaism, Buddhism, meditation, yoga, just like I did all sorts of different spiritual and religious practices, from yoga to Bible studies in order to please God to reveal the mysteries He was hiding behind the curtain. I wandered this world in order to find myself through adequate words rather than adequate company; words for me meant living, experiencing, communicating, breathing, loving and disappearing too.

What draws one to choose their chosen literature, to follow a certain author? A sensibility that the author offers, the unique order of the words that form a melody, the possibility to acquire new knowledge and therefore to grow, those are determining factors when I decide what to read. Each sentence has to have a certain rhythm, a melody that is able to pull me into a different world formed by the soul which can capture and express experiences of the living and the dead, of mystics and saints, of a madman and his pain, and where better to find all of this than in the poetry of the Poet of Brokenness. I close my eyes and he takes me to the banks of Montreal where he calls for Suzanne, he lets me witness miracles of Jesus when he was a sailor when he walked upon the water … but he himself was broken, long before the sky would open …

Some of my characters grapple with depression throughout the book, but depression is not the engine on which I run as a writer, yet another parallel I found with Cohen when he said something very similar, “It wasn’t the depression that was the engine of my work… That was just the sea I swam in.” Likewise, my coloured moods were sharks in the sea of depression and I swim ahead successfully for the majority of my life, living behind my characters to catch the darkest moods which were meant to be mine.

The first chapter of my novel, Fiume – the Lost River bares the title “The Stranger”, it wasn’t dedicated directly to a man who I knew long time ago, but it had some details of the person who would be always sweeping up the jokers that he left behind… I find he did not leave me very much not even laughter… and I knew that he’ll say one day I caused his will to weaken with my love and warmth and shelter…

That search of an elusive freedom (from the pain and brokenness?) that he searched and portrayed in his stories and poems, was my own search, I recognised it always as the ultimate state of being – being free, happily and painfully free, being a part of the world but never really of it, never belonging to the material world, to the geographical destination, to a person or to the landscape, to the painting hanging on the wall, framed with a frame that doesn’t allow escape … In each of my novels when I was writing them I would find a character who would echo my experiences backed up with some of Cohen’s verses.

When I wrote my first (never published) novel, I clearly remember in my mind’s eye, a tall man came, in a dark suit, his hair darker than his eyes, slicked back, his smile almost shy, though mischievous, he sat next to me and telepathically told me, ‘Let’s start the journey’.

I am an author who was predominantly concerned with beauty, the exploration and mysteries of the human soul; I don’t know how many are still concerned with such a matter, I don’t even know if younger generations are interested in matters of the soul, in the mysteries of life, the role and meaning of pain, love, loss, existence … but I can’t write about other topics, for I would consider it as a betrayal of my own needs or talents, so I do preferably and mainly write for myself, but still, I do hope that there will be others who would be touched with such interests and explorations, as I know from those readers that make an effort to reach out and tell me about the impact or the impressions my novels evoke.

A poet never dies, a novelist never dies; our thoughts and feelings put in order to sing and to vibrate in the right sequences or melodies stay captured between the covers waiting for the right reader to take them on a journey that you are about to reveal to them, to touch their intellect, and stir their soul.

On even more personal note, one of my favourite novelists, my dear, long-time friend, Mr Caleb Pirtle wrote to me: “Beautiful writing. A work of art. Keep the stories coming. The world needs them. I need them.”

For a writer, it couldn’t be any better, any more meaningful moment than when you get such feedback from a colleague who you immensely respect. Authors, we find inspiration in each other, often we encourage each other, more often we learn from each other.

Leonard was a living legend, we hope that our work will survive us, that some other kid, just like I did finding Cohen’s poetry, will find inspiration, or solace, or comfort in our words, for writing is contributing to the collective knowledge, to our collective soul.

A short excerpt from the novel “The Mosaic of the Broken Soul”

“When we claim that we have lost ourself, does that mean that we have lost our very soul? And what is the soul and what is the self? Are they the same, inseparable like a canvas and the paint? Is it so that the beginning of one is the end of the other? Or are they interwoven so finely that no scientist can separate them, no mystic can define them, and no fool can find the words to say which one is hurting? Is this grand malady of mine, and my fellow humans’ who walk unnoticed with me, simply the loss of soul? Do you simply call for it; are there secret rituals for it so you can be initiated in this fine art of finding it? Can it be the same, the loss of soul and loss of meaning? Which one led the way, which blindly followed? Does the soul prefer to be unanswered? Is it just a tiny voice that can tell you how to separate good from evil? Which tells you which way to take when in confusion? When it goes, the voice, where has it gone?

Where does the soul live? Between understanding and unconsciousness? Is it married to imagination? Oh, sweet lovers, they cannot be separated! It uses the body to live in it and the mind to wonder, but its instrument is neither the body nor the mind.

If I say ‘my soul’, does it really belong to me?

 One more question before I go:

Pain, loss, sadness, frustration, looking for meaning and personal substance, are they gifts so that we can come face to face with the grand invisible?”

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