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Leonard Cohen – Extraordinary 1964 Letter to His Book Editor

An extraordinary letter from Leonard Cohen to his friend and editor at Viking Books, Corleis ‘Cork’ Smith, updating Smith on his recent activities, and imploring “This is one of my endless appeals for cash.”

Dated 25 June 1964, Cohen writes from the Montreal office of Orion Films, where he is working and living:

Dear Cork,

I’m out of the Pine Avenue apartment and I’m living at the above Mackay St address.  Things have been rather tricky.  Marianne [Ihlen, Cohen’s girlfriend and muse] is back in Greece and I’m living alone, trying to finish my book, trying to find out what is happening in Montreal.

This is one of my endless appeals for cash.  Is there anything left out of that first installment on the paperback?  I seem to remember that there was still a hundred dollars or so above the five hundred that I took.  If there is could I have it right away?  In any case, could you let me know right away?

McLelland told me he spoke to you about Spice-Box.  Do you think Viking will take it? 

The Gods of Renewal have been good.  I’m high on being alone, and my creditors put me in fits of laughter.  I’ve not felt this wonderful sense of danger, aloneness and irrelevance since puberty grew all over my ambitions. 

Hello to Sheila.  I’ll have to tell you about that man who followed me into the taxi when I left the cocktail party.

All good things, Leonard

[Cohen signs with what looks like green crayon, which he uses to outline his address at the top]

This letter was written as Cohen was trying to earn a living as a poet and writer, a few years before taking up music as a professional pursuit.  Wikipedia notes, Cohen continued to write poetry and fiction throughout much of the 1960s and preferred to live in quasi-reclusive circumstances after he bought a house on Hydra, a Greek island.  Cohen lived on Hydra with Marianne Ihlen, his muse and the subject of several of his best-known songs, including ‘So Long Marianne.’

Cohen returned occasionally to Montreal, and at this point was back in his hometown working for a Canadian production company, Orion Films, writing and voicing the English narration for their film Take It All.  Evidently cash starved, he was also living in their office.

The book he is working to complete is almost certainly his second novel, Beautiful Losers, which Cork Smith edited and Viking published in 1966.  The paperback he mentions as the possible source of a cash advance would be his 1963 debut novel The Favorite Game, also published by Viking.  McClelland was Cohen’s Canadian publisher, who were evidently trying to sell Viking the U.S. rights to his 1961 poetry book The Spice-Box of Earth.

Despite the pressure bought on by his poor financial situation, Cohen ends the letter making it clear that his sense of humor is intact.

Reading this letter, it’s almost impossible to imagine that just three years later, Cohen would release his debut album–featuring the classics “Suzanne,” “Sisters of Mercy,” and “So Long, Marianne”– jump-starting a nearly fifty-year career as a beloved singer/songwriter.

With a Western Union telegram from Smith to Cohen notifying him that Viking will be sending him $100.

This letter was part of the collection of Cork Smith (1929-2004), a New York book editor who in a 50-year career published many important writers, including Thomas Pynchon, Jimmy Breslin and Calvin Trillin.  Signed letters and written works by Leonard Cohen are exceedingly rare; a 2019 auction of his correspondence with Marianne Ihlen saw a 1960 letter sell for $56,250. while a 1964 letter sold for $35,000.

A museum-quality Leonard Cohen collectible from an important time in his life.  With Recordmecca’s written lifetime guarantee of authenticity.

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