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Silicon Alleys

Local poet Frank Bella created verse inspired by troubadour Leonard Cohen

THIS WEEK, I regale you with another "local boy makes good" saga and it takes some quick, albeit fuzzy, recollection of the mystique of one Mr. Frank Bella, whose poem, "Novus Credo," appears in a new independent collection of poetry inspired by the work of Leonard Cohen. Titled Leonard Cohen You're Our Man, the book erupted from the Foundation for Public Poetry in Montreal, Cohen's hometown. Net proceeds will go toward a Leonard Cohen Poet-in-Residence program at Westmount High School, his alma mater. Poets from around the world responded to a call for submissions and Bella was one of 75 who were accepted for inclusion in the book.

Eighteen years ago, Bella was a regular at Marsugi's and the Ajax Lounge in downtown San Jose, where he staged riotous booze-fueled live mic sessions under the banner of a "Purgatory Tour." The gigs were legendary. Poets, musicians and often people who were neither took part in the debauchery. The winner of the evening's antics would sometimes win a leg of lamb or a similar prize. It was a killer scene.

Bella has published several times—this is by no means a debut—but "Novus Credo" is his most recent piece in print. After hearing about the planned book from the Leonard Cohen MySpace page, he wrote his entry while slogging away at a horrendous data entry job in Chico, where he now lives. "You always come up with your best stuff when your life is fucked," he said over the phone.

Leonard Cohen You're Our Man—a brainchild of Montreal poet Jack Locke—required only one thing from its contributors: Their submissions must react to something previously done by Leonard Cohen. That's it. As a result, a wide mishmash of scribes are included in the book—from the sappy to the sublime. Many poets wrote pieces in direct response to a particular Cohen poem or song; some riffed on Cohen's entire oeuvre over the course of his career; others mimicked the rhythm or cadences in a particular Cohen work; and a few just wrote free-verse letters to Leonard. Incorporated in the volume are free-flowing streams from the subconscious, jealous longing for Leonard's attention, humorous lyrical pieces and even haiku.

They also got Margaret Atwood to supply a poem. Her contribution, hypothetically written to Cohen and titled "Setting Leonard to Music," recalls the '50s, when Cohen originally burst on the scene as a "soulful bardic star of college girls" while she was a "blue-eyed frightener despite my curls." In the end she tells him: "You've always known that life's a song, And you have to wing it; Whatever darkness comes your way, at least you'll sing it."

Another poem, by Tom Wayman, is titled "Leonard Cohen Didn't Get Me Laid." The narrator stares into his beer while listening to other women in the bar fawn over Cohen.

Bella's contribution is in response to a Cohen's poem, "Credo," in which the narrator and his partner achieve sanity via "ordinary morning lust" while biblical plagues and spats between God and Satan carry on around them. Bella's poem responds, adding: "We do not need cities or promises with all this going on above us below us within us and all the holiness. Love frees slaves, silences priests and Pharaohs."

In order to promote the book and raise more money, the Foundation for Public Poetry is currently planning a tour stateside with a potential spring show in Los Angeles. All the California-based poets in the book, including Bella, have committed to show up and perform. Poets interested in participating, and persons willing to help with financial and logistical support, are encouraged to visit the Foundation's website: (publicpoetry.wordpress.com). "The reading and book tour will be a Canada/U.S. cooperative cultural tour," it says. "Our goal is to take a bus from Montreal to Los Angeles and hold readings at various locations along the way. Canadian poets who are represented in the book will travel across the continent to meet up with California poets in the book at a special L.A. reading."