Leave Your Sleep/Natalie Merchant: Poetry Made True

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Back on December 27th, I wrote of Natalie Merchant on this blog, wondering out loud where she had gone.  In the intervening weeks and months, I began to hear rumors.  Ed Goldberg, a librarian, had spotted her, he said at a convention; she'd set poems to music, he reported, and they were lovely.  On April 18th, The New York Times confirmed Ed's promise; Leave Your Sleep, a project that took Ms. Merchant five years, was now available in stores.  My Friend Amy further confirmed the fact; on April 19th, she blogged of her long love for Merchant, as well as of her enthusiasm for Leave Your Sleep, which she'd already procured.  By then my copy was already on the way to me.  Yesterday it arrived.

Earlier today, my husband and I drove to a town called Skippack, where I sat beneath this wisteria tree.  When we arrived home, my husband went out to his studio to make the art he masterfully makes, and I stayed inside to listen to every single one of Natalie Merchant's 26 new songs.  There's never been a voice like hers, I'm sure, nor, perhaps, a musician's heart.  I cannot count the times that I have danced alone to her songs through the years or yearned after the quality of her lyrics—the stunning coherence and wisdom of them.  I have always loved Natalie Merchant; I didn't think I could love her more.

With Leave Your Sleep, Ms. Merchant didn't merely select and arrange often nonsensical poems into songs, yielding them new and delving meaning.  She also set out on an adventure to discover the lives of the poets who'd penned the songs that inspired her.  She fell in love, in the process, with the "doomed and luminous eyes" of Robert Louis Stevenson, restored the child prodigy Nathalia Crane to a place of honor, imagined seeing Ogden Nash at "a cocktail hour in a paneled den with cut-glass bowls of salted nuts on the bar and the air blue with cigar smoke," and refused to imagine the day that Arthur Macy learned that both of his sons had died.

In the preface to the book of poems and poet biographies (all researched and written by Ms. Merchant) that accompanies her two CDs, Ms. Merchant writes this:

This collection of songs represents parts of a long conversation I've had with my daughter during the first six years of her life.  It documents our word-of-mouth tradition in the poems, stories, and songs that I found to delight and teach her.  I pulled these obscure and eccentric poems off their flat, yellowed pages and brought them to life for her. I willed into being this parade of witches and fearless girls, blind men and elephants, giants and sailors and gypsies, floating churches, dancing bears, circus ponies, a Chinese princess and a jaintor's boy, and so many others.

Art born of a mother's love.  I like that.  I like that a whole lot.


bermudaonion said...

I've wanted this ever since I saw Amy's post about it. I need to get my hands on a copy soon.

grete said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
grete said...

Beth -

Sorry for the above deletion - fatal spelling mistake: I'm her now - rather than I'm here now. Hah!That's how much I was lost in the world of Natalie Merchant!

Now to my comment:

Thank you for introducing this singer to me - I had no idea! I’m here now, coming up for air, after having been lost in the waters of YouTube and Spotify.....


Beth F said...

Between you and Amy -- I must track this down.

(side note: I love Skippack)

poetjanes said...

We've been listening to this wonderful album, too. Thought you might like to know she'll be at the West Chester Poetry Conference in early June:


Amy said...

Here's Natalie on TED talks:


singing and talking about her project.

macksf98 said...

From a musicians standpoint i totaly agree with your review.If you check the credits you will see that she not only produces and funds($600.000 of her own money)but she also does string arrangements,orchestrations,wind arrangements and compositions in a vast array of musical styles and backgrounds.Top that off with a excellent subject matter thats done completlly comprehendsive and throughly researched.It's an amazing musical accomplishment.I suggest that everyone go to youtube and search (Philip GLass Natalie Mercant solo)if you'd like too see a very rare video.Two of our times best.

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