Performance Was Poetry in Motion

The Journal (Newcastle, England), May 27, 2010 | Go to article overview

Performance Was Poetry in Motion


Natalie Merchant at The Sage Gateshead A LYRICIST for 30 years, Natalie Merchant has got plenty of beautiful words tumbling from her lips tonight, but few are her own.

Merchant's new album Leave Your Sleep is the culmination of a seven-year project in which she casts 19th and 20th Century British and American poetry to music.

She explains they are poems by, about or for children as she sought to harness the lessons learned, harsh and wonderful, in an ongoing "conversation" with her young daughter.

It is, she says scarily, a concept album, but it's one of those rare works of music (or literature) that works for both adults and children alike.

That said, I hadn't quite grasped the scale of ambition of this show.

The former 10,000 Maniacs leader explains that after "collaborating with these people who were primarily dead", she wanted to know more about them.

And so, a big screen projects the black and white portraits she's hauled from libraries and, with a dash of fascinating biography gleaned from extensive research into the men and woman behind the words, she brings us part-university lecture, part-musical sance, evoking ghosts whose poetry now dances across beautiful, deft, inventive music.

The journey includes both obscure and renowned, through Laurence Alma-Tadema, to Robert Louis Stevenson's The Land of Nod, and on to Charles Edward Carryl - the "US answer to Lewis Carroll" - whose verse depicts a 372-year-old giant who has given up eating little boys, now preferring an eel and some kip. …

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