Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


A Great Christmas Present

I just realized I was accidentally disingenuous in my review of The Book of What Remains when I said it was the first book of poetry I’ve ever voluntarily read cover to cover. I've read many books of poetry for children and enjoyed them. When our library made an audio CD of librarians telling stories--old ones that were out of copyright--I chose a number of Edward Lear poems instead of a story as my contribution. I like the whimsy, imagination, and absurdity or poetry for children. And now I have a new anthology of children's poetry.

Natalie Merchant compiled, edited, and wrote a book to accompany her newest album, Leave Your Sleep. It's a CD-sized book with the two CDs in the end pages, and each of the 26 songs are her musical interpretations of various children's poems. The booklet has all of the poems and a short biography of each poet. Here's the introduction:

The 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 janitor's boy, and so many others. I tried to show her that speech could be the most delightful toy in her possession and that her mother tongue is rich with musical rhythms and rhymes. I gave her parables with lessons in human nature and bits of nonsense to challenge the natural order of things and sharpen her wit. These poems speak of so many things: longing and sadness, joy and beauty, hope and disillusionment. Grave or absurd, these are the things that make a childhood, that time when we wake up to the great wonders and small terrors of the beautiful-horrible world of ours.

In spite of the fact that I have written song lyrics for thirty years, I'd never considered myself a poet or gave much of my time to reading poetry. I'm a late convert to the art form but now I understand that poets are our soft-spoken clairvoyants. They tell us about the things that have made us and keep us human. Poets are keepers of the sacred language that describes our holy places--unknown and unknowable. The poet holds the mirror that reflects the true shape and touch and taste and sound of all the things that bind us together and keep us apart. The poet's work is putting silence around everything worth remembering. Poetry on the page can be difficult to penetrate; sometimes it needs to be heard. I used music to enter these poems, and once inside I was able to understand how they were constructed with layers of feeling and meaning.

Five years of research and writing went into
Leave Your Sleep. It is the most ambitious project I have ever attempted or even dared to conceive. I wrote over fifty of these poem-songs until the process consumed me. Over time my curiosity about the lives of the poets included in my anthology grew. So I read biographical accounts and letters, searched archives, and contacted heirs, executors, or the poets themselves in an attempt to know more about my co-writers. Although it's impossible to sum up a life in 500 words or less and a single portrait, some of what I learned and found is included in this package.

The research and writing only account for a portion of the labor and love put into this project. I collaborated with over a hundred talented musicians and a small, dedicated team of recording technicians over the course of a full year to realize my vision of these poems. I could not have taken on this project without the help of others, and I am in debt to everyone who believed in and contributed to the making of
Leave Your Sleep.


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