Tuesday, July 13, 2010

T is for Tuesday so dark and so bleak

Last night, as part of a birthday present from my boyfriend, I saw Natalie Merchant perform at the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, New Jersey.

There are a lot of things you could say about this concert, and a lot of reasons that New Yorkers should go to see her at the end of the week in Town Hall. Merchant’s dancing is completely unexpected, and incredible. She has a surprising number of redneck fans, whose behavior during the concert made me feel like I was among the groundlings at Shakespeare’s Globe. (Okay, not a reason to see her perform, but definitely an observation of the night.) And Merchant acts like everyone’s mom onstage, clearing clutter, chastising the band, asking them how her food was during rehearsal. By the end of the concert, I wasn’t sure if Merchant’s band members have the best jobs in the world or the worst.

And since I also attended the free She & Him concert on Governor’s Island a week ago, I found myself dreaming of an M. Ward/Merchant collaboration. Merchant, who maintains more presence and energy twitching a single hand than Zooey Deschanel does in leaping across the stage, and Ward would be well-suited in their penchant for punishingly long concerts (last night clocked in just under three hours of Merchant and only Merchant).

Anyway, none of these things has much to do with literature. What is relevant to this blog is that Merchant’s set (pre-encore) consisted entirely of songs from her newest album, Leave Your Sleep, which are all children’s poems that she set to music. You can see the full track list here; I thought there were some bland entries, including this e.e. cummings poem. Since, as my boyfriend noted, Merchant mutters most her lyrics, rendering them largely indecipherable, why make them, for the most part, so gentle? Why not pick a few more controversial ones?

Here are the poems (about, not for, children) that I imagine still wouldn’t make the cut.

5) “The Author to Her Book,” Anne Bradstreet
“At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight.”

4) “Ave Maria,” Frank O’Hara
“they will know where candy bars come from
and gratuitous bags of popcorn
as gratuitous as leaving the movie before it's over
with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg
near the Williamsburg Bridge”

3) “Stillborn,” Sylvia Plath
“O I cannot explain what happened to them!
They are proper in shape and number and every part.
They sit so nicely in the pickling fluid!
They smile and smile and smile at me.
And still the lungs won't fill and the heart won't start.”

2) “Out, Out--,” Robert Frost
“The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then -- the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little -- less -- nothing! -- and that ended it.”

1) “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” Edward Gorey
“A is for Amy who fell down the stairs
B is for Basil assaulted by bears
C is for Clara who wasted away
D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh”

Note: Gorey's poem is made much more horrifying by this film.

Enjoy the poems, and happy Tuesday!