Phenomenal poetry project 

Natalie Merchant resides in rural upstate New York, with no television, mainly bicycles for transportation, and — as her nearest neighbors — deer, skunks, coyotes, raccoons and 50 wild turkeys she hand-feeds corn.

“There’s a fox, one bobcat that I know of, and a bear who mauled my bird feeder,” the singer says. “There’s a scene in ‘Snow White’ at the cottage in the woods, where there are little animals scurrying everywhere, and it’s like that at my house. I’ve tried to live in cities, but for the most part I’ve always lived in the country, and I’ve always had animals cohabitating.”

Merchant, 46, who visits the Bay Area next week, describes her childhood as “very insular.”

Aside from Dr. Seuss, she never read poetry. No TV back then, either. “And I listened to my parents’ record collection, but it was really limited,” she says. “They had one set of books in our house, but I wasn’t interested in a lot of literature. I didn’t fly on an airplane until I was 19, and I wasn’t a big reader of poetry, not until about 10 years ago.” But this is not the life she envisions for her 7-year-old daughter, Lucia.

That’s why Merchant spent the last six years meticulously crafting “Leave Your Sleep,” her new two-disc collection of vintage poems and nursery rhymes she set to music, aided by disparate artists such as Wynton Marsalis, the Klezmatics, the Ditty Bops and even the New York Philharmonic.

The heavily-researched record delves into the obvious (Mother Goose, Edward Lear, Ogden Nash) and the obscure (Nathalia Crane, William Brighty Rands) with delightful, lilting results.

When her daughter was born, Merchant says, “I felt connected to any woman in history who ever conceived. So I had this interest in how people wrote about children, childhood and mothering.”

“Leave” soon became an arts primer for Lucia. “I wanted to introduce her to as many different styles of music as possible, as many different spiritual traditions as possible, and as many different places in the world as she could stand to be taken to,” says the doting mom. “Her upbringing is so different from mine.”

But at home, Merchant says, “I’m not off the grid. I’m not a Unabomber.”

In fact, she’d spent the previous night on her computer, puzzling over Lady GaGa. With “Leave,” she says, “I just want to comfort people — I don’t want to shock or infuriate them. It’s a mission of mine to make beauty, and to make people aware of what a precious gift this life is.”


Natalie Merchant

Where: Mountain Winery, 14831 Pierce Road, Saratoga

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday

Tickets: $39.50 to $69.50

Where: Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

Tickets: $45 to $59.50

Info: (800) 745-3000,

About The Author

Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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