Searching for Gems

What I like most about my job is to watch people creating during workshops. First the people gather, children or adults, and choose a place to work from, then I introduce the theme of the day with the aid of visual displays and then I sit back and watch the miracles unfold.

Preparing the right visual aid and content for the introduction to the work is crucial. I can spend hours and days researching for it and, if I am particularly interested in the subject I just get into the task aware that no matter how much time I spend in it it’s never wasted. This is my ‘learning time’ and I love it.

The research takes diverse forms. It can involve physical endeavors like jumping over stone walls and crossing muddy fields while looking for unmarked ruins to photograph or a more academic approach of reading, writing and net-surfing.

The beauty is that I often come across some true gems. The latest one I found one day as I was looking for examples of artistic projects that would cross poetry, visual art and music. Since I could not find a satisfactory one I decided to take a break and watch some interesting talks on TED. (http://www.ted.com/talks)

From the available list I chose the ‘Rated Beautiful’ and from that I clicked on http://www.ted.com/talks/natalie_merchant_sings_old_poems_to_life.html and there was exactly what I was looking for!

Natalie Merchant is an American singer-songwriter and musician about whom I knew very little prior to finding her on TED, but now I have become a fan specially after a friend surprised me a few days ago by giving me Merchant’s CD of poetry in music Leave Your Sleep.

Everything about this CD is beautiful: the packaging, the design, the accompanying booklet and of course the music.

The album is a brilliant adaptation of near-forgotten 19th- and 20th-century British and American children’s poetry which includes poets like Rachel Field, Robert Graves, Christina Rossetti and a little-known genius like Brooklyn poet Nathalia Crane, who published her first book in 1927 at the age of ten.

Nathalia Clara Ruth Crane (1913 - 1998)

What started Merchant in this great project were the ‘conversations’ with her daughter during the first six years of her life by resurrecting word-of-mouth tradition in the stories, poems, and songs. ‘I pulled these obscure and eccentric poems off their flat, yellowed pages and brought them to life for her.’

Speaking about researching, Natalie Merchant says: “Five years of research and writing went into Leave Your Sleep. It is the most ambitious project I have ever attempted or even dare 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.”

Reading this I no longer feel so guilty about spending inordinate amount of time lost in my searchings, and in fact, if anything is reassuring me of the importance of loving what you do in the moment you are doing it.