The volume MIRABILE DICTU (2009) celebrates Michele Leggott’s tenure as inaugural Aotearoa-New Zealand poet laureate (2007–9) and marks an inflection point in her poetic career. In brief, the volume presents a world of adaptation: coming and going, joining and severing, isolation and community.
Orchid Tierney reviews three titles that engage with Anthropocene landscapes: Edgeland and other poems by David Eggleton; Habitat Threshold by Craig Santos Perez; and Mezzaluna: Selected Poems by Michele Leggott.
Kia ora ano (Hello again; literally 'be well again')
In this Commentary I want to outline two very important electronic resources pertaining to Aotearoa-New Zealand poetry and poetics, which are not poetry publishing sites per se, but which are available to freely peruse and to contribute scholarly articles to (most especially to Ka Mate Ka Ora,which I will cover far more fully in #2) and to view recent trends, listen to poets reading their own works and so on. These sites have been established via the University of Auckland — my own institution of tertiary studies waaaaay back last century — and indeed some of the people responsible for these sites had a fair bit to do with my studies then. More of which later. This Commentary is less of a critique and much more of an introduction to these valuable sites — themselves introductions to many aspects of poetry in the skinny nation.
Michele Leggott’s poem “shore space, ” from her 2009 book Mirabile Dictu, imagines 1930s New Zealand writer Robin Hyde taking a bus trip through Auckland’s North Shore, and running into various groups of local writers as she does so:
she would be pleased this spring afternoon above the bays where gorse and mangroves present a united front and choko vines run wild she would be pleased to see Jack Ross and friends rolling in with a box of books and a sausage sizzle to do a fundraiser for a poet who has run out of cornflakes on the other side of the world Robin Hyde is living on baked beans and disprins soon she will leave the places we can see and walk the seaward road that glistens with disappearances
It’s a pleasant pastoral vision of friends and collaborators falling over each other to help out, be supportive, advance the art of poetry in an atmosphere of mutual good will.
The closer one gets to the present, the harder it gets to pontificate convincingly about the significance of it all (which might be seen as casting retrospective doubt on earlier assertions and certainties, also).
I’ve chosen for the last of my State-of-the-Nation poems peri poietikes by Michele Leggott, from her book of laureate verses Mirabile Dictu: “wonderful to relate”. Not, you’ll note, mirabile visu: “wonderful to see” – Michele is legally blind, and has been fighting a long rearguard action against macular degeneration for almost twenty years now.
I first heard the poem on a wintry night in Titirangi, one of Auckland’s western suburbs, in the heart of the Waitakere ranges. A group of us had been invited to a joint Poetry Day reading upstairs in the Lopdell House gallery, and Michele was trying out her latest device for live performance: an ipod with the poems already recorded on it, so she could recite them line by line after her own voice coming through an earpiece.
At the recent Short Takes on Long Poems symposium in Auckland (see Jack Ross's take here), Jacob Edmond, whose comic-serious talk concerned the literal weights and volumes of long poems, kept asking a single question of other speakers. “In what way is the work you're talking about local?” Or, in the case of my presentation, “Do you think your videos [of people in Hawai`i saying back lines of George Oppen's ‘Of Being Numerous’ as best they could] localize the poem in some way?” Jack Ross argues that the symposium would have been too international had it not included the work of Robert Sullivan and John Adams, writing the interstices between Maori and Pakeha in Aotearoa / New Zealand. This discussion felt like home to me, albeit set on a different stage and peopled by very different writers and critics than is the case in Hawai`i. But of course these distinctions are hard to keep or enforce when (like me) you can leave Auckland at 7 a.m. of a Monday morning and arrive in Honolulu at 7 a.m. the same morning. Yet Lucas Klein, a scholar and translator of Chinese poetry, quoted the Chinese poet, citizen of New Zealand, and resident of London, Yang Lian, as saying: “There is no international, only different locals.”