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.
My good friend and fellow-poet David Howard writes in to question my use of the epithet “unquestioned Top Bard” for Bill Manhire in my previous post. He also comments that “we weren't 'all' lost in the postmodern forest of the 1980s” …
I did wonder (as I said in my reply to him) if anyone would react to my canonisation of Manhire:
I can't say I think Top Bard an enviable job, but it does seem to me to have passed from Rex Fairburn to Allen Curnow in the 50s, and thence to Bill Manhire in the 2000s -- I'm speaking of influence and cultural dominance, you understand, not necessarily poetic merit ...
And as for those thickets, I guess I was thinking more of Academics than poets (the principal audience for the website). Again, meant to be a bit teasing ...
1946 was a good year for poets. Along the fruits of that bumper crop were Alan Brunton, peripatetic troubadour and (co-) founder of radical theatre troupe Red Mole; Bill Manhire, Dean of the Wellington school and unquestioned Top Bard of the country; Sam Hunt, restless road warrior and heart-sore lyricist – and Ian Wedde, New Zealand Poet Laureate for 2011-13.
It’s Wedde [pronounced Wed-dee, not Wed, in case you were wondering] I’d like to talk about here. He’s far harder to characterize in a couple of gimcrack phrases than most other local poets. That’s if he really is a local poet. There’s always been something of an air of the largeness of outside in Wedde’s work from the very beginning.
It’s not that easy to keep a literary magazine going in New Zealand. Longevity is, of course, not always the point of such projects. Sometimes a journal – Oriflamme (1939-42), Morepork (1979-80), AND (1983-85), the pander (1997-99) achieves its aims in a few issues, and can then be safely consigned to the library shelves – or the backrooms of secondhand bookshops.
Notes on NZ poetry