Monday, May 26, 2008

Our Poet Laureate: every bravery coming

"Do you see me? I am falling out of a blue sky where my days were as dancers in a maze, sure-footed and smiling . . .
Then a pair of taxis went head to head in a distant country so suddenly I didn’t see the difference but it was a wide white threshold. When I couldn’t thread a needle, when I could no longer see the faces of my children or trim their nails, when the colour of money disappeared (and I bare-headed in the midday sun) then falling began and I cried out against it. . .
. . .There is a way, I said, but this is only the first gate. I give what is left of the light of my eyes, I have fallen out of a clear sky. "
from Michele Leggott's poetry collection As Far as I can See (AUP 1999. )

Leggott is the first NZ Poet Laureate (before that they were called Te Mata Laureates). She has a blue tekoteko to prove it. She is rapidly losing her eyesight to the condition called retinitis pigmentosa but she continues to write and to rage.

Her poetry is a visceral rush or a feather falling, it's the 'ear' in heart and the gaps between words where people fall. If you'd only gone to her presentation at the Auckland Writers Festival, and nothing else, you'd have still left satisfied. When Leggott talks you can feel poems in the air whispering, screaming, laughing, there for the plucking. She has to print them out in extra large font now and reads standing. There is still nothing to prepare the listener for the shock of the poem quoted at the start of this post. That final line: 'I have fallen out of a clear sky.'

Audacious? Leggott invented the word. She's written poems that have circumnavigated an art gallery, turned in circles, been tucked into boxes and pop-up books. With her sight dimming she's turning to a more digital mode of expression. Now her words can actually move. On the Auckland stage she showed us a heart box she'd made years before with a felt heart inside it: heartfelt.

And pictured here a piece she made for Valentine's Day once with, she said, all that needed to be said about love: 'Every bravery coming stars love's heartfelt red.' For more on her try Poet Andrew Johnston's Landfall review and the Poet Laureate website where Leggott talks about her projects and the Auckland festival.

And here's one of those digital poems.

I have owned Leggott's collection Milk & Honey for a while now, I bought As Far as I can See in Auckland. I try and read it every day to be reminded of the excitement and energy and courage of words.


Anonymous said...

What a fine tribute to a terrific poet Mary! Michele has given us 5 tremendous poetry books, but she also gifts other labours of love. One major example is the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre.

Her latest digital adventure involves making a digital bridge between Florence and Auckland (with the genius help of Brian Flaherty). I also recommend checking out Journey to Portugal, an exquisite book she did with Gretchen Albrect. You can find the this on the NZ Poet laureate website.

Mary McCallum said...

Thank you Paula. The NZEPC is of course a wonderful gift to the country and I didn't know Michele Leggott was pivotal in setting it up until I heard her speak in Auckland. The digital bridge sounds incredibly audacious has really captured my imagination.

Journey to Portugal I long to own, it is exquisitely formed. Here is the link for anyone else interested in seeing it.