Michele Leggott, Inaugural New Zealand Poet Laureate 2007-2009

Michele Leggott lives in Auckland and teaches poetry at the University of Auckland. She is co-founder, with Brian Flaherty, of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc), an electronic gateway to poetry resources in New Zealand and the Pacific region. Her collection Mirabile Dictu (Auckland University Press) and an audio CD of selected poems, Michele Leggott/The Laureate Series (Braeburn/Jayrem) were launched at the National Library in Wellington in June 2009.

The blog, the book and the crayfish

Posts for my section of the New Zealand Poet Laureate blog run from January 2008 to July 2009. They are snapshots of events connected with the laureateship and with the project that became Mirabile Dictu. A small number of poems were posted to the blog, usually to mark the occasion for which they were written (taking it seriously; shore space) or as staging points in the evolution of the book (work for the living; wonderful to relate).

Mirabile Dictu (m'rah-billay diktu) takes its title from a Latin tag meaning marvellous to relate, and its 56 poems appear in the order they were written, from January 2008 to April 2009. They make a whole that traverses time and place, and in some ways they are one long poem in many parts - a poem that started not knowing where it would end. I talked about this in peri poietikes/about poetry, a script written for radio broadcast in April 2009.

The blog and the poems continued beyond the last poem of the book, a kind of overflow to wrap up the 18 months of the laureateship. There were many highlights in the real world during that year-and-a-half (the blog tries to catch and put visuals to some of them), but it was the work of writing another world into existence, of hearing and seeing it take shape alongside daily reality, that made the laureate time exceptional. As each poem was written, it was sent to those whose words or presence are part of its tissue memory, a network of first readers who made the experience intensely sociable, criss-crossing and overlapping with each other, one leading to the next or back to an earlier meeting point. Expert feedback arrived from these first readers, who were quick to nose out inaccuracies.

I was listening to the radio after getting back from the book launch and handing over the laureateship. I was also composing a thank you for my cousin's gift of some spectacular seafood after the family gathering in Wellington; and in that heady moment the answer to an old question seemed suddenly clear:

tiger moth

poetry is a crayfish    or two
packed in wood shavings    flying
home in a chillibox with my name on it
dear family it's been a long time
let's go hunting the past    in order
to find the future    you ask me
what poetry is    and I tell you about
the whale and her calf tracking in the gulf
the coastguard has been alerted
because boaties might collide with them
the Rimutaka Hill Road is closed
the Rimutaka Hill Road is always closed
a work in progress or a bit character
like the dairy giant Fonterra
or the prime minister John Key
who was on the same flight last night
the survivor of the wreck is wearing
a French naval uniform    no lies
at the end of a long week    La Glorieuse
for entente cordiale    La Glorieuse

the old man bought a couple of Tiger Moths
back in the day    top dressed and flew
supplies into the farm    four minutes more
daylight since the shortest day    dear family
one cray is lost in action    the other
will not make it past dinner time tonight
this is poetry    you make it happen
wherever there are ears eyes
and mouths    wherever we sit down
to add flying hours to the work
in progress    wherever dear family    we are
and the news comes in thick and fast


Index of Michele's posts

January 2008

16 January 2008: Death of Hone Tuwhare
Brian Turner, 20 January 2008
Murray Edmond - Everday Life on Mount Forehead (excerpt)
Lauris Edmond - Afternoon at Akatarawa
John Buck, 21 January 2008
Michele Leggott - work for the living

February 2008

Penny Somerville - Letter to a Dead Poet
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman - Universal Hone
Brian Poitiki
Remembering Hone Tuwhare
laureates, locals and out of town poets in Hawkeís Bay

March 2008

matahiwi, hastings, te ahi tapu
photos from matahiwi and hastings

April 2008

laureate at work

May 2008

may day is lei day
every bravery coming

June 2008

love, war and last things

July 2008

poetry day and all

August 2008

hand to hand: five laureates at the national library

September 2008

the ohakune elephant

October 2008

for the record
travelling tapa
shore space
please put the poem back

December 2008

the tuwhare special

February 2009

Papers Past
Houses by the sea

March 2009

Maggie Rainey-Smith on 'Houses by the sea'
Chalking with Mr Harlow and all
wonderful to relate

April 2009

catching breath
location collaboration performance
the dada lady of the sonnets

May 2009

r.i.p. pearl 1994-2009
Chris Price's book launch
looking for the new laureate

June 2009

poetry phantoms
a million poems for matariki
a few million more
the book

July 2009

the book and the cd
listen up
a sky-ful of poems
the last two and a half months
Molly again
it's cilla