I stood in the dark with many others, some of them close enough to touch, some further away. One by one they turned, light fell on faces that were at once strange and familiar, and they began to speak or sing. Soon the riot of their voices was everywhere, the plane of memory tilted at 36,000 feet, fractals caught in the blink of an eye, the clearing of a throat. Heart us invisibly they said, and I saw the land waiting to invent its people. We walk into the clearing, we wait for light to saturate the eye, we remember. Michele Leggott’s new book of poetry follows on from her 2009 collection, Mirabile Dictu, in its exploration of light and of gathering dark. Leggott is a poet of the lilting, shining moment and the sections here follow some of her own moments and movements, experiments and experiences – to Devonport, to Australia, to the north – as well as reverberating with the stories and histories of others. The book’s final two sections take this exploration of character and narrative further as in one we see off a soldier – shadowed by Leggott – to the First World War; and in the other – set in an earlier, unspecified time charted for us by telegraphic weather reports – a family tragedy unfolds, until a body is finally brought home for burial. With her ‘dear shapes gone to sound’, Leggott’s textured poem-scapes are more aurally charged than ever, like a ‘piano in a dark room that is / quite what it is like and never the same’. A splendid, immersive collection of poetry, Heartland is also, Leggott says, ‘a destination and a song, a shadow and a single word with two chambers’.
Michele Leggott MNZM is a professor in the Department of English at The University of Auckland and the founding director of the NZ electronic poetry centre. An award-winning poet and literary scholar, she has published seven previous collections of poems and edited several influential anthologies and collections of essays. In 2007 she was appointed inaugural New Zealand poet laureate (2007–9) and was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2009 for her services to poetry.