Tuesday, 4 August 2009

mirabile dictu

can you hear the shadow
of the wall she asksXX yes I say
taking the white cane from her
and trying againXX yes I hear
shadowXX two nights later
I walk home in the darkXX listening
to walls and the scent
of wintersweetXX exactly
where it should beXX two runners
call outXX the neighbours say
helloXX it’s rough and ready
but it worksXX we are walking
the road to implementation

its unmarked steps
are scaryXX I’ve fallen
down too many of them
to be trustfulXX shut your eyes
she saysXX and try again
next week we’ll do
an evening lessonXX the steps
chuckleXX not difficult
to read that oneXX a whiff
of jasmine in front of
a fenceXX a flat white
in Exchange LaneXX a sugar
cone from Valentino’s
are you ok they askXX we weren’t
sure you knewXX where you
wereXX the water smiles

chi chi chi chiXX the quarter
arc swingsXX collecting data
from a field of performance
opportunitiesXX chichichichichi
the roses are lacework
in the gift of linenXX made
as the 9.15 batXX pipistrello
flew over the table at
Il PalombaroXX these fabrics
persistXX they are steps
on a talking surfaceXX they read
back and forthXX back and
forthXX no mulberry trees

in the Val di Niccone
they were chopped down
after the landlordsXX no more
donations of body warmth
to incubate silkworms
the squirmy bodices
were tossed outXX the valley
went on to sunflowers
and tobaccoXX the arc widens
rough and readyXX I want
to put the museum back
she saysXX the shadow
roarsXX we know
exactly where we are
taffetas and handkerchiefs
waveXX the road is crowded
with weavers warpers cleaners
stretchersXX degummers
combers folders teaselers
the stick swingsXX chi chi
chi chiXX a smoke tree
brushes my faceXX the way

she makes
spring shimmerXX between
strips of darkness
and lightXX and calls it
Persephone 1XX chi chi chi
chiXX Orient 4XX chi chi
Drift 2XX chi chiXX Breathe
chi chiXX FĂȘteXX the steps
call outXX as if
everything depends on it
I find the top edge
line up the stickXX and
descendXX chichichichichi

Imagine if Britain had a laureate capable of writing something like this; capable indeed of writing something more than the one-dimensional if the last couple of incumbents are anything to go by. New Zealand has from the evidence here been considerably more fortunate. And now some of the work done over Michele Leggott’s time in that position appears as mirabile dictu with Auckland University Press. I was going to quote sections from this particular poem, ‘smoke tree’ but found myself incapable of editing it satisfactorily. Leggott has, over the last several years, been gradually losing her sight, and the poem obviously refers to this. But it does so much more. There are through the poem (and the book which it is a part of) so many concatenations and reverberations. It wouldn’t be far-fetched here to detect traces of the Pisan Cantos in ‘smoke tree’ (Pound does appear elsewhere in the volume). Elsewhere stray lines from various sources indicate what is at work through the book. A trace from Briggflatts (‘each pebble its part’) as a single example works as a kind of synechdochal signal: that mirabile dictu is also a great condensation, an entwining of family, the New Zealand poets, the outside world. Pound’s words ‘It is dawn at Jerusalem while midnight hovers above the Pillars of Hercules. All ages are contemporaneous in the mind’ are not far afield here. The book is available in North America from IPG Books, in Australia from Inbooks, and in Europe from Eurospan.


David Prater said...

Dear Laurie, thank you for sharing this beautiful poem - as an aside, when I read it in my RSS feed, the tabbed spaces/gaps within the lines show up as a series of grey XXs ... a strange but interesting effect!

(ps - word verification asks me to type 'guile').

Laurie Duggan said...

David, ah yes, the XXs. These are the product of my lack of knowledge of html codes. I use them to make spaces that html would otherwise ignore. They're invisible against the grey background of the blog but if you cut and paste or receive feeds another way you get the hidden structures in all their glory (or not).

David Prater said...

I think the effect is quite 'glorious' (or interesting anyway), and I know what you mean about HTML - why o why is there no 'tab' function? The solution I have found is to insert 'non-breaking spaces', which in HTML is simply:


So for a longer space or gap, you just add as many of these as you need ...

David Prater said...

um, sorry - I mean this:

& n b s p ;

(just delete the spaces between each character ;-))