Module 2:

[Michele Leggott: Mirabile Dictu (2009)]

In the Archives

Susan Howe / Michele Leggott

[Susan Howe: Pierce-Arrow (1999)]

Susan Howe

Anthology Readings [pp. 63-104]:
  • ‘Thorow.’ In Singularities. Hanover, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1990. pp. 39-59.
  • ‘Making the Ghost Walk About Again and Again.’ In a bibliography of the king’s book or, eikon basilike. Providence: Paradigm Press, 1989. pp. [3]-[21].

What is L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Poetry? (What is Postmodernism, for that matter? As it manifests itself in poetry, at any rate ...) If you follow the links, you'll have at least some idea of how the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E (or Language) movement grew out of the distinctively American tradition of William Carlos Williams and the Objectivists (Louis Zukofsky & George Oppen) in the 30s and 40s, through the Beats (Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac) in the 40s and 50s, through Black Mountain (Charles Olson and Robert Creeley) in the 50s and 60s, into the linguistic experiments of Charles Bernstein and Ron Silliman in the 70s and 80s.

Is this the best approach to her poetry, though? To be sure, she undoubtedly shares the other Language poets' interest in Post-structural Literary Theory, but perhaps her background in the Fine Arts (Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and the Surrealists) is a more useful clue to reading her with understanding.

In any case, "In the Archives" is the theme of the session, and that's one reason why I'll be bringing quite so many books and papers along with me. More to the point, though, it reflects Howe's own fascination with the recuperation of lost traditions in Feminism and Radicalism in general.

[NB: I've included some links to online sound recordings of Susan Howe on her author page. Recordings of all the New Zealand poets in the course are accessible in the trilogy of CD/ Text anthologies Classic, Contemporary, and New NZ Poets in Performance (AUP, 2006-8).]

[Susan Howe: Souls of the Labadie Tract (2007)]

[Michele Leggott: Journey to Portugal (2007)]

Michele Leggott

Anthology Readings [pp. 105-30]:
  • ‘dear heart.’ In Swimmers, Dancers. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1991. pp.7-9.
  • ‘Where exactly are we?’ & ‘Micromelismata.’ In DIA. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1994. pp. 1-7.
  • from ‘a woman, a rose, and what has it to do with her or they with one another?’ as far as I can see. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1999. pp. 36-37, 39, 47-48.
  • Onset of pericentral darkness.’ NZEPC.
  • 'peri poietikes / about poetry.’ Ka Mate Ka Ora 8 (2009): 67-72.

A close parallel can be seen between Susan Howe's work on Emily Dickinson and other "submerged" New England women writers and visionaries (not to mention ambiguous figures such as Charles Peirce and Herman Melville) and Michele Leggott's work on New Zealand equivalents such as Robin Hyde, Ursula Bethell and Lola Ridge (not to mention the sixties and seventies writers she and her fellow-editors Murray Edmond and Alan Brunton unearthed for Big Smoke (AUP, 2000)).

Susan Howe's complex layouts, visual sensibility, and methods of poetic sampling may also prove useful when we attempt to read some of the more experimental pages in Leggott's DIA (1994), though the differences between their poetic projects become more and more apparent from this point on. Howe's obsession with the bloody implications of past repression and normalisation seem quite tonally distinct from Leggott's more affectionate celebration of an overlooked past of gardens, beaches, family albums and romantic love.

[Michele Leggott: "Micromelismata," from DIA (1994)]

We'll be discussing, in this connection, "Dear Heart," from Leggott's second book Swimmers, Dancers (AUP, 1991), and then going on to examine her own version of the Ishtar / Persephone myth: the seven gates of the underworld in the form of meditations on her growing blindness in "a woman, a rose, and what has it to do with her or they with one another" (from as far as I can see (AUP, 1999)).

From this point onwards, somewhat paradoxically, it's possible to detect an opening up and enlargement of Leggott's poetic work, in the expansive Milk and Honey (AUP, 2005), the deluxe art-book Journey to Portugal (Holloway Press, 2007), and now the new book of laureate verses Mirabile Dictu (AUP, 2009).

[Gretchen Albrecht: Collage from Journey to Portugal (2007)]

Gretchen Albrecht's colourful collages in the travel book, together with the emphasis on the natural world in Mirabile dictu show how much Leggott has continued to concentrate on the visual arts, rather than moving her poetic palette into imagery of touch and sound - as some reviewers seemed to expect of her after as far as I can see.

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