Michele Leggott

born in Stratford, Taranaki, New Zealand in 1956.  She graduated in English from the University of Canterbury with a paper on the New Zealand author Ian Wedde.  She then attended the University of British Columbia for five years and wrote a doctorate paper on the American poet Louis Zukofsky. From 1980 Leggott published several poems in magazines.  After an initial small collection of poetry, her first major work, ‘Like This?’, including poetry she had produced over the previous ten years, was published in 1988.  It was honoured with the PEN First Book of Poetry Award.

Leggott has been teaching English at the University of Auckland since 1986. She has also worked as an editor, for example for the magazine ‘Landfall’ from 1991 to 1993, and she publishes essays on contemporary poetry and poetics. In 1998 she appeared in a video called ‘Heaven’s Cloudy Smile’, which was shown at film festivals in Auckland, Montreal and Rio de Janeiro.  Since 1999, Leggott has been leading a group researching the life and works of the female New Zealand writer Robin Hyde (1906-1939).  Leggott’s work has appeared in numerous anthologies of New Zealand poetry.  ‘DIA’, her third volume of poetry, which was published in 1994, won her the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry.  In her latest book, ‘As Far As I Can See’ (1999), the poet deals with the painful experience of losing her sight.  The New Zealand Foundation for the Blind presented her with a prize for this work.  As a poet Michele Leggott is clearly influenced by her academic studies of the tradition of experimental poetry in North America and New Zealand.  The influence of Zukofsky is evident in her compact, short-lined poems with cleverly formulated plays on words and a musical rhythm, yet she also produces poems of up to seven pages, with much longer lines.  Her 1991 work, ‘Swimmers, Dancers’, interweaves her childhood memories with her own experiences of starting a family in a kind of verbal photograph album.  Her cycle ‘Blue Irises’ (from ‘DIA’) constitutes a homage to the history of women writers in her country, as well as a protest about how their works have been neglected. In these 30 poems Leggott experiments with the sonnet form, adopting the standard length of 14 lines, but not the rhyming scheme. The author describes her last book, which also includes some of these free sonnets, as an attempt to “remember seeing, something to put against the dark while I searched for ways of understanding where it has put me.”  In the cycle ‘a woman, a rose, and what has it to do with her or they with one another’ she reflects on her situation in prose poetry with very free rhythm patterns.

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