Face to the Sky
A new collection by award-winning poet Michele Leggott.
In her latest collection, Michele Leggott speaks to the art and writings of nineteenth-century New Zealand painter Emily Cumming Harris. Face to the Sky tells stories of love and loss from two women in the shadow the same mountain, more than a century apart.
‘Voices sing from the archive: a choir of breakers on a North Taranaki beach. Two women born more than a hundred years apart tell stories of love and loss in the shadow of the mountain that is always there. One of them becomes a painter of botanically accurate native flora, and writes all her life. The other, now without sight, lives in a world of sounds caught into expanding webs of memory. She listens for the other, tracing the delicate shapes of what she cannot see, taking her cue from the words of others. She listens and travels, picking up connections over time and place. Mothers and fathers come and go, adding their voices to the tumult on the beach, the shadow of the mountain, the hills above Nelson where the first woman comes to rest. The second, living between two small volcanos in a northern city, waits for a miracle that might cure the lymphoma that has been tracking her days. Through it all, the familiar phrases of the weather forecast sound their ever-hopeful, ever-changing predictions.’
— Michele Leggott
Face to the Sky is Michele Leggott’s eleventh poetry collection. Her selected poems, Mezzaluna, was co-published in 2020 by Wesleyan and Auckland University Presses. Earlier titles include Vanishing Points (2017) and Heartland (2014), both from Auckland University Press. She is working on a study of archival poetics, provisionally titled ‘Groundwork: The Art and Writing of Emily Cumming Harris’. Michele Leggott co-founded the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) with fellow poet and librarian Brian Flaherty in 2001. She was the New Zealand Poet Laureate 2007–2009 and received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry in 2013. In 2017 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
‘In Michele’s work the reader trusts herself to the text, to its musicality and increasingly to a pervasive tenderness. If you can’t be quite certain where the next poem will take you – it might suddenly elevate like a hot air balloon and you are above the domestic, above the bugle signalling a retreat to St. Mary’s church, and there is a baby lifted wet from his bath, and everyone running, as in a Bruegel painting – you can be confident that the poet is holding the reins. What it says in the end is that everything counts.’
— Elizabeth Smither
'The poetry is an act of retrieval, conversation, travel, song. The writing is fluid, nuanced, melodic. The subject matter rich in effect and reach.'
— Paula Green, Kete Books
'It’s easy to drown in the sound of Leggott’s poetry. I’d argue that’s one of the great pleasures of reading it. Yet there’s at least a second of blank, shocking clarity in each poem, allowing the reader to surface from the tumult, take a breath, get their emotional bearings, then plunge back in.'
— Sophie van Waardenberg, Aotearoa New Zealand Review of Books
'Without doubt, Leggott is producing work at the top of her game. Her thoroughness and her crafting of structures and forms is second to none. She is a gift to the nation and this selection reinforces her place as one of our greatest.'
— Chris Reed, NZ Booklovers