Jack Ross, ed.: brief 32 (July 2005)
Michele Leggott. Milk & Honey. ISBN 1-86940-334-7. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2005. RRP $27.99.
Michele Leggott: Milk & Honey (2005)
My first impression of this book (once I’d got past James Fryer’s very cool cover: stark colours, hieratic tarot imagery, ceremonial theatrical profusion) was that it was nice to see so many old friends gathered together. A great deal of this work, including some pretty major pieces, has appeared in brief over the last few years. I was, however, a little disappointed that the “Cairo vessel” illustration we included in #29 (2004): p.6, had not been included. Turning to the elegy “I dreamed your book was written …” (included in brief 28 (2003): 103-4) I also missed the context given by our Brunton memorial issue: the Egyptian paraphernalia of his previously-unpublished short play “The Excursion:” Book of the Dead rhetoric and imagery.
That, then, was the second impression: maybe some of the pieces needed more back-up and explanation, of the type that their brief printings had been able to supply.
After that, I turned to and read the book through again: carefully, from beginning to end, instead of simply picking out the plums one by one, and began to see Michele’s design more clearly. The poems here are conceived on a large scale, and they’re very “poetic” poems indeed – Michele allows herself an enthusiastic rapturous diction which would be anathema to any card-carrying Modernist. Her interest, clearly, is in a poetry of transcendence, heady invocations of sex and romance, sun and sea and sand. Taken as a whole, I was astonished to find even cynical old me surrendering to it. The “I dreamed your book was written …” poem takes clearer shape as a joint Robin Hyde / Alan Brunton piece (the title, after all, comes from one of the poems included in Michele’s edition of Hyde’s Collected Poems), but also as a more general point of celebration on a kind of graph of the emotions charted by her book’s entire trajectory.
Longer than any of her previous collections, this one also strikes me as the most assured and relaxed. It’s hard to imagine her writing a better book than this, which might tempt us to hail it as a swansong. Actually, though, it leaves me keener than ever to see just what this poet will do next.