Michele Leggott is a senior lecturer in English at the University of Auckland
and founding coordinator in 2001 of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc).
Leggott was recently one of three principal investigators in a five-person Marsden
Award funded team for research on Robin Hyde. She edited Hyde's extraordinary
prose poem The Book of Nadath, written in 1937 and published by AUP in
May 1999. For this and other academic publication she was awarded an RNZFB Blind
Achiever's Award in November 1999 and is currently preparing Hyde's Collected
In 2000 Leggott co-edited with poets Alan Brunton and Murray Edmond the
anthology Big Smoke: New Zealand Poems 1960-1975. She has also written a
scholarly study of the American poet Louis Zukofsky (1989), appears on AUP's cd Seeing
Voices (1997) and in a poetry video with Alan Brunton, Heaven's Cloudy
Smile (1998). Her first collection of poetry Like This? won the PEN
First Book of Poetry award and her third book DIA won the New Zealand
Book Award for Poetry in 1995. Her most recent collection As far as I can see
(1999) deals with the gap between vision and a steadily deteriorating
retinal condition, noting: 'Much of what I have written here is an effort to
remember seeing, something to put against the dark while I searched for other
ways of understanding where it has put me. This understanding is elusive, it
vanishes most when I need it. It is the sound of words on darkness, and of words
ANGELS AND ORACLES
I have poets.
-- Monica Rorvik
No hooting please. Chickens resting.
-- Sign on N3 north of Durban
On bloody acts
that make less human
mankind’s brighter sun,
let revulsion rise.
Eclipse the moon’s
black evil: so that
innocence and the child
so that we may dream
good dreams again
-- Hone Tuwhare, ‘O Africa’ (June 1960)
The boat is called Akuna Matata and it is full of poets. When the moon casts off their festival begins on a bridge of silver over the dark ocean. For eight days their hearts drive the city’s taxi vans in a frenzy of toots and whistles. Each one is the name of its articulate lion.
Lord, Lord, Lord. Chicken Run. Sam the Man.
Mr Sheik is the concierge of the Tropicana. He has worked 47 years here and will see there is a good car for bad roads in the mountains. The gentleman intends a longer stay next time he says, what do you have?
Feel Good. Smoky Joe. Revelation.
The grandson of Isaiah Shembe looks over at the hillside where a star that fell to earth is laid out in white stones. We have seen angels he says, they are among us but in human form.
Wicked. Frenzy. Fantasy.
Someone is stalked and robbed of his wages by six assailants. He is forced to drink corrosive cleaning fluid that kills him fourteen hours later.
Pretty Marina. Judgement Day. Imagination.
The grandson of John Langalibalele Dube stands where Gandhi’s house has been rebuilt after fire destroyed part of the Phoenix Settlement. I become emotional here he says where Gandhi organised the first satyagraha.
Defiance. Classic. Just Another Crazy.
6.30 pm : Someone is held up at knifepoint two blocks from the hotel. At 11 Security advises against walking alone or in pairs. Fives and sixes maybe, or sixes and sevens.
Hard Man. Seductive Sixteen. Bunny Chow.
Exequiel Mabote, printmaker, pulls a prayer meeting out of his drawer and explains that the angels are coming down close to hear the confessions of those who also wear white robes and caps.
Tiffany. Tycoon. Turbo Tours.
4.30 am : Someone is shot and killed outside the hotel. The breakfast cook is upset and we recall hearing shouts and getting up to shut the window and turn on the air-conditioning.
Snoopy. Banana Boy. Nemesis Incorporated.
Here comes Isaiah Mhlangu with a prophet’s mane, an angel’s smile and beaded sandals to die for. He’s in Community Development. I’m your driver he says I have my orders but they don’t come from God.
Melon Man. Take the A Train. Everything Dingo Touches Stays Gold.
At the BAT Centre, crouched, aerodynamic, wind streaming over folded wings and leopard leotard, a carved angel faces into the divine slipstream wearing dark glasses.
Dinky Diva. King Pleasure. Imagination (2)
Zolani Mkiva is Mandela’s praise poet. He wears red robes and a crown of porcupine quills from Zimbabwe. Trouble won’t sit on me he says gunning the 4WD with plates that say POET. Among the praise singers who perform at the opening of the cultural centre only the woman has no costume. She is critical and will not be named in the programme or invited to join the group photo. Everyone else holds a certificate and a wooden carving of Africa.
Shady Lady. Ministry of Truth. Love Hotel.
Comrade Jesus is a special friend of the executive mayor. Joy, Eternity, Salvation, Unity and Strength also figure as Christ Risen Over Satanic Strategies. He hates the coloniser and will see that justice is done in the new order. He walks without fear in his electorate and there are no bullets in him.
Late in the Day. Hootchy Kootchy. Amandla.
Smoking and drinking and drumming in the morning, under the Rhino Horn, alongside the Hippo Pools. The sun is coming up on the right, the moon is going down on the left. Strawberries. Love tastes like strawberries. The mountains are bare.
Durban – Drakensberg -- Great Kei River, 28 April – 5 May 2002
Co-published in brief 24, July 2002.