While five poets assumed the laureateship under the administrative partnership of Te Mata Estate and the International Institute of Modern Letters, Michele Leggott became the inaugural New Zealand Poet Laureate under the administration of the National Library (2008-2009).

The biennial laureateship is awarded to poets who have made an outstanding contribution to New Zealand poetry, and Leggott was an ideal choice to launch the new sponsorship. She has published seven poetry collections, including DIA, a New Zealand Book Award winner for poetry, and has made significant input to poetry at both local and national levels.

With her landmark edition of Robin Hyde's collected poems, Leggott retrieved a poet from the literary shadows for a new and widening audience. As the founding director of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre, she established a useful forum for poetry in an increasingly digital world. Her innovative course, "Poetry off the Page," was recognised in recent University of Auckland teaching awards.

To mark the end of her tenure at the end of June, Auckland University Press have published Mirabile Dictu, her laureate collection. Some poetry books demand to be read in a single sitting, but this astonishing book is to be savoured over a much longer time period, poem by poem.

Mirabile Dictu (relating wonders) represents Leggott's marvel in the everyday. The poems track a year in the life of the poet, following big things such as death and marriage and little things such as "the low slant of sun" and "a feed of mussels." In this collection, poetry becomes a way of walking in the world, and in that movement a way of absorbing the world. The poems soak up life through memory, travel and an infectious passion for words. As she moves through time and place, Leggott carries two sticks: a white stick to guide her failing eyes and the laureate gift, a blue tokotoko (Te Kihorangi) to act as her poetic guide.

The impact of Leggott's deteriorating sight upon her writing should not be viewed as the sole key to reading the collection, but the click of the stick ("chichichichichi") lays down the rhythm of the bold but vulnerable pedestrian.

In the shadow of each poem, the poet is learning to walk and see and write anew. Her fingers are "fingers/ with long memory." In smoke tree, the attention to new ways of both comprehending and navigating the world appears in super focus: can you hear the shadow of the wall she asks yes I say taking the white cane from her and trying again yes I hear shadow two nights later I walk home in the dark listening to walls and the scent of wintersweet.

The blue laureate stick, a pool cue laser-etched by master carver Jacob Manu Scott, talks back at times, and it is as though the spirit of Hone Tuwhare's poetry is buried in its belly. When the poet asks, "what shall I do?", the stick replies, "write them a poem what else."

The cheekiness of the guide is apparent shortly later: "oh and make it funny said the stick/ you don't want them dozing off." Mirabile Dictu signals a number of changes in the style of the poet. The book has changed from the uniform shape of Leggott's first five collections. The lines are shorter. The content is more accessible. Yet Leggott never relinquishes her need for music. It is there in the evocative detail and the sumptuous language that transforms everyday speech into poetry.

What also changes is the degree to which family makes an entrance in Leggott's poetry. In previous collections, family members are there in various faintnesses, but Mirabile Dictu is a collection of and for family. As much as the poet's strength and fragility in the light of her changing sight has the power to move the reader, so too does the open window upon those who matter most.

Leggott has taken the stick's advice to write; the book includes 154 pages, which is a sizeable feat for poetry that never falters. If there is a new and satisfying wit, such as in the marvellous shore space where Robin Hyde spots a barrelful of North Shore poets from a bus window, Leggott still provides characteristic points of mystery. The white space of her poetry ensures she doesn't hand us her world on a plate for instant gratification.

The collection reads as a glorious continuum with neither full stops to mark ends, nor capital letters to denote beginnings. It as though we, too, can absorb the stumbles and the dark patches, the richness and the heavenly light. This extraordinary book will stay with me for a very long time.

* Paula Green is an Auckland poet and children's author.

* Mirabile Dictu by Michele Leggott (Auckland University Press $27.99)