Publication date: 22nd June 2023
Format: Paperback / eBook
Elizabeth Bishop’s hawkweed, John Berryman’s hummingbirds, Ted Hughes’s burnt fox – the birds, beasts and flowers of Isobel Dixon’s new collection are at times kin to D.H. Lawrence, whose essay ‘Whistling of Birds’ lends this book its name, though each poem here is its own vivid testament to the natural world, and our often troubled and troubling place in it.
Lyrical, vigorous, inventive, A Whistling of Birds shares points of creative contact with Lawrence’s iconic collection, Birds, Beasts and Flowers, but also ranges widely through the worlds of other writers, musicians and artists – from the Venerable Bede to Emily Dickinson, Georgia O’Keeffe to Glenn Gould, in moments closely examined and delicately drawn. Syrian roses, an abundance of apricots in Santa Fe; bats, bees, tortoises, snakes, the generous body of a whale. Threaded throughout is the beautiful complexity and vulnerability of the planet, and the joy and difficulty of making art, also in times of war and displacement.
Douglas Robertson’s finely detailed images also speak of a close connection to the green world, ocean and sky, and a thoughtful dialogue between artist and poet.
With its resonant elegies and notes of celebration, this is a collection that flexes, hums and brims with energy, yet also draws you surely in to its quiet, reflective heart. Care begins with attentiveness to what we value: what we love we seek to save. Here, the poet hears William Blake’s injunction to ‘labour well the minute particulars’ and pays close attention to both ‘the teeming Earth’ and the human voice.
Clear-eyed yet tender, at once precise and playful, A Whistling of Birds explores rootedness and restlessness, homing and flight. Poetry as powerful connection and recapitulation, and, even in landscapes of exile and diminishment, the art of rewilding and replenishing the self.
Praise for A Whistling of Birds:
‘As D.H. Lawrence says, “The essential quality of poetry is that it makes a new effort of attention.” Isobel Dixon’s A Whistling of Birds does just that. Doing so, she gets, and shares with her readers, new slants on life on earth. I felt alerted again to things, fellow creatures, deeds, I hadn’t paid due attention to, or had once and had become accustomed and needed to be shown afresh. This book gives shocks of pleasure and gratitude in equal measure.’ – David Constantine
‘Isobel Dixon’s writing is lit by a fierce sense of landscape. She is newly touched by the tiniest northern flowers, haunted still by powerful spirits of the south. Her work is visually exuberant; its sounds, delicious, especially when bound by rhyme. Dixon’s lines flash with humour and tenderness. Her poems marry exactitude to emotion. In both, they are memorable.’ – Alison Brackenbury
‘These are warm, attentive, moving poems, full of feeling but also full of precision and clarity of mind. Isobel Dixon's work is engaged not just with life, but with poetry as life, and this haunting book is a testament to the doubleness of the poetic art: an engagement with the world, and a world in and of itself.' - Patrick McGuinness
Praise for Isobel Dixon's writing:
‘A poet confident in her mastery of her medium.’ – J.M. Coetzee
‘Here is a poet at ease with a variety of forms and approaches, and possessing the confidence to address experiment in her work. Her voice is questioning and searching; she presents the vitality of the natural world with strong lyricism and close observation. … There’s also much wit and the poems often sparkle with colour, and are feisty, full of rich doubt, and complex considerations of world and self.' – Penelope Shuttle
‘She is a poet who, far from hiding in lyricism, uses it for adventure and exploration, like a magician's cloak. Her work is a perpetual transformation, inexhaustible even though anything in it can be said aloud, and indeed demands to be. There is something new under the sun on every page.’ – Clive James
‘Isobel Dixon’s exquisitely written poems teach us how to read the world anew.’ – Gabeba Baderoon
Isobel Dixon grew up in South Africa, where her debut, Weather Eye, won the Olive Schreiner Prize. She studied in Edinburgh and now lives in Cambridge, returning frequently to her family home in the Great Karoo. Her further collections are A Fold in the Map, Bearings and The Tempest Prognosticator, which J.M. Coetzee described as ‘a virtuoso collection’. Mariscat published her pamphlet The Leonids. She co-wrote and performed in the Titanic centenary show The Debris Field (with Simon Barraclough and Chris McCabe) and has worked with composers, filmmakers and artists. Her work is recorded for the Poetry Archive. www.isobeldixon.com
Photo credit: Naomi Woddis