Adventures in poetry
Date: 4th April 2016
Extent: 80 pp
‘A poet confident in her mastery of her medium.’ – J M Coetzee
‘Isobel Dixon was born with the gift of lyricism as natural speech.’ – Clive James
‘One of the finest South African poets writing today.’ – Kylie Thomas, Mail & Guardian
‘Exquisite vigour, panache and a resourceful, ranging intelligence’ – David Morley
In her fourth collection, Isobel Dixon takes readers on a journey to far-flung and sometimes dark places. From Robben Island to Hiroshima, Egypt to Edinburgh, the West Bank and beyond, these poems are forays of discovery and resistance, of arrival and loss.
Bearings sings of love too, and pays homage to lost friends and poets – the voices of John Berryman, Michael Donaghy, Robert Louis Stevenson and others echo here. And there is respite for the weary traveller – jazz in the shadows, an exuberant play of words between the fire and tremors.
In this wide-ranging collection Dixon explores form and subject, keeping a weather eye out for telling detail, with a sharp sense of the threat that these journeys, our wars and stories, and our very existence pose to the planet.
'Here is a new collection by 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. Cruelty and violence are never dodged, but brought alive in all their rawness and visceral challenge. The poems often sparkle with colour, and are feisty, full of rich doubt, and complex considerations of world and self. Wordplay is used productively to examine and/or establish identity. There’s also much wit as in ‘I have a case of Gothic Cathedral Neck’. A controlled but fast-paced forward movement in the writing draws the reader along at an exhilarating pace. Much energy is released into being by these poems, whether the poet is drawing on her South African roots in both contemporary and historic settings, particularly in the striking and ambitious ‘Women at a Christmas Party, Robben Island, 19th Century’, along with its companion piece ‘Truths and Reconciliations’, or whether her subject is Seville, Cambridge or Dubai. A wide-ranging collection in many senses then, venturesome and powerful, remaining in the mind long after reading. Highly-recommended.' - Penelope Shuttle
‘Isobel Dixon's recent poems confirm her sumptuous gift of mining for melody all the way down to the syllable, but it is remarkable how she can go on tightening her focus even as she widens her range of topic. The gorgeous and sometimes horrifying specificity she began by finding in her native South Africa she has gone on to find all over the world, even in the tumult of the Middle East. With every airport lounge a new starting point, her poetry is truly an international event. Admiringly, one is forced to the conclusion that she is becoming 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 grew up in South Africa, where her debut collection, Weather Eye, won the Olive Schreiner Prize. She studied in Scotland, works in publishing in London and lives in Cambridge, returning when possible to her family home in the Karoo. Her further collections are A Fold in the Map and The Tempest Prognosticator, which J.M. Coetzee described as ‘a virtuoso collection’. Her work has been recorded for the Poetry Archive and she often collaborates with artists, writers and composers. She took part in the multi-media Hitchcock tribute Psycho Poetica, co-wrote and performed in the Titanic centenary show The Debris Field (with Simon Barraclough and Chris McCabe) and completed two projects with Italian composer Roberto Rusconi – Doppelgänger and Dark Matters, both included in Bearings, published by Nine Arches Press in 2016. In the same year Mariscat published a pamphlet, The Leonids, including poems that will form part of her next Nine Arches collection, The Landing, to be published in April 2022. She is also working on A Whistling of Birds, a poetry-art-music collaboration with Scottish artist Douglas Robertson and American composer Stephen Montague, circling around the nature poetry of D.H Lawrence’s 1923 collection Birds, Beasts and Flowers.