Isobel Dixon’s The Tempest Prognosticator

Isobel Dixon by Jo Kearney

  
 
Isobel Dixon was born in Umtata, and grew up in the Karoo. Her debut collection Weather Eye (Carapace, 2001) was awarded the Sanlam Prize 2000 for an unpublished manuscript and then won the Olive Schreiner Prize in 2004. A Fold in the Map was published by Salt in the United Kingdom and Jacana in South Africa in 2007 and her new collection The Tempest Prognosticator, also published by Salt, comes out from Random Struik’s Umuzi imprint in August 2011.
 
Her poems have appeared in journals like Carapace, New Contrast, The Paris Review, Financial Times, The Guardian, Magma, The Manhattan Review, and Southwest Review, among others, and some poems have been translated into Dutch, German, French and Turkish. She has been commissioned to write poems for the British Film Institute, and her work is included in several anthologies, including New Writing, Penguin’s Poems for Love, The Forward Book of Poetry 2009, and the pamphlets Unfold (2002), Ask for It by Name (2007) and The Art of Wiring (2011). She has been co-curator of several multi-poet events, including the Pink Floyd tribute ‘On a Trip to Cirrus Minor’ and took part in Psycho Poetica at the BFI, South Bank and Latitude Festival. She was shortlisted for the Strokestown Poetry Prize 2011 and was involved in the record-breaking international Authors for Peace event on Peace Day 2010, and Women for Women International’s ‘Join Me on the Bridge’ project for Women’s Day 2011. She lives in Cambridge, England.
 
 
 

The Tempest Prognosticator - UK cover

  
 
“In The Tempest Prognosticator leeches warn of storms, whales blunder up the Thames, toktokkies tap out their courtship rituals, and women fall for deft cocktail makers and melancholy apes. With her keen eye and a gift for  capturing the natural world, Isobel Dixon entices the reader on a journey where the familiar is not always as it seems, where the sideways glance, the double take, yields rich rewards. From Crusoe to Psycho, Eugène Marais to Fred Astaire, the human zoo’s at play here too, in a collection filled with miracle and wonder, wit and bite.”
 
 
 
*
  
  
  
“In this virtuoso collection, the work of a poet confident in her mastery of her medium, Isobel Dixon moves easily from dialogues with the animal world to mordant ventriloquizings of the female self.”
 
– J M Coetzee
  
 
 
“Isobel Dixon’s poetry possesses exquisite vigour, panache and a resourceful, ranging intelligence. Like the title poem, The Tempest Prognosticator is an ‘ingenious carousel’ of a book. Life-affirming, funny, almost liquid in the movement of language, yet the book shifts with such apparent ease into darkness. Isobel Dixon’s work has natural authority; the reader trusts her to get the details right.”
 
– David Morley
 
 
 
“Frogs, birds, bats, baboons, monkeys, peacocks, lizards and boars leap, crawl, shimmer and swoop through Isobel Dixon’s lusciously feral and finely crafted poems; while moths ‘crash the party’, Struzzi are ‘Shabby ballerinas/ all gone at the knees’ and a whale shows up in the Thames ‘one wintry Friday, come to visit us’. And the human zoo is no less intriguing. The Tempest Prognosticator signals so many fresh, often surreal, insights; with its bold, eclectic approach to the traditional and the experimental, and irreverent juxtapositions of subject matter and form,  it’s a wake-up call to the imagination and the senses and suggests myriad possibilities of what a poem can do and be.”
 
– Catherine Smith
 
 
 
“The exquisitely written poems in Isobel Dixon’s new collection teach us how to read the world anew. Richly and vividly observant, they also treasure the things that are ‘most beautiful with your eyes closed’ (‘Vision’). Indeed, writing and its small comforts can keep us from plunging blindly into ‘our joint and secret griefs’ (‘So Many Henries’), ‘a hyphen/ of a wall to keep us from the irresistable’ (‘Every Valey Shall Be Exalted’). And yet in these lines, falling is itself a kind of ‘euphoric vertigo’ that can ‘open up the world and its great mystery’ (‘Days of Miracle and Wonder’) to us, as this collection does.” 
 
– Gabeba Baderoon
 
 
 

The Tempest Prognosticator - South African cover

  
 
 
Root Verses
 
 
Something fantastical is happening
to our weekly vegetables.
A deep organic mystery.
Take this peculiar Buddha root,
these conjoined tubers,
apostolic, luminous.
 
At first it was our ignorance
that had us both agape
at sprouting aliens, but Google,
Wikipedia, my fat Larousse,
enlightened us. See, here,
celeriac, kumquat, jackfruit,
 
chard, tamarillo, salsify –
we learned to welcome strangers
to our house. The whole green world
was subject to my knife,
till more burgeoned from the box
than I could chop.
 
This wasn’t what we signed up for:
our direct debit, like the widow’s jar
of oil, a source of never-ending
anti-oxidants. I waited,
but could never catch the van.
Piled offerings at our door –
 
neighbours complained – we took them in.
I’ve called the helpline
and the chap from – Delhi?
Mumbai? – answers me,
then puts me through to silence,
growing quiet down the phone.
 
I sit among the congregated squash,
the jungled cress, the mute
appeal of finger-shaped shallots.
Wish that the zinging in my ears would shush,
ponder the way of xylem and of phloem,
pray for the peace of photosynthesis.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
You, Me and the Orang-utan
 
 
Forgive me, it was not my plan
to fall in love like this. You are the best of men,
but he is something else. A king
among the puny, gentle, nurturing.
 
Walking without you through the zoo, I felt his gaze,
love at first sight, yes, but through the bars, alas.
Believe me, though, it’s not a question of his size –
what did it for me were his supple lips, those melancholy eyes,
 
that noble, furrowed brow. His heart, so filled with care
for every species. And his own, so threatened, rare –
how could I not respond, there are so few like him these days?
Don’t try to ape him or dissuade me, darling, please.
 
For now I think of little else, although
it’s hopeless and it can’t go on, I know –
I lie here, burning, on our bed, and think of Borneo.
 
 
 
‘You, Me and the Orang-utan’ is included in Penguin’s Poems
for Love
anthology.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
The Parliament of Gulls
 
 
Fresh on the shingle,
the upturned seagull-
gutted baby sharks,
eye sockets scooped-out
holes in sheeted flesh,
a spectral gathering
of Ku Klux fish.
Sated, a sarky
seagull parliament’s
in session on the beach:
the speaker struts
and scoffs, a preachy
scavenger. Nearby
we plunder pebbles
from the rattling strand,
our pockets filled
with mottled planets
and a cock-eyed earth
cupped in my open hand. 
 
 
 
‘Parliament of Gulls’ was written for the Birdbook anthology.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Mountain War Time
 
‘Will Mount St Helens continue to build until it surpasses its former majesty, or will it blow itself apart in a new fury of destruction?’
               National Geographic, Vol. 160 No. 6, December 1981
 
 
Renowned for its height and perfect cone,
the American Fuji-san
now rises with a broken crown
 
above the slopes made mud- and ashscape,
burying bobcat, spotted owl and elk.
Ghost vapours from a methane lake
 
unfurl, before the pearly everlasting
and the lilies of the avalanche
emerge. Trailing blackberry, lupine,
 
bracken fern, disguise the scars
of that May day in this volcanic arc.
The Cascades shaken, parted
 
from old certainties. Remember,
here, this is the Ring of Fire,
the lava flow not far from where,
 
made pure, Element 94,
plutonium, formed Fat Man’s core –
the Sumo Bomb, its promised rain of ruin:
 
molten kimono flowers singed to skin,
a city threshed and sewn with blossoms, fissioning. 
 
 
 
‘Mountain War Time’ was part of Roddy Lumsden’s
’50 States’ project.
 
 
 
*
  
 
  
Order The Tempest Prognosticator (Salt Publishing, 2011)
in the UK here and here.
 
Order The Tempest Prognosticator (Umuzi, 2011)
in South Africa here and here.
 
 
 
 
The Tempest Prognosticator South African events

  
Thursday, 15 September 2011
The Tempest Prognosticator Poetry and Art Event
ArtKaroo Gallery, Oudtshoorn
Details TBC.
 

Friday, 23 September 2011
Cape Town launch of The Tempest Prognosticator
at the Open Book Festival
Details TBC.
 
 
 
Visit Isobel’s website.
 
Read more of Isobel’s work at Poetry International
and on Clive James’s website.
 
More about Isobel at Contemporary Writers.
 
Visit photographer Jo Kearney’s website.
 
 
 
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