February 7, 2008


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A Fold in the Map, By Isobel Dixon (Salt Publishing, 2007, 68 pages)
By Dan Szczesny dszczesny@hippopress.com

South African native Isobel Dixon packs a lot into this thin volume, her second. Divided into two sections, “Plenty” and “Meet My Father,” A Fold in the Map is a steady next step in this interesting new poet’s career. Dixon is obsessed with her father; she spends half the book writing about him in a series of short but powerful recollection poems.

Most striking is Dixon’s penchant for short powerful bursts of insight or reflection. She knows when enough is enough and the word choice of her free verse often commands some powerful imagery. For example, in the short poem, “And,” copied here in its entirety, Dixon reaches out to touch the body of her dead father:

And I was thinking in the breaking dawn,
my fingers on my father’s precious skin:
so this is what death is like.

And not just any death, I see that now: the good death
of a good man. How it takes a lifetime
to prepare for such a death.

And a lifetime after for the rest of us, recovering.
Trying not to botch what’s left of our own.

This is a modern poet in fine command of her art: the repetition of death, lifetime, good; a small dash of alliteration to give the poem a sing-song chipperness; the final line with its hard-sounding consonant “botch” to jar the reader out of the previous soft, meditative lull of the piece. It’s a great poem.

Unfortunately, the first section does not stand up to the second. In “Plenty” Dixon writes about the melancholy of longing for home and being apart from her family. Again her poetry is short and sharp, but her heart is not in it.

In “Back in the Benighted Kingdom” she fondly remembers the mosquito bites of Africa, the “love bites of a continent.” She has the tone right, but the image is too precious. In the second section, “Meet My Father” Dixon sheds poetic pretensions. The metaphors are heartfelt but not forced.

A Fold in the Map is a good example of a young poet’s inability to write outside her comfort zone. Dixon has talent, and there’s plenty of time for her to develop into something special. For now though, she only has it half right. B-Dan Szczesny