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This review is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

ORIGINS AND LOSS ISOBEL DIXON, Weather Eye (Carapace)
KEITH CHANDLER, A Different Kind of Smoke (Redbeck Press)

In comparing these two new collections of poetry - one South African in origin, the other English - it is useful to reflect upon the fashion of contemporary poets to exact a pathos of origins as the measure of its success, whereby the ground of enquiry in the poem is dependent upon its evocation of a past experience. This strategy of recollection is evident in both collections and is arguably the hallmark of their adherence to what could be called a contemporary, accessible lyricism. That accessibility must also be sought in their attention to quotidian detail as grounds for elaboration sympathetic affect; both collections in fact exploit the resources of domesticity.

Isobel Dixon, now living in Cambridge, draws upon her memories of Graaff-Reinert in South Africa in her collection Weather Eye, which is characterised by its cultivation of sensuous natural imagery with what it calls 'the precious milk and honey of nostalgia'. The typical title poem celebrates, with a characteristic loamy cadence, a childhood summer's day when 'heat would wake you, lapping at the sheet,/and drive you up and out into the flare/to find the mulberry's sweet shade/or watch ants marching underneath the guava tree'. The horticultural imagery, with its latent exotica to a European reader, recurs in various poems, most luminously in '42 Somerset Street' where 'we, legs lime-tree stretched/and fingertips dark mulberried,/moved light among the earth and leafmould scent'. Dixon's gift is in the presentation of such a palpable, earthy presence and its accordant pathos ...


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