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Utterly Salt: Isobel Dixon


Isobel Dixon was born in Umtata, South Africa, grew up in the Karoo region and studied in Stellenbosch, and then in Edinburgh, before the world of publishing lured her to work in London. Her powerful, moving Salt collection A Fold in the Map was published in 2007. Catch Isobel and seven other Salt poets on Monday 23 August at 6.30 pm in the Banshee Labyrinth as part of the Free Fringe.

The Root of It

Morning glories’ extraordinary purple’s
only for the vine.
Once plucked the trumpets shrivel up,
like spent balloons,
the morning after everything.

And pebbles, lifted from the river, dry
and lose their lustre,
weigh our pockets down. Sour-smelling
sea-shells, pillaged
from the beach, once pearled with light.

Though I believe what’s lost in the translation
keeps on whispering
to us in dreams. The tongue’s root holds.
But how to find
a waking voice, and honest lungs

that I can trust to speak of my own place,
and how to trace
that most elusive source: the ocean,
riverbed or stem?
How not to be a specimen,

impaled, damaged, adrift. The journey’s cost,
the richness gained
at what expense.  The rift between the past
and this. How speech
evades us, how our longing hearts dry up.

from A Fold in the Map

Who or what is the greatest influence on your writing?

Isobel DixonIf you want to go way back, I guess what was crucial to the will to write was my Yorkshire grandfather’s love of reciting poetry (especially Wilfred Owen) from memory, and my family’s voracious appetite for books, that curiosity about stories, and love of words. Influences change over time of course, for different stages of your writing life, and there’ve always been people – both teachers like Michael Donaghy and the poetry peers I’ve shared work and ideas with – who’ve challenged me in various ways. And in my career as a literary agent I am constantly spurred on and inspired by my own author clients, their hard work, imagination and dedication to their craft.

Why is poetry important?

Why is music important? Why is dancing important? You could live without either but it would be a pretty dismal life.

Why is Salt important?

Salt have earned their reputation as innovators, and have challenged boundaries, both in the use of the new technologies for production and marketing, and in embracing a range of poets with different approaches. Also, they make beautiful books. For too long so many poetry collections looked positively dull, and it’s a lovely bonus when lively new work comes with an enticing cover.

What is your favourite Salt book and why?

One of the things that makes Salt what it is, is its diversity, so there’s a wide range of poetry for different tastes and moods. I have a pretty extensive Salt poetry shelf now, and have enjoyed so many, but the collections I’ve returned to most since I first got them are Chris McCabe’s Zeppelins, Simon Barraclough’s Los Alamos Mon Amour, and Anthony Joseph’s Bird Head Son.

And, because it’s a different genre, let me slip in the mention of just one short story collection, Charles Lambert’s brilliant The Scent of Cinnamon – I have to declare a professional interest, as he’s one of my author clients, but there are plenty of others who share my admiration. The title story won an O. Henry Prize, and was described as ‘a classic’ by Maggie Gee, and ‘exquisite’ by Scott Pack. It’s just been translated into Arabic and is one of my favourite short stories ever.

Any other projects you’d like to tell us about?

My next collection The Tempest Prognosticator comes out from Salt next year. I’m enjoying taking part in Simon Barraclough’s Psycho Poetica project, having written a poem for one of the most climactic moments in Hitchcock’s Psycho. Most recently the line-up of twelve poets performed at Latitude, along with the Bleeding Heart Narrative string quartet, and I’m looking forward to the next event at the South Bank Centre on 24 October. I’ve been writing some bird poems for a Sidekick Books project, and am also looking forward to a ‘residency’ at the Travel Bookshop in Notting Hill.

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