Pinball Electra

You and your robot bride, I scoff
(the sport of waking her, waking her),
cold metal clattering to fleshen
out the supine girl, evince
that throaty laugh’s ideal
appreciation of your skill.

You ribbed me back –
how I, Electra-like, keep
harping on my theme.
And I dream a dark arcade,
where the pinball king
has made a game of genius,

to make him breathe, if
I play it right. Shake the cabinet
with the volleys, flippers
to defibrillate the dormant heart,
a silver hail on whitened skull.
Make him turn and see.

No cheat codes for this level,
a hall of earnest girls play on.
Coinfall after coinfall,
the expectation of that crucial voice,
shattering the case’s glass.
Make him speak to me.

by Isobel Dixon

This Thursday lunchtime, the Poetry Centre invites you to join us in a celebration of ‪Shakespeare’s Sonnets in this special year commemorating the 400th anniversary of his death. A dozen students and staff will be reading their favourite sonnets, and the event will begin with a short introduction by Dr Katharine Craik, an expert on Shakespeare and his work. It will take place from 12-1pm in T.300 (Tonge Building), Gipsy Lane campus.   

‘Pinball Electra’ is copyright © Isobel Dixon, 2013. It is reprinted from Bearings (Nine Arches Press, 2016) by permission of Nine Arches Press. ‘Pinball Electra’ was originally published in Coin Opera II, edited by Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving (Sidekick Books, 2013). 

In her fourth collection Isobel Dixon takes readers on a journey to far-flung and sometimes dark places. From Mumbai 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. Isobel Dixon will be launching the collection at the London Book Fair on Wednesday 13 April at the Globe Theatre, 5B140 in the Great Hall from 5-6pm, and also at the Wenlock Poetry Festival, together with Abegail Morley and Julia Webb on Sunday 24 April.

Isobel Dixon grew up in South Africa, where her debut, Weather Eye, won the Olive Schreiner Prize. She studied in Scotland and now works in London, returning frequently to her family home in the Karoo. Her further collections are A Fold in the Map and The Tempest Prognosticator and she co-wrote and performed in the Titanic centenary show The Debris Field (with Simon Barraclough and Chris McCabe). Mariscat will publish a pamphlet, The Leonids, in August 2016. You can read more about Isobel’s new book on the Nine Arches website, and more about her work on her own site.

Since its founding in 2008, Nine Arches Press has published poetry and short story collections (under the Hotwire imprint), as well as Under the Radar magazine. In 2010, two of our pamphlets (The Terrors by Tom Chivers and The Titanic Cafe closes its doors and hits the rocks by David Hart) were shortlisted for the Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlet prize and Mark Goodwin’s book Shod won the 2011 East Midlands Book Award. In 2012, Nine Arches launched the Debut New Poets Series of first collections and the press has now published more than 30 collections of poetry and 10 issues of the magazine. We continue to build a reputation as a publisher of well-crafted and innovative contemporary poetry and short story collections. Follow Nine Arches on Facebook and Twitter.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.


We left him sleeping peaceful in the night
but they have tied him down, bony wrists
wrapped in a sheepskin cuff, lashed tightly to the rail.

He was fierce after we left, they say:
shouting, tearing at the drip. Hard to believe it
of this gentle man, but this morning,

unbound for the time we’re there, he cavils,
clawing at the needle in his arm, moaning
and stubborn, baring his teeth at us

when we refuse. I stroke his fettered hand,
his paper forehead, murmur comfort,
courage, anything. He shakes me off, tossing

his head, red-eyed, an angry ram. Ha!
I must remember who I am: his child,
just a child, why do I question him?

So I hold my tongue, but stay. Lift up the cup,
with its candy-striped concertina straw,
to his splintered lip and he, in resignation, sucks.

Yes, we make a meagre congregation, father,
disobedient. The flesh, indeed, is weak.
Still, remembered echoes of his sermons come:

a promised child, the tangled ram, the sheep-clothed son;
last-minute rescues, legacies, and lies.
The promised and the chosen, certain hopes.

How, from these stories, are we to be wise?
His word was clear and sure before, but now
his raging, rambling, shakes this listener’s heart.

And yet, to be here, of some small use,
is a kind of peace. Three spoons of food,
oil for his hands, his feet. Then at last,
at last, returning to gentleness, he sleeps.

by Isobel Dixon

This poem is taken from the painful sequence ‘Meet My Father’, gathered in A Fold in the Map, which forms a searching exploration of grief at a father’s final painful journey into death.

A Fold in the Map is a nod to Jan Morris’s Trieste And The Meaning Of Nowhere, where the traveller’s state of in-between-ness is explored. Robert Frost said “a poem begins as a lump in the throat, a home-sickness, a love-sickness” and in these poems of love and longing for home, family, and other loved ones, Isobel Dixon draws on a rich store of natural imagery, illuminating the ordinary at times with a touch of wry humour. Her vivid poems will speak memorably to travellers, lovers and all those who mourn.

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. She now lives in Cambridge. Her poetry has been widely published in South Africa, where she won the Sanlam Prize and the Olive Schreiner Prize for her collection Weather Eye. Internationally, her work has been published in The Paris ReviewWasafiri, Avocado, The Guardian, London Magazine, and The Tall Lighthouse Review, among others, and has been translated into Dutch and Turkish. Her poems have appeared in many anthologies, including several of the British Council New Writing volumes, and she read on the first Oxfam Life Lines CD. She does regular readings around the country, often with a group of London-based poets, and has also participated in two group pamphlets Unfold and Ask for It by Name.

For further information, and to read more of Dixon’s poems, go to Salt Publishing.