Poetry Review: 02:04:19
ADDING WAX PATTERNS TO WEDNESDAY
by Sarah L Dixon
Our reviewer enjoys the fantastical ideas and lyrical language in this collection.
I’m a sucker for poems with long titles and Sarah L Dixon doesn’t disappoint. 'Making promises to yourself that involve whisky' is a good one. So is, ‘The key was in the case of curiosities.’
The title of Dixon’s collection, Adding wax patterns to Wednesday, anticipates the best in her poetry: a skilful use of alliteration and assonance that makes her language lyrical in an effortless way; the juxtaposition of the ordinary (Wednesday) with the more oblique (wax patterns) and a sense that her poems are enchantments with ingredients to be added, stirred and consumed – for better or for worse.
To get inside Dixon’s poetic mind is to come round from being knocked out by a book of fairy-tales and spells, suffering from a headache of random incantations. The poems are more magical realism than fantasy – though don’t be surprised to find witches and pixies amongst the recurring motifs of forests and moons.
Despite the love of her titles, I wasn’t immediately won over. Some images jarred, some felt disingenuous or laboured and sometimes it was just a matter of tripping over a word or a phrase when a comma or dash would have helped me along.
But I was won over. And once won, I became smitten. Dixon’s poems are rhythmic and fresh. There are surprises hiding around the corners and even the most doom laden thread can’t help being touched by something hopeful; the dark and desperate is countered with beauty and brilliance. The final lines in 'January 2016', standing alone, could feel saccharine:
‘if she digs deep enough
into the ash there will be stars.’
But it earns the gentle ending when it has taken you here first:
‘Minds stack worries
upon sleepless nights
and night terrors are days.’
In 'Sunrise', Dixon, continues to defy the shadow world – this time with lime and salt and a dream shot.
‘A sinuous shadow
takes you into sleep
and you wake, salted,
by dreams of tequila.’
and in 'Winter in a city snicket',
‘as the ghost of a sun melts
that promise black ice.’
Again, it is the alliteration and assonance that satiates the senses as much as touch and taste and smell.
Dixon’s poems are at their most startling when she takes the ordinary and twists it or elevates it into something secretive and extraordinary. You’ll find examples of this in poems about memory and childhood, personified animals or in the repeated images of brokenemotions and ruining things. The effect can be disturbing, uplifting or funny. She is able to use a few words to bring instant technicolour to the characters of moths and thieves.
In 'Japanese fly-catcher', the final lines made me laugh out loud.
‘I suspected the plant was bilingual
from our scrabble bouts
on a Tuesday.’
Ordinary? Kind of. Who doesn’t think a Tuesday is perfect for Scrabble? But a bilingual plant – modestly bizarre.
I love it when Dixon’s lyricism and playful darkness come together in an economy of words that shatter through galaxies and dimensions. 'Careful with your pixies' could be a poem for our time – a simple but powerful warning against idolatry and hubris. And 'Thieving Jesus' is probably a cautionary tale too – capitalism obsessed by the weight of owning and yet, I could feel that physical weight and wanted the thief to keep his ‘cool stone son.’ And I suspect Dixon did too.
When I came across, at the back of the book, the ‘notes on prompts and who provided them’, some of the magic seeped away. I understand it’s an interesting activity: a creative writing trick that worked wonders in this case. But as a reader, I don’t want to know. I want to believe in the fairy-tale.
Sarah L Dixon – Adding Wax Patterns to Wednesday
Three Drops Poetry, November 2018
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