Tuesday Poem: Isobel Dixon - The Tempest Prognosticator

Moth Storm

The lamp stands on the stoep
so the moths crash the party,
fighting for the limelight,
their moment of brightness,
their fifteen minutes’ flame.

Tomorrow we’ll dust, and sweep
crisp wing-shreds up, wash
from the window panes the blight
of their massed batterings,
seeking the heart, the heat.

No: the house itself, with us,
has surged forth in the night,
a lit hulk lurching
to the clefted hill, urgently
in search of the ultimate

faraway blue, of the indigo wick,
blinding its placid glass
against this fitful blizzarding.

Isobel Dixon

Moth Storm comes from Isobel Dixon’s latest collection, just published by Salt. Salt is one of those amazing small presses (Two Ravens is another) that publish poetry and literary fiction of a very high quality. Like many of the best small publishers in Britain, its existence has been jeopardised by recent Arts Council cuts. One can only hope it manages to continue, as an antidote to the over-hyped commercial products that seem to be all that’s emerging from the big publishing houses these days.

‘The Tempest Prognosticator’ has to be one of the best titles of the year. The title poem refers to an ingenious appliance (illustrated above)  constructed in 1850 by a Dr George Merryweather - appropriately named because his prognosticator was invented to predict storms. It consisted of 12 glass bottles in a circle with a bell hung above them. In the neck of every bottle was a small piece of whalebone, connected to a hammer. Each bottle also contained a leech and when the air pressure dropped, signalling a storm, the leeches climbed up the glass, disturbing the whalebone and ringing the bell. A model of it is apparently in Whitby Museum in Yorkshire.

This is an intelligent, carefully crafted collection, with poems that may take several readings to give up their cargoes of thoughts and ideas, caught in cleverly structured nets of language. Reviewers like JM Coetzee have described it as ‘virtuoso’, and elsewhere the contents have been praised as ‘lusciously feral and finely crafted poems’ that are ‘a wake-up call to the imagination and the senses and suggest myriad possibilities of what a poem can do and be’. So, if you like poetry that makes you dig deep, you’ll like this.

Moth Storm is one of my favourites - I love the tautness of the language, the sub-text under each line, the wind that blows all the way from the southern hemisphere - all the way from Africa. I particularly like the image of the house ‘surging forth’ into the night, ‘a lit hulk lurching/to the clefted hills.’

Isobel Dixon comes from South Africa, where she has won several awards for poetry. She is currently living in the UK, where she is a literary agent. I’m privileged to have her as mine! If only all writers could have agents who are writers too.

For more Tuesday Poems please visit the Tuesday Poem website at www.tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com


  1. I couldn't help but think I needed a prognosticator today. Unfortunately it was not quite the storm of moths around a candlewick, but more the chaos of butterflies and hail. It was nice to dwell on warm summer evenings, however deadly to those overly attracted to the light.

  2. Oooh Kathleen what a wonderful-sounding book. The poem is terrific. Perhaps when you're TP editor we could have an Isobel Dixon poem on the hub?

  3. Glad you liked it - these aren't easy poems. Some still have me puzzled! Yes, I'll think about Isobel for the hub, but also have a great poem by new star young poet Kim Moore I'm deliberating. It's a difficult one!


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