Children of Africa remember

2008-02-13 00:00

Poets, Denis Hirson and Isobel Dixon, are “long distance South Africans” — to adopt Hirson’s phrase — resident in Paris and Cambridge respectively. Both write nostalgically of Africa and with respect for, and a deep sense of loss of, their late fathers. Hirson’s work is economical, even spare, proceeding by means of arresting images and silences, as those familiar with his lyrical and unorthodox autobiography, The House Next Door to Africa (1986), will recall. Dixon is fuller, more direct, a little less surprising than Hirson, but nevertheless rewarding.

Dixon’s A Fold in the Map consists of two sections. Material in the first section exhibits her nostalgia for an African childhood and for things South African, such as the protea, once considered “the nationalists’ tough bloom” and “vulgarly indigenous”. In a comparison of localities, “the Benighted Kingdom” and “manicured” lawns of Cambridge seem, despite their many advantages and attractions, less favourable than the tougher “Urworld” of birth and belonging.

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