Plenty by Isobel Dixon
A critical analysis
The autobiographical memories of childhood in Isobel Dixon’s “Plenty” reflect the poet’s cultural influences and the impact of her experiences of growing up in a needy family. The poet revaluates the childhood experiences that shaped her identity and self and things that happened in her household controlled with an iron hand by her stoical mother. The narrator reminisces about the five children “all running riot to my mother’s quiet despair.”
The memories she holds on to reveal aspects of what she considers important in her adult life. The main focus of the poem is her childhood when her perception of her mother (“We thought her mean. Skipped chores,/ swiped biscuits…”) was far different from that of her adulthood (“…it was a clasp to keep us all from chaos).
In retrospect, the narrator views her domestic situation, her sisters’ antics and her mother’s sternness with understanding, wisdom and maturity by putting things in context.
Isobel Dixon uses powerful language to convey her theme and messages. In a sense the title itself is ironic as it contrasts with the deprivation and living in want(“…our old enamel tub, age-stained and pocked/ upon its griffin claws, was never full.)
The second stanza starts evocatively (…Such plenty was too dear in our expanse of drought…) creating a curious paradox. The “expanse of drought” is a poignant reminder of the deprivation faced in her childhood as opposed to her living in the lap of luxury as an adult (“Now bubbles lap my chin. I am a sybarite.”)
The images of water in the first and the seventh stanza represent two contrasting conditions of lifestyles in childhood and adulthood.
While the first stanza shocks the reader with Dixon’s memory of short supply of water in (“our old “enamel tub, age-stained and pocked upon its griffin claws, never full”) the seventh stanza conveys warmth and coziness of the bathtub (“The shower’s a hot cascade…”) and abundance of possessions.
Plenty is a free-verse poem consisting of eight stanzas with 32. Isobel Dixon effectively uses many poetical devices such as alliteration (“running riot/dams leaked dry/ lolling luxuriant/compliant co-conspirators/scattered sisters), assonance (sums and worries/fat brass taps), hyperbole ( running riot) metaphor (her Mommy’s smile was a clasp), simile (…where dams leaked dry and windmills stalled/Like Mommy’s smile), oxymoron (lovely sin). Enjambment has been used in seven stanzas of the poem.
In conclusion, the last stanza sums up the theme of the poem that essentially is about growing up together in a family, inevitable disintegration (“And miss my scattered sisters), and cultural disconnect. To the narrator the palpable presence of Mommy and her smile (in the second stanza) are now different from the smile that is gone forever (my mother’s smile, loosed from the bonds
of lean, dry times and our long childhood.)