Friday, 15 January 2010

Cover of What the Water Gave Me – Poems after Frida Kahlo

This is the cover of my new book What the Water Gave Me – Poems after Frida Kahlo, to be published by Seren this May. The book can be pre-ordered from amazon UK.

This collection contains fifty-two poems in the voice of the iconic Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Each poem bears the title of one of her paintings. Some are straightforward translations from painting to poem, others are parallels or version homages. Kahlo had a near-fatal bus accident as a teenager which left her in constant pain for the rest of her life. As well as suffering multiple fractures, a handrail pierced her abdomen and exited her vagina. She then married the muralist Diego Rivera, whom she loved but referred to as her second accident. More than just a verse biography, what I've tried to do is explore how she transformed disability and trauma into extraordinary art.

The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico),

Diego, Myself and Señor Xólotl

When you came back to me –

I painted a green day-hand and a brown night-hand
holding up Mexico, her canyons and deserts,

                 her candelabra cacti.

And we were there, embraced by our land.

You were my naked baby
who is reborn every minute with your third eye open.

Even our dog Señor Xólotl was curled

on the wrist of evening,
ready to bear our souls to the underworld if he had to.

Together, we stared out beyond the picture, saw

in the dark window a small woman in a wheelchair
cast out in a workshop far beyond the moon,

desperately mixing the colours of love
            until they vibrated –
watermelon greens, chilli reds, pumpkin orange.

She hurriedly drew the shattered arms

of the universe –
                             holding us all up

as if we were a mountain dripping roots and stones.

This is Kahlo's painting The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Diego, Myself and Señor Xólotl. Señor Xólotl was her favourite hairless dog, one of many creatures in her menagerie. He was named after the Aztec god of the underworld.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Sha'ar Poetry Festival Israel

Last October I attended the Sha'ar Poetry Festival in Tel Aviv and Jaffa; the theme was Poetry from the Conflict Zone. It was organised by the Helicon Poetry School and directed by the distinguished poet Amir Or. My visit was sponsored by Literature Across Frontiers. Most events were held in the atmospheric Arabic-Hebrew Theatre in Jaffa, and included music, theatre, a panel discussion, dance, video art and an amazing rap band called System Ali. Guest poets came mostly from conflict zones, including Jagbu Dorje Tsering from Tibet (exiled in France), Senadin Musabegovic from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chung Hee Moon from South Korea and Gearoid MacLochlainn from Northern Ireland. The local poets included some Palestinian poets, among them Samikh al-Qassem born in Galilee. Guests were given tours of Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and Galilee. This was my second visit to Jerusalem and the 'sea of death' in the Judean Desert. The view of the Old City in Jerusalem above is from the Mount of Olives.

These are 2,000 year-old olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

The Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The Via Dolorosa (look for the group carrying the cross above the umbrella!) It's an intense place.

System Ali would go down a storm here. I read 5 poems with the Hebrew translations projected behind. Video by Asher Gal.

From left to right: Cai Tianxin (China), Jangbu Dorje Tsering (Tibet), Chung Hee Moon (South Korea), Amir Or (Israel), Pascale Petit (UK), Senadin Musabegovic (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Nese Yasin (Cyprus), Robert Minhinnick (Wales), Gearoid Mac Lochlainn (Northern Ireland). Photo credit Dafna Kaplan.