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.