‘A celebration and [a] tribute’ is how the author describes The Mask, a collection of nineteen poems directly inspired by the paintings of Frida Kahlo (and a guide to which ones is helpfully included). The mask of the title itself refers to a specific painting and one that sums up the whole concept of the collection: a self portrait where Kahlo’s face is hidden and yet still full of emotion.
The poems in this collection are all spoken by the imagined voice of Kahlo and have a flow to them that feels like the brush in her hand, sweeping her feelings onto canvas. The voice is direct and powerful and peppered appropriately with Spanish, ‘somehow separada’ and ‘into the rear of el restaurante’ where we can understand more than we think about Kahlo’s world in the writing. You don’t need to see the paintings to get the imagery; in ‘Nectar of the Gods and a Woman’s Throat,’ the animals, her face and the thorns are all described and weighted with meaning.
I really enjoyed the knowingness and humour of this imagined Kahlo, and the witty double meaning of ‘stanza’ in ‘The Mask, Vol. 1’ was a wonderful poetic highlight: ‘I’ve told Eli to make a new stanza,’ the poem ending with the spectacular line ‘Come and f*** me in my mind.’ The respect that the author has for the artist is evident and this poetic tribute is eloquent and sensual throughout, without shying away from Kahlo’s pain or rage.
Sensitive readers may query the fearless language throughout, but Kahlo was a unique individual with an unflinching perspective on the world, and it feels authentic. This collection is as colourful and vivid as its inspiration and can be enjoyed as both enjoyable poetry and as a companion to some fascinating paintings.
Rosa Fernandez is a slam-winning poet and sometime proofreader. She also enjoys wearing silly hats.