Thursday 16 December 2010

Review of What the Water Gave Me and an essay

 This is a quick post as I'm laid up in bed with flu, but very cheered up today by Ros Barber's review of What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo and Val Robert's essay about my work. I find it encouraging to be favourably reviewed by a poet whose work I admire. Ros's latest collection Material, from Anvil in 2008, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. This is her author photo. You can become a fan of her work on Facebook. Here is an excerpt from her review:

"the book is as vibrant, and somehow life-affirming, as the paintings that inspired it. Petit’s Kahlo embraces life with all the joy of one who experienced being laid ‘on a billiard table’ while doctors ‘saw to the wounded, thinking me dead.’  There is an ecstasy in the agony."

There have been a lot of reviews and blogs about What the Water Gave Me since it came out last May, including one by Ruth Padel in The Guardian, one by Zoë Brigley in New Welsh Review and another by David Morley in Magma – three other poets whose work I admire. If you go to the book page on my publisher Seren's website you can click on links to read many of their reviews. WtWGM was also Jackie Kay's Book of the Year in The Observer. The collection was reprinted after only four months and I'm very excited that a US edition will be published by Black Lawrence Press in 2011.

Val Roberts is a third year creative writing degree student at Liverpool John Moores University. In her post 'The Wonderful World of Pascale Petit' she analyses two of my hummingbird poems, 'The Strait-Jackets' from The Zoo Father and 'Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (I)' from What the Water Gave Me. I love it when people tell me things about my poems that I didn't quite register myself, but that's what she manages to do, especially in her study of the sonic echoes in both poems, and indeed, in her study of the thematic echoes, which she does very precisely, as shown in this excerpt from her analysis of 'The Strait-Jackets':

"For the first time since she arrived he starts to breathe more easily with that hummingbird metaphor, which is a soul of an injured person.  Notice the subtle internal rhymes with the words ‘breathe’ and ‘easily’ and the echo of ‘recycler’ and ‘cannula’ which is attached to his nostrils as it almost slips out. 
This is an important part of the poem as the cannula almost slips out.  This is perhaps where realisation may hit.  It makes one wonder what else almost slips out.  Perhaps Petit has spoken some truth about her and her father’s relationship.  This is the pure brilliance of Pascale’s poetry.  She says I don’t know how long we sit there, such a powerful line and in particular with the internal half rhyme and echo of language.  One does not know how long she has sat there.  One does not know what has gone on." 

Here is the poem 'The Strait-Jackets'. I love how she's accurately connected the hummingbird theme in this poem to the Frida Kahlo poem, where I am both writing about Kahlo's efforts to overcome her bus crash but am also coming to terms with my own childhood trauma through Kahlo's painting 'Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird'.

This is the photo of forty hummingbirds in a suitcase which inspired 'The Strait-Jackets'. The Brazilian ornithologist Augusto Ruschi's stowed his birds in a suitcase to transport them on plane flights, by lowering their temperature and placing them in a torpor (which hummingbirds go into at low temperatures to conserve energy).  While they were asleep he wrapped them in pyjamas to protect their wings.
Then he used to warm them up before releasing them once he reached his destination.

And here is Frida Kahlo's painting 'Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird'. It's the first painting I wrote into a poem in What the Water Gave Me. The whole book grew from this defiant self-portrait with a dead hummingbird hung from a necklace of thorns made from Christ's crown: