Shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize
Shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year

Published by Seren in 2010, click here to order from Amazon.co.uk
US edition published by Black Lawrence Press June 2011 click here to buy from Amazon.com

"Pascale's poems are as fresh as paint, and make you look all over again at Frida and her brilliant and tragic life." Jackie Kay, Books of the Year Observer

"Poems about paintings rarely set off fireworks, but this is ekphrasis with a difference: Petit speaks in Kahlo's voice with eerie believability." Time Out

"Kahlo can be a demonically inspiring figure for other women artists (witness Barbara Kingsolver's novel The Lacuna, winner of this year's Orange prize), but Petit [has] used this potent connection in an exemplary way... Petit's collection, exploring the way trauma hurts an artist into creation, celebrates the rebarbative energy with which Kahlo redeemed pain and transformed it into paint."
Ruth Padel,
The Guardian

Her poetry never behaves itself or betrays itself; and contemporary British poetry is all the livelier for it. What the Water Gave Me is a triumph of creativity and criticism, of persona and impersonation, of personality and impersonality."
David Morley, Magma

"Dark and disturbingly beautiful in its writing, What the Water Gave Me is compassionate and sympathetic in representing human pain. Petit has produced a remarkable new collection of poetry, which both contributes to the artistic readings of Kahlo and presents a bleak, magnificent vision all of her own." Zoë Brigley, New Welsh Review

"Petit establishes a frightening power that presses through the voice of her speaker." Alex Pryce, Poetry Review

"What the Water Gave Me may be an abattoir at times, but it is one permeated by sunlight... As a portrait of art itself, What the Water Gave Me is entirely unselfconscious and unflinching. Richard Dawkins couldn’t have captured awe so succinctly. Poetry, it seems, steps in when science finds itself lost for words." Helen Mort, Poetry London

"Pascale Petit’s book, What the Water Gave Me, is a series of poems written in the voice of Frida Kahlo. You don’t need to know anything about the artist to appreciate them, nor do you need to read them with reproductions of the paintings at your side (although no doubt your reading will be much enriched by both).
These poems stand alone, presenting a starkly bleak vision. What the Water Gave Me could be described as a verse biography or a sequence of ekphrastic encounters, but it is so much more than either: having trained as a sculptural artist before turning to poetry, Petit brings a visual sensibility to her subject, and she takes literary risks that pay off perhaps because she is also willing to take emotional risks. The powerfully unsettling texture and colours of these poems bring us a supremely fresh version of Frida Kahlo’s life, while also making poetry itself new."
Francesca Rhydderch, Wales Book of the Year 2011– Judges' comments

What the Water Gave Me
contains poems in the voice of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Some are close interpretations of Kahlo’s work, while others are parallels or version homages where Petit draws on her experience as a visual artist to create alternative 'paintings' with words. More than just a verse biography, this collection explores how Kahlo transformed trauma into art after the artist’s near-fatal bus accident. Petit, with her vivid style, her feel for nature and her understanding of pain and redemption, fully inhabits Kahlo’s world. Each poem is an evocation of “how art works on the pain spectrum”, laced with splashes of ferocious colour.

The Bus

I have not yet caught the bus, but we are all here
ready to play our parts: the housewife with her basket,
the barefoot mother nursing her child,
the boy gazing out the window just as later
he'll stare through the smeared pane and catch
the tram's advance, his eyes wide as globes.
The gringo holds his bag of gold dust.
I am next to him, sixteen, my body still
intact when the bag explodes and something
bright as the sun fills the air with humming motes
that stick to my splattered skin. Then the labourer
with his mallet will heave the silver post out of me.
His blue overalls are clean. He is not surprised to find me
alive. Here, in Coyoacán at the stop, where the six of us
wait on a bench side by side, just as we will sit
in the wooden bus, comrades in the morning of my life.

What the Water Gave Me (VI)

This is how it is at the end –
me lying in my bath
                                   while the waters break,
my skin glistening with amnion,
                                                 streaks of starlight.

And the waters keep on breaking
as I reverse out of my body.

My life dances on the silver surface
where cacti flower.

The ceiling opens
                                   and I float up on fire.

Rain pierces me like thorns. I have a steam veil.

I sit bolt upright as the sun's rays embrace me.

Water, you are a lace wedding-gown
I slip over my head, giving birth to my death.

I wear you tightly as I burn –
                                 don't make me come back.


  1. I am learning English culture... And poem is one of useful source... Love "the bus."

    1. Thank you Gina, glad you find my book a useful resource, x

  2. This is an amazing, evocative, poem full of imagery.

  3. It is amazing how a description of a given situation can be turned into a sensitive poem...Wonderful

  4. Thank you for your kind comment, Pascale