Pascale Petit trained at the Royal College of Art and spent the first part of her life as an artist, before deciding to concentrate on poetry. Since then she has published five collections, two of which were shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and featured as Books of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement and the Independent. In 2004 the Poetry Book Society selected her as one of the Next Generation Poets. She teaches poetry writing courses for a number of organisations, including Tate Modern. Petit has read her work at many festivals around the world and travelled to Mexico several times to research Frida Kahlo’s life.
What the Water Gave Me (Seren Books, 2010) contains fifty-two poems in the voice of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Some of the poems 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.
“Their apparent shared sensibility makes the ventriloquism of these poems entirely unforced, and while Kahlo’s voice is subtly distinguished from Petit’s own, both women have a way of taking painful, private experiences and transmuting them, through imagery, into something that has the power of folklore. They capture the unsettling spirit of Frida Kahlo and her work perfectly.” Poetry London
“No other British poet I am aware of can match the powerful mythic imagination of Pascale Petit.” Les Murray Times Literary Supplement
Remembrance of an Open Wound
Whenever we make love, you say
it’s like fucking a crash –
I bring the bus with me into the bedroom.
There’s a lull, like before the fire brigade
arrives, flames licking the soles
of our feet. Neither of us knows
when the petrol tank will explode.
You say I’ve decorated my house
to recreate the accident –
my skeleton wired with fireworks,
my menagerie flinging air about.
You look at me in my gold underwear –
a crone of sixteen, who lost
her virginity to a lightning bolt.
It’s time to pull the handrail out.
I didn’t expect love to feel like this –
you holding me down with your knee,
wrenching the steel rod from my charred body
quickly, kindly, setting me free.
The Little Deer
Little deer, I’ve stuffed all the world’s diseases inside you.
Your veins are thorns
and the good cells are lost in the deep dark woods
of your organs.
As for your spine, those cirrus-thin vertebrae
evaporate when the sun comes out.
Little deer too delicate for daylight,
your coat of hailstones is an icepack on my fever.
Are you thirsty?
Rest your muzzle against the wardrobe mirror
and drink my reflection –
the room pools and rivers about us
but no one comes
to stop my bed from sliding down your throat.
Published in What the Water Gave Me (Seren Books, 2010).
Order What the Water Gave Me.
For information regarding launches and readings, please visit Pascale’s blog.
Visit Pascale’s website.
Read Dreams, Spirits and Visions, my interview with Pascale in the third issue of Horizon Review.