Last week, the English sun finally came out, just in time for Frida Kahlo's birthday. To celebrate, Jo Colley devised an eclectic night of music, art and poetry. Poems after Frida found a welcome home in Darlington's award-winning Latin-Mexican eatery The Voodoo Cafe.
Pascale Petit read a selection of poems from her esteemed collection written in Frida's voice, What the Water Gave Me, intensified by huge projections of the paintings that inspired each poem, including an antler headed Frida-deer full of arrows and a bathtub full of agonising memories.
Frida's paintings are born of pain. Her intense physical struggle and emotional turmoil with two volatile marriages to Diego Rivera are so well documented, not least in her art, that these images are almost impossible to keep from your mind when reading Petit's compassionate re-imaginings. Having them beside Petit as she read was an ekphrastic celebration of both forms. Visual images bounced off figurative images and back. Songs sang in technicolour.
As both an audience member and performer, I was blown away by readings from fellow Northern poets Lisa Matthews, Ellen Phethean, Kate Fox and host, Jo Colley. Dark pulsing music from Michael Hann complimented the diverse thematics of our poems: Frida's broken spine, the striking three-piece suit she wore in youth and memories of the affectionately remembered Julia Darling. My own poem was a mescal inspired sestina which transported the audience from Darlington to Mexico.
We were privileged to hear Petit give exclusive readings from her forthcoming collection, Fauverie, which is to be launched next year. Petit's poems often concern her relationship with her father, his illness and passing, particularly in the excellent The Zoo Father, a collection where readers can revel in the exoticness of Petit's rich imagination and handle of sound. Her new poem about the Notre Dame bell tower struck such a cord with me, I will never forget. I eagerly anticipate Fauverie, candles and a hot bath.
Poems after Frida was a unique evening of culture in Darlington, funded entirely by the public. This proves that even in this ongoing crisis of cut funds and austerity, poetry is still necessary to audiences. Following the closure of Darlington Arts Centre, this event proves that we will continue to fight, even if our government will not. It was comforting to speak to established poets who are just as determined to not back down. Our audience captured the spirit of Frida: Viva la Revolución!