Pascale Petit’s new collection, What the water gave me, 23rd June, the Storey Auditorium, Lancaster.

by Carla Scarano D’Antonio
England won against Slovenia! How proud everybody was, celebrating with flags and songs. Entering the Storey in Lancaster a few men with St George’s Cross flags, worn as cloak, were cheerfully toasting at the bar.
In our way we celebrated as well with an evening out listening to the mystical poems of Pascale Petit’s new collection, What the Water Gave Me, Seren, 2010.
In the half-light of the Auditorium the pictures of the painter Frida Kahlo projected on the screen gave us a clear clue for the poems. Each poem of the collection has the title of a painting, giving an alternative view of it and exploring its deep significance as well. The collection also goes over Frida Kahlo’s life, her relationship with her mother, the bus crash whose painful consequences affected her throughout her life, her stormy marriage with the muralist Diego Rivera (her second accident, she said) and above all her art: the way she chose to recover from sickness and withstand pain.
A great poet and a great painter met face to face, supporting each other’s art, their images interweaving to create a story, the story of Frida’s life and of her work, showing every shaded corner, revealing every slight emotion, fearlessly.
Some poems describe the paintings, interpret them, focus on details, other poems concentrate on what came before or after the painting, giving a new version of it. Every poem is a work of art like the painting that inspired it. And Frida Kahlo’s life was full of events, of determination to survive and see it out, and to transform a trauma in a masterpiece.
Pascale Petit has written about paintings in a previous collection, The Treekeeper’s Tale. Here she was inspired by the paintings of Remedios Varo and Franz Marc. A pamphlet, The Wounded Deer, fourteen poems after Frida Kahlo, was also launched at Tate Modern, London, in the 2005 Frida Kahlo exhibition.
In What the Water Gave Me the poet goes deeper and deeper in exploring and understanding the painter, and then goes beyond. Frida Kahlo is the inspiration driving Pascale Petit to face and analyze the main topics of life: birth, pain, love, motherhood, sex, death.
Frida Kahlo had success and appreciation as an artist but her family life was unhappy and frustrating. Diego often cheated on her even with her own sister. And she couldn’t have children: she had three miscarriages, because of the accident. Love, both in the poems and in the paintings, is often described as abuse and pain, and the experience of making love mixes with the trauma of the accident.
Her life was dedicated to art not just as a vocation but also as a tool for survival, the anchor that replaced her failed career as a doctor and her disappointing relationship.
Her roots are in Mexico with all its colours and golden light, Aztec mythology, love for animals, nature and religious traditions.
Some of her surreal paintings reminded me of the work of the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, his tiny figures evoking subconscious monsters and everyday crimes.
Pascale Petit’s poetry unravels the invisible thread of the images of the paintings with the patience of a philologist and the artistry of a new creator. Certainly we had the chance to watch and listen to the work of two great artists who give widely and generously.
The event was particularly interesting thanks to the great poetry, the great pictures and the participation of the audience. It could not have been otherwise with such a combination.
And come on England!


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