This Week, I Read Elisabeth Horan’s Self-Portrait

Image Credit: Alessandra Zani via Unsplash

Self-Portrait is a collection of ekphrastic and biographical poems on Frida Kahlo’s work and life, written by Elisabeth Horan. Each of the poems is based on a painting by Kahlo, and they are arranged chronologically. While it is based on Kahlo’s life, this is a fictional representation.

The tone overall is conversational as well as confessional. Kahlo is the speaker, and sometimes, she’s addressing the reader directly, or someone in her life—most frequently, Diego Rivera, her husband, with whom she had a tumultuous relationship.

For example, in “Self-Portrait as Tehuana 1943,” the speaker says to Rivera, “You do things like this. Like this. Why would you take off my skin and leave me standing there? In the road. Cold. And so alone. With neither dress on.” It’s as though she’s been laid bare. She’s given him everything, yet is still rejected in favor of another woman, one to whom he isn’t married.

She then goes on to say:

“Sometimes I like to let the roots drag me back to the trees, just to get away from you, and your opinion of me – but when I do, when I drag her over the earth, the dirt is as cruel as your lips can be.”

This is my favorite line in the book. The image conjured here of a woman, being swallowed by the forest is both horrifying and poignant. It speaks to her strength and pain.

The book, as a whole, captures the vibrancy, pain, and raw sensuality of Kahlo, her life, and her oeuvre. These poems are some of Horan’s best work. It’s very difficult to write poetry in two languages, but the blend really works here. It’s done in a way that’s really lovely and dynamic, making agile leaps between the two, weaving them together into a cohesive whole.  If you’re a fan of Frida Kahlo (and believe me, I am)—then this is a book for you. Self-Portrait is available from Cephalo Press.

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