Books from the Pantry: The Mask by Elisabeth Horan reviewed by Claire Faulkner

I think I was in an art lesson at school the first time I saw the work of Frida Kahlo. I’m not quite sure how old I was, but I remember the impact it had on me. I was intrigued and completely spell bound. I remember how the colours stood out, but also how they seemed to weave together to tell a story.

The Two Frida’s is an artwork which has stayed in my memory bank for years. That was until I read The Mask by Elisabeth Horan, and the image came flooding back to me. The Mask is the second collection of ekphrastic poetry by Horan in response to the artwork of Frida Kahlo.

What interests me the most about ekphrastic poetry is connection. How the reader connects with poetry through art, and how poetry can provide the reader with a different interpretation of the original work. Ekphrastic poetry also raises questions about the relationship between the reader and writer, and I was interested in whether my reactions or interpretations would be the same as Horan.

The Mask provides a mix of emotions, and Horan’s work has a touch of raw honesty and openness to it. Sometimes difficult to read, but worth the effort. The words, much like Kahlo’s colours, are intense, sometimes fierce, but each one adds value and strength to the story of both women.

There were a number of poems in this collection which stood out for me. Of course, The Two Frida’s, an inner struggle about duality with themes of desire and attraction, of who you are underneath, and who you want to be on the surface.

In Con Mi Cama (Ella y Yo), Horan describes the inter dependence and relationship between a cripple and her bed, with a dream like quality.

‘I know you are only a bed, amora / And I, but a cripple…/That’s what we have together~~~/

To touch and to love each other / Not to turn away / As the other burns.’

Nectar of the Gods and a Woman’s Throat is based on the self portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird. A painting full of symbols and meaning. For me Horan’s words emphasise not just the pain Kahlo is presenting, but also strength and resilience of a woman searching for love and security.

The Mask, Vol 2 was perhaps the most impactful poem in this collection for me, and I feel this highlights Horan’s skill as a writer. Shocking the reader with the opening ‘I want the voices / to cease / shushing me’. The words reflect the darkness and uneasiness of the painting which inspired it.

Female strength and resilience feature heavily in this collection, but if you’re a fan of Kahlo, and are familiar with her work, I think you’ll enjoy reading this. Horan says the poems are a celebration and tribute to Kahlo, and I think this collection is a remarkable group of poems influenced by Kahlo’s art. The Mask by Elisabeth Horan is published by The Broken Spine.

With special thanks to Isabelle Kenyon from Fly on the Wall Press.

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