Charlotte Observer
, Sun, Oct. 17, 2004,  REVIEW 

Frida Kahlo's life inspires poems of glory, damage

Special to the Observer
Lucinda Grey, Frida Kahlo, Federico Garcia Lorca, Diego Rivera


By Lucinda Grey. Wind Publications. 85 pages. $14.

Frederico Garcia Lorca famously gave this description of the Spa
nish term "duende":  "... [it] is a power and not a behavior, it is a struggle and not a concept. I have heard an old master guitarist say: Duende is not in the throat; duende surges up from the soles of the feet. Which means it is not a matter of ability, but of real live form; of blood; of ancient culture; of creative action."

With her magical, image-driven collection of brief lyric poems, Lucinda Grey of Charlotte immerses the reader in duende through her portrayal of Frida Kahlo's life -- her artistic vision and exertions, her romantic blisses and miseries, her medical ordeals. Grey explores issues of kinship, passion and betrayal: "A woman in love/poised between doubt and belief/is a locust stretching through a chink/in the crusty shell, looking down/on what was the body, surprised/by the resonant thrumming of wings" ("Metaphor").

Much of the book deals with paradox: Everything that promises transcendence and transformation -- the body, romance and even language itself -- eventually fails due to distortion, breakdown, catastrophe, or simple insufficiency. Yet both despite and through these failures, Kahlo embraces the fractured beauty of life itself. In almost every one of these 64 poems, Grey portrays glory as inseparable from damage, not only in Kahlo's story, but in the lives of artistic and political luminaries of the time: Lorca, Georgia O'Keefe, Salvador Dali and Kahlo's husband, Diego Rivera.

The presence of these historical personages in the form of letters (such as "Letter from Lorca to Dali") and dramatic meditations/soliloquies (such as "The Flower and the Bone, 1938") prevents the book from being claustrophobic and creates breathing room for the reader by conveying a sense of the artistic and political landscape of the times.

"Stay with us for a while, dark one,/ open your throat, let your music wound/us still," cries the Kahlo persona in "Dali's Triple Portrait of Garcia Lorca," celebrating duende, emphasizing yet again the connection between art and woundedness. The poem also foreshadows the murder of Lorca, a major theme of the book, culminating in "Oh Lovely Granada," which is as much a lament for Granada as for Lorca himself.

In this volume, landscape exerts as much force as any of the human characters, or perhaps even more, since color, texture, density, light, and the mysteries of surfaces as they reflect, reveal, or conceal, are what sustain Kahlo through all her tragedies, as in "Sometimes the Body Turns," reprinted [below].

At times, I felt that certain passages in this book seemed overwritten -- "the guitar's moan climbing her thighs" and "I water you with stars that sizzle in my thighs" -- but Kahlo would not have been one to gravitate toward the poetry of understatement, so I am willing to give the persona the benefit of the doubt!

Many of Grey's poems focus on specific Kahlo paintings, and there are references to Kahlo's life that might seem oblique to readers unfamiliar with her history. So it would behoove the reader to do a little research before picking up this book.



against itself, a foot slips, 
a bone breaks. 
When my grandmother was dying, 
my mother fell, fracturing two ribs. 
I have been that lonely. 
But often after another sorrow 
the body falls another way -- 
into bliss. 

            At high tide I woke 
to the chug of a fishing boat 
below my window. 
A light on the prow brought 
the shallow bottom up 
and there like love, green stones 
shining among the brown, 
and fish, bright slivers. 

The heart, that determined mussel, 
spinning luster from abrasion.

Claire Bateman is a poet and creative writing instructor in Greenville, S.C.