Review: Poems After Frida, 6th July 2013

– event background by Jo Colley, review by Rosi Thornton-


Event organiser, Jo Colley, explains how the event came to be:

The idea for an event celebrating the life and work of Frida Kahlo began to take shape one evening in the bar of the Voodoo Café in Darlington, over a couple of Mojitos with my daughter. I’m a writer, and I’ve organized a lot of events in the town over the last ten years, but until recently, with the back up of Arts Council funding, and using the town’s art centre as a venue. Now the arts centre is no more, and funding has become harder to access. But still the urge to present great work refuses to lie down.

By the end of the evening, a shape had formed in my head: Frida’s birthday, the poems of Pascale Petit, which I knew and loved, and the café (which specializes in Mexican food and has a wonderful Mexican ambience) as a possible venue. I had also decided to try a different way of funding the event, via crowdsourcing.  And somehow this was enough to make me really want to put on a fantastic event that would include poetry, art and music and blow people away.

So I did some groundwork on possibility: would the venue be up for it? They were. Would the poet agree to come? She did. How much would it all cost? I did some quick sums and reckoned I needed about £400. I also needed to think about support for Pascale from local poets. I looked for people who would provide high quality work, which would chime with my vision of the event, and who would be inspired to produce new work: not only poetry, but also Frida inspired sounds and artwork. I chose a sound artist partly because I love his work and also because I wanted a powerful effect, a happening!

Having decided not to go the arts council route (it just felt too onerous, bureaucratic and probably doomed to failure) I approached local arts organizations and a couple of councillors, but although they were supportive there was no cash. So a friend and I got to grips with the Crowdfunder site. It was fairly straightforward and would be more so now as there have been some recent improvements. We needed to find the right balance in describing the event to attract a wide range of possible donors. For rewards, we thought we would produce a zine and give a main reward of an altered book, which a local artist offered to make and donate. We limited the time period to a month thinking this would be enough as we were not seeking the moon on a stick. We also created a Facebook page as back up, so people could ask questions or get a bit of extra info, and an eventbrite page for tickets.

The site went live after a few false starts and I sent the link out to a lot of people. In the first week or two we raised about two thirds then things kinda stuck. So I sent out a begging letter to some chosen people and more came in. In the last week we had a hundred pounds to go and Facebook and Twitter proved very effective: in fact the event would not have worked without social media. It’s the 21st century way of getting patronage, a kind of self help method side stepping big organizations (but also to some extent letting them off the hook, which makes me slightly uncomfortable).

There were some last minute hitches setting up technical equipment in a venue, which had only done music and not spoken word before, but it all came together, and the venue were never less than enthusiastic and committed to making things work. A group of us decorated the venue with Mexican style fabrics, paper cut outs and cacti on the table,  and even the weather joined in for a hot and steamy night. People turned up, looking beautiful, dressed for the occasion. One of the poets made amazing zines with poems and art work. Another local artist produced a Frida image which we used in slide form as a backdrop to the event. Pascale read beautifully and brought images of Frida’s paintings to accompany her poems. The soundscapes were mind-blowing and the poetry was wonderful.  It was just what I had imagined: a happening with art, poetry music and beautifully crafted artefacts.

Lessons learned would include spending a bit more time on prepping the venue, and I might also try to raise more money and have an even more spectacular event. But really, the essential element here was the generosity and creativity of people who gave their time and talent to make all the elements of a great evening blend so beautifully.


And Rosi Thornton gives us a short review of the finished event:

This wonderful event to honour the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, was organised and hosted by poet Jo Colley, from locally based Poetry Parlour, and took place on a suitably warm evening at the Voodoo Cafe in Skinnergate.  Hosted as part of the annual Tyneside VAMOS! Festival, the evening was the only Latin American festival event in Darlington and offered a fitting celebration of Frida Kahlo on her birth date.

The evening was built around the work of acclaimed French-Welsh poet Pascale Petit and her anthology of poetry about the artist  – Poems After Frida – which also became the title of the event. Interspersing music from Michael Hann, projected images of Frida’s paintings and searing, shimmering poems from Pascale Petit, the line up included both old and new work followed by  a selection of poems and accompanying images from poets Jo ColleyJoanne Clement, Kate Fox, Lisa Matthews and Ellen Phethean.

Pascale Petit’s poems offered a rich and fascinating flavour of Frida Kahlo and the  different stages of her life as an artist in Mexico. From her early beginnings as a young woman learning to live and work independently, to the accident which changed her life forever, Pascale’s words reached under the skin and made the experience clear and vivid. The accompanying slides of Frida’s paintings running alongside the poetry allowed the audience a glimpse into the graphic depiction of Frida’s world and her uncompromising, direct, outward gaze.

As with the paintings, the poems left nothing hidden. Each of the poets following Pascale, used their words and rhythm to celebrate Frida and raised a complex web of emotion and images within the audience, not easily forgotten. For anyone unfamiliar with the work of Frida Kahlo, the combination of poets and their spare, beautiful words was an invitation to explore further.

Mention must be made of the accompanying Zine by artist and poet Joanne Clement for the evening, which was both beautifully produced with information about the event itself as well as being embellished with imagery and words to treasure afterwards. Many audience members came dressed in their finery to celebrate the artist and her birthday, and these small details and the care and attention behind the hosting of the event were evident to everyone attending the evening.

The setting in the Voodoo Cafe offered an intimate Latin American atmosphere of small, richly decorated tables, fiesta bunting, margaritas and Mexican food. Together with haunting music from Michael Hann, stirring images and a stellar line up of poets, the  evening created an opportunity to view the world through other eyes and other lives. I left the Poems After Frida event with different words in my mouth, new blood in my veins and somehow all the richer for it.


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