The Mask by Elisabeth Horan

My grateful thanks to Isabelle Kenyon for arranging to have Elisabeth Horan’s poetry collection The Mask sent to me in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today as my first post of 2022.

The Mask is the follow up collection to collection Horan’s Self-Portrait, is the third chapbook to be published by The Broken Spine and is available for purchase here.

The Mask

The Mask is the second collection of ekphrastic poetry written by poet Elisabeth Horan in response to the artwork of Frida Khalo. It follows the earlier publication Self-Portrait, published by Cephalo. This dual language collection interweaves the life story of Khalo, her art, and the personal response of Horan to it. The Mask is passionate, intense, and demanding and nothing is safe.

Horan has previously stated that she feels a kinship with her muse, and this collection has been written against a backdrop of personal and societal upheaval. It offers us a glimpse into another person’s world. Behind the curtain. Under the mask. There is truth to be found here. Honesty and bravery too! In performance these words are spellbinding, and The Broken Spine is proud to be able to share this work with you.

My Review of The Mask

A chapbook of poetry in celebration of the artist Frida Khalo.

The Mask may be a chapbook of only 21 poems, but my goodness it took me on a journey. Billed as ekphrastic poetry, I think that actually belies the quality of the collection. Certainly the poetic exploration and narrative reimagining of Frida Khalo’s paintings is dramatic and affecting, but this collection is so much more. There’s a universality to the themes of sexuality, paternalism, gender, politics and identity that make The Mask a startling and unsettling read.

I was glad of the Guide at the back of The Mask that led me to the paintings that inspired the writing as I know little of Frida Khalo’s paintings beyond her self-portraits. This meant that the collection lived beyond the confines of its pages, affording me an interest I didn’t know I lacked, but I thoroughly enjoyed thinking about the poems in the context of the images. However, even with as little knowledge as I had as a reader, Elisabeth Horan writes with such ardent passion that The Mask is an affecting and fascinating read in its own right. Although I couldn’t immediately translate the all the Spanish, its use fitted the poems perfectly, alienating me as a reader in the same way both Frida Khalo and Elisabeth Horan have experienced isolation and making the poetry all the more impactful. The language is frequently visceral with iterative images of orgasm, intercourse, blood and sexuality so that it is striking and the ability to shock.

I’m not sure I understood every aspect of Elisabeth Horan’s evocative, powerful writing in The Mask, but I found it perplexing, intriguing and thought-provoking. I’d thoroughly recommend discovering it for yourself.

About Elisabeth Horan

Elisabeth Horan is a poet, mother, and small press publisher living in the wilds of Vermont. She is the author of numerous poetry chapbooks and collections, and the Editor-In-Chief of Animal Heart Press. Elisabeth is passionate about discovering new voices and mentoring emerging poets. She is also a fierce advocate for those impacted by mental illness.

For further information, visit Elisabeth’s website and find her on Twitter @ehoranpoet, Facebook and Instagram.

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