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“Frida Kahlo Comes To Dinner” by Christine Strickland

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The poem “Frida Kahlo Comes to Dinner” by Christine Strickland is a compelling poem strongly portraying the female character of Frida Kahlo, famous artist and writer. Strickland’s portrayal of Kahlo’s personality is reinforced through her successful use of language, imagery, personification and other literary techniques. Strickland manages both to display the flamboyancy of Kahlo’s presence while simultaneously provoking the reader’s sympathy for her.

In the first few lines, Strickland has already delved right into her description of Kahlo

“Frida Kahlo has come to dinner

Late, as usual, a little drunk, as usual

Scattering fag ash like confetti”

Kahlo’s arrival gives an ambiguous view of her personality. In one way, it can be seen that Kahlo is selfish and unconcerned about the feelings of others (including her host). The more sympathetic reader may however see Kahlo’s poor punctuality and inconsiderate arrival as an example of her being carefree. The simile of her “scattering fag ash like confetti” seems to support the former idea. Generally speaking, these opening lines have not given the reader a particularly positive impression of Kahlo.

After a somewhat negative portrayal, Strickland begins to build up a different side of Kahlo’s personality. Strickland describes Kahlo as being

“Partnered by her perpetual pain”

This immediately changes the reader’s earlier opinion. The use of the word ‘perpetual’ suggests that Kahlo has never been, and will never be, able to be free of this pain. Strickland makes further references to this pain, the most striking of these being her personification of the pain

“whose grim claws she wore

as lightly as the ribbons on her dress”

This is a particularly disturbing image of the pain as being some kind of wild, untameable beast. The simile above shows two different things: the first is that Kahlo’s “wearing” of her pain suggests that she tends to put a brave face on it and treats it almost as though it were a piece of clothing. The second is that the fact Kahlo has “ribbons on her dress” is another suggestion that Kahlo has a somewhat flamboyant nature. The idea of Kahlo’s flamboyancy is continued throughout the poem; on one occasion Kahlo is referred to as a “carnival”. Like many statements and phrases in this poem this has a double meaning – suggesting Kahlo is either full of life or very colourful. In contrast, the poet feels dull and boring and compares herself to Kahlo:

“There is more energy in her hair

Than in my entire body”

Many of Strickland’s comments hint that she is perhaps a little jealous of Kahlo’s flamboyancy but at the same time admires and respects her guest. This admiration and respect may stem from Strickland seeing Kahlo remaining to be outgoing and lively despite whatever problems she has with her health. Strickland says that Kahlo

“Transforms her limping steps

Into a fiesta dance, all rainbow skirts

And flashing teeth and eyes”

Like the connotation provided by the “carnival” image, Kahlo is described as being a colourful character, and her smiling (which is obviously genuine in that her eyes are smiling too) reminds the reader of the earlier idea that
she puts a brave face on her pain.

Returning to the opening idea that Kahlo is carefree, Strickland informs us that

“Though eating frankly bores her

Gets in the way of talking, drinking

Smoking, painting, making love”

Eating, though essential for life, is not important to Kahlo suggesting that she finds other things more important than her health – this is also shown by the smoking and drinking which would obviously be detrimental to her health. This gives the idea of Kahlo rebelling against the norm and not wanting to follow convention. Her desire to paint, talk and make love shows that she enjoys being with and around people and is eager to express herself.

The idea of self-expression is reinforced by an inspired metaphor where Strickland tells us that, while Kahlo is talking,

“Her hands are two long kites”

Suggesting exaggerated hand gestures and body language, giving the idea that Kahlo enjoys being the centre of attention.

The end of the poem has a very different mood.

“Frida Kahlo has been to dinner

And is now gone taking the party with her”

Now that Kahlo has gone the mood changes to a darker, less upbeat one referring back to the idea of Kahlo being a “carnival” – a passing attraction which brings colour and life when it arrives but takes it away again when it leaves.

The poem ends on a pensive, yet slightly saddening, note:

“Leaving this withered puritan

Faded, dusty, unbearably alone”

The use of the word “puritan” here shows a contrast between the strict, dull life that the author leads and Kahlo’s immoral principles.

Strickland’s poem, though not particularly well known, is a striking example of a poem portraying a character in a way that provokes emotions in the readers. The poem is unique in that I feel both sympathy and jealousy towards Kahlo after reading about her, Furthermore, the poem has left me reflecting upon my own personality – the fact that Strickland achieves this proves how well the poem has been written and is, in my opinion, a credit to the poet.

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