Warsan Shire’s poetry is beautifully sharp, and I love the way it cuts through the world she sees and feels. You might have seen some of her poetry online, like the amazing ‘Home’ which was widely shared online when the refugee crisis hit Europe:
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
Or you might have read this quote from her powerful poem ‘what they did yesterday afternoon’:
She crafts poems that are so powerful and poignant and feel so true, that it seems you should have always known the words.
Shire’s collection of poetry Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth is brilliant like all her work. One of my favourites is ‘Questions for Miriam’, about singer Miriam Makeba:
Were you ever lonely?
Did you tell people that songs weren’t
the same as a warm body, a soft mouth?
Did you know how to say no to young men
who cried outside your hotel rooms?
Did you listen to the songs they wrote,
tongues wet with praise for you?
What sweaty bars did you begin in?
Did you see them holding bottles by the neck,
hair on their arms rising as your notes hovered
above their heads?
Did you know of the girls who sang into their fists
mimicking your brilliance?
Did they know that you were only human?
My parents played your music at their wedding.
Called you Makeba, never Miriam, never first name,
always singer. Never wife, daughter, mother,
never lover, aching.
Did you tell people that songs weren’t the same
as a warm body or a soft mouth? Miriam,
I’ve heard people using your songs as a prayer,
begging god in falsetto. You were a city
exiled from skin, your mouth a burning church.
Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet, writer and educator based in London. Born in 1988, Warsan has read her work extensively all over Britain and internationally – including recent readings in South Africa, Italy, Germany, Canada, North America and Kenya- and her début book, ‘TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH’ (flipped eye), was published in 2011. Her poems have been published in Wasafiri, Magma and Poetry Review and in the anthology ‘The Salt Book of Younger Poets’ (Salt, 2011). She is the current poetry editor at SPOOK magazine. In 2012 she represented Somalia at the Poetry Parnassus, the festival of the world poets at the Southbank, London. She is a Complete Works II poet. Her poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Warsan is also the unanimous winner of the 2013 Inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize.