Warsan Shire takes poetry to another level.
Having catapulted her way by the means of Tumblr and other social media, the young, Kenyan-born poet who splits her time between California and London, now has worldwide recognition by choosing to grab the attention of others through her personal journey of questioning love, the world and self.
“She developed from being someone who likes poetry, to an actual poet, to a writer,” says longtime friend Mazin Osman. “So, it’s kind of like she’s always on constant developing, she’s always evolving to the better and I guess to her mastery of poetry.”
I’m Black, knowing that I am African, knowing that I am Muslim as well, knowing that my parents were immigrants and refugees and really reclaiming their space and really making sure that that’s at the forefront of my work. It’s in everything that I write.
Channeling her inner self and digging deeper into the root of the mentality of most adolescents and young adults, Shire’s debut book, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth is a direct translation from a Somali proverb in which youth assume that they are wiser than their parents.
“I am the eldest child of my mother,” Shire says. “And her experience with having me and her introduction into womanhood and motherhood and how your first daughter, that relationship is sometimes tumultuous and sometimes very, very forgiving. Exploring that, and the themes of adolescence and kind of sisterhood and being a woman, that transition from being a girl to being a woman and how your mother helps and informs that, and how your mother doesn’t know how to help you basically; the poems are around that.”
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth has been translated in many different languages such as Italian and Portuguese, and has been read worldwide in countries such as South Africa, Germany and all over Britain.
“To know that, as a woman of colour and how our voices can be so disenfranchised and fragmented and so subdued, now these European western languages want it to be translated, it’s not like the work is catering the western ideal; most of the time it’s talking about this feeling of not belonging. So the fact that these other Danish people want to be able to read it and get it in their own languages I’m like, ‘yes,’” she explains.
It’s very, very important that we continuously try to reclaim our space, our voices and our bodies.
It’s not only having works translated in languages around the world that moves and motivates the young writer, but also acknowledging her roots and implementing her heritage in her work. Shire stays true to who she is while breaking stigmas of women of colour.
“I think it’s really important for me knowing that I’m Black, knowing that I am African, knowing that I am Muslim as well, knowing that my parents were immigrants and refugees and really reclaiming their space and really making sure that that’s at the forefront of my work. It’s in everything that I write,” she shares. “It might not be explicit, but it’s in every single thing that I write, that this is my experience, this is who I am, the fabric of my existence. So, it’s going to be in almost all my work all the time. I think that’s necessary especially when we’re kind of blotted out and kind of trying to be etched out, so it’s very, very important that we continuously try to reclaim our space, our voices and our bodies.”
Currently busy doing poetry readings everywhere she can and leading workshops on writing about violence and trauma in compelling ways, Shire is proving to be one of today’s most talked about poets. She emulates the fact that race and gender should not be a barrier for someone to share experiences that so many can relate to.
“I really love transparency. I really, really love it,” says Shire. “So, being able to kind of remove taboo and stigma and negative connotations that we relate to things like the way we look, and who we are, and how we actually feel, like people being able to love who they are and how they feel, especially women of colour. If that’s what can be achieved through my work then I’m happy.”