Warsan Shire: Awakening And Empowering Through Poetry

“Character-driven poetry is important for me — it’s being able to tell the stories of those people, especially refugees and immigrants, that otherwise wouldn’t be told, or they’ll be told really inaccurately.”

Poet, activist and laureate Warsan Shire was born in Kenya to Somali parents. She grew up in London and writes on deep topical issues around African migration to Europe. Her work connects gender, war, sex, and culture; an elixir for the trauma of exile and suffering.

Growing up, she always felt like an outsider and this greatly inspires her work. When you read Shire’s poetry, you immediately glimpse a person living in a world whose founding fathers look nothing like her ancestors. It represents this constant longing to reconnect with her roots.

Image-credit: Amaal-Said

She is the author of the collections: Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (2011), Her Blue Body (2015), and others. Her poems have featured in journals, including Long Journeys: African Migrants on the Road (2013), Poems That Make Grown Women Cry (2016); as well as in Beyoncé’s visual albums Lemonade (2016), and Black is King (2020).

Warsan Shire (Photograph by Amaal Said)

In 2013, she won Brunel University’s first African Poetry Prize. Then, in 2014, she was named the first Young Poet Laureate for London.

Shire wrote “Home” in 2009 – a piece inspired by her visit to the abandoned Somali Embassy in Rome which some refugees had turned into their home. The work gave a voice to refugees and while documenting the real details of their plight.

Listen to Home below:

“I’m from Somalia where there has been a war going on for my entire life. I grew up with a lot of horror in the backdrop – a lot of terrible things that have happened to people who are really close to me… so it’s in the home and it’s even in you, it’s on your skin and it’s in your memories and your childhood. Sometimes I’m telling other people’s stories to remove stigma and taboo so that they don’t have to feel ashamed…”

Warsan Shire’s words have the ability to awaken and empower. We always look forward to the gift of her art.

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