Featured Comrade: The Poetic Genius of Warsan Shire

On December 5, 2013 by Evan Senn

e708da11bc27e4e9d3966ab63af40bdfI struggle with writing. Day to day it changes, and I keep having to revisit every single lesson I ever got, every piece of advice, every tidbit of care, to create. It didn’t used to be so difficult. When I was younger, poetry and drawing and painting were so natural for me I couldn’t stop them from flowing out of my hands if I wanted to . . . and I didn’t. However, I am a professional writer now, and editor, and critic of art—and it is work, I feel it. I still write poetry, that no one ever sees, or if they do, they say “aww, you’re so sad!”

Few people I have ever known have understood me, in all my poetic sadness. Some probably don’t even know it. So few, I can count them on one hand . . . but they are precious to me and I feel loved just knowing they see me. I have just added another to this short list—Warsan Shire.

A poetic gem of a human being, a female that speaks for my soul, this young woman is worlds away from my Southern California life, but she knows me better than most of my close relatives, and she doesn’t even know my name.

Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet, writer and editor based in London. Only 25 years old, Warsan has read her work extensively all over Britain and internationally, including recent readings in South Africa, Italy, Germany, Canada, North America and Kenya. Warsan is also the unanimous winner of the 2013 inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize, and is the recent London Young Poet Laureate. Warsan’s début book, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (Flipped Eye), was published in 2011 and 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.

Warsan’s poetry speaks of herself, not of others, but she reaches so deep that it is hard to find where she stops and others start—she has a knack for connecting us all to one unifying woman, suffering and singing in our hearts.

“Warsan’s poems are so deep that we are haunted by her persona’s loss as if it were our own, we feel helpless as we are sucked into her visceral realist world where women occupy center stage and her personas are not afraid to share their pain with the world.”

My name, “Evan” means Messenger of God, and Senn means “cheese maker.” Not quite as impressive as Shire’s, but I feel a kinship to her with this issue as well—names. I tried to change my name 8 different times growing up, and none of the stuck. My father makes fun of me now for that silliness.
She once said, “Warsan” means “good news” and Shire means “to gather in one place.” “My parents named me after my father’s mother, my grandmother. Growing up, I absolutely wanted a name that was easier to pronounce, more common, prettier. But then I grew up and understood the power of a name, the beauty that comes in understanding how your name has affected who you are.”

Here are some of her lovely pieces. Enjoy.

 

“For Women Who Are Difficult to Love” – written and performed by Warsan Shire

Warsan Shire – “For Women Who Are Difficult To Love” from MovingOn & StereoOpticon on Vimeo.

Director, Producer : Andrea Cortes-Juarbe & Christine Mehr
Editor: Christine Mehr
Co-Editor: Andrea Cortes-Juarbe
Special thanks – Lauren Stanton, Sara’o Bery, Ada Pinkston, Isa Nakazawa
Audio mashed by Christine Mehr
Instrumental track – Zoe Keating’s “Sun Will Set.”

warsan shire

For Women Who Are Difficult to Love

You are a horse running alone
and he tries to tame you
compares you to an impossible highway
to a burning house
says you are blinding him
that he could never leave you
forget you
want anything but you
you dizzy him, you are unbearable
every woman before or after you
is doused in your name
you fill his mouth
his teeth ache with memory of taste
his body just a long shadow seeking yours
but you are always too intense
frightening in the way you want him
unashamed and sacrificial
he tells you that no man can live up to the one who
lives in your head
and you tried to change didn’t you?
closed your mouth more
tried to be softer
prettier
less volatile, less awake
but even when sleeping you could feel
him travelling away from you in his dreams
so what did you want to do love
split his head open?
you can’t make homes out of human beings
someone should have already told you that
and if he wants to leave
then let him leave
you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love.

Excuses For Why We Failed At Love

I’m lonely so I do lonely things
Loving you was like going to war; I never came back the same.
You hate women, just like your father and his father, so it runs in your blood.
I was wandering the derelict car park of your heart looking for a ride home.
You’re a ghost town I’m too patriotic to leave.
I stay because you’re the beginning of the dream I want to remember.
I didn’t call him back because he likes his girls voiceless.
It’s not that he wants to be a liar; it’s just that he doesn’t know the truth.
I couldn’t love you, you were a small war.
We covered the smell of loss with jokes.
I didn’t want to fail at love like our parents.
You made the nomad in me build a house and stay.
I’m not a dog.
We were trying to prove our blood wrong.
I was still lonely so I did even lonelier things.
Yes, I’m insecure, but so was my mother and her mother.
No, he loves me he just makes me cry a lot.
He knows all of my secrets and still wants to kiss me.
You were too cruel to love for a long time.
It just didn’t work out.
My dad walked out one afternoon and never came back.
I can’t sleep because I can still taste him in my mouth.
I cut him out at the root, he was my favorite tree, rotting, threatening the foundations of my home.
The women in my family die waiting.
Because I didn’t want to die waiting for you.
I had to leave, I felt lonely when he held me.
You’re the song I rewind until I know all the words and I feel sick.
He sent me a text that said “I love you so bad.”
His heart wasn’t as beautiful as his smile
We emotionally manipulated one another until we thought it was love.
Forgive me, I was lonely so I chose you.
I’m a lover without a lover.
I’m lovely and lonely.
I belong deeply to myself .

 

tumblr_static_d91d8bec2295bcc2e0883860711e1d9f

Backwards
For Saaid Shire

The poem can start with him walking backwards into a room.
He takes off his jacket and sits down for the rest of his life,
that’s how we bring Dad back.
I can make the blood run back up my nose, ants rushing into a hole.
We grow into smaller bodies, my breasts disappear,
your cheeks soften, teeth sink back into gums.
I can make us loved, just say the word.
Give them stumps for hands if even once they touched us without consent,
I can write the poem and make it disappear.
Step Dad spits liquor back into glass,
Mum’s body rolls back up the stairs, the bone pops back into place,
maybe she keeps the baby.
Maybe we’re okay kid?
I’ll rewrite this whole life and this time there’ll be so much love,
you won’t be able to see beyond it.
You won’t be able to see beyond it,
I’ll rewrite this whole life and this time there’ll be so much love.
Maybe we’re okay kid,
maybe she keeps the baby.
Mum’s body rolls back up the stairs, the bone pops back into place,
Step Dad spits liquor back into glass.
I can write the poem and make it disappear,
give them stumps for hands if even once they touched us without consent,
I can make us loved, just say the word.
Your cheeks soften, teeth sink back into gums
we grow into smaller bodies, my breasts disappear.
I can make the blood run back up my nose, ants rushing into a hole,
that’s how we bring Dad back.
He takes off his jacket and sits down for the rest of his life.
The poem can start with him walking backwards into a room.

 

warsan_5

First Thought After Seeing You Smile

come with every wound
and every woman you’ve ever loved
every lie you’ve ever told
and whatever it is that keeps you up at night
every mouth you’ve ever punched in
all the blood you’ve ever tasted
come with every enemy you’ve ever made
and all the family you’ve ever buried
and every dirty thing you’ve ever done
every drink that’s burnt your throat
and every morning you’ve woken
with nothing and no one
come with all your loss
your regrets, sins
memories
black outs
secrets
come with all the rot in your mouth
and that voice like needle hitting record
come with your kind eyes and weeping knuckles
come with all your shame
come with your swollen heart
I’ve never seen anything more beautiful than you.

http://warsanshire.bandcamp.com/

https://twitter.com/warsan_shire

One Response to “Featured Comrade: The Poetic Genius of Warsan Shire”

  • Michelle

    I get the struggle. I think there are many of us and like the beautiful Warson Shire, some can articulate their heart into words that vicariously come sit on a couch and hang out with us.

    I always appreciate a young, literary, female voice getting praise and recognition. Backwards is so strong, clever and visceral. I love her use of repetition and regression.

    “I’ll rewrite this whole life and this time there’ll be so much love”

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