Who is Warsan Shire?
British-Somali poet, Warsan Shire, first came into the spotlight outside her achievements in the arts, when the queen of UK feminism Caitlin Moran and Hollywood star Benedict Cumberbatch quoted the British-Somali poet in their charity single Help Is Coming, aimed to raise funds for Save The Children.
Prefacing the song, Cumberbatch, uses Shire's poem, “Home”, to relay the gravity of the refugee crisis: “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark … No one puts their child in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”
Shire, who was Young Poet Laureate, also won Brunel University African Poetry Prize – a literary award aimed at the development, celebration, and promotion of poetry from Africa. Most recently, she gained international acclaim when her words were featured on Beyonce's new visual album, “Lemonade”.
Fearlessness and vulnerability echoes in Shire's work and is something she seems to share with Queen Bey. In “Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth”, Shire fills the vacant page with images of women’s bodies occupied by war and displacement, yet remains hopeful. As the unsheltered words meet the warmth and tenderness of her spirit, you cannot help but think that Shire – whose first name Warsan means “good news” – is the new Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian feminist writer and activist who, in “Hidden Face of Eve” spoke about her faith, femininity to women globally.
Shire herself who was born in Kenya to Somali parents and immigrated to the United Kingdom at the age of one, taps into what it means to be a young, first generation Muslim woman in the UK. As her book now tops the Amazon charts, the world is taking notice of the very personal and beautiful narrative of Shire's work.
The girl from North West London whose poems have strong references to Somali culture seems to have written the blue print for the mother of Blue Ivy to express her deepest emotions. In writing about women, love, loneliness, and war, Shire found herself speaking to a superstar across the Atlantic, feeling the same way. But in Shire and Beyonce we have found two women who are worlds apart but on the same path.
Photo Credit: Brunel University London/African Poetry Prize