The Warsan in Us All

Photo by Amaal Said

Photo by Amaal Said

If you have access to the internet, you've undoubtedly come across the works of the brilliant Somali-British poet Warsan Shire via Beyonce's new visual album Lemonade. The album features parts of Shire's previously published poems, such as "The Unbearable Weight of Staying (The End of The Relationship)," and "For Women Who are Difficult to Love." By now you've probably read dozens of articles giving you a few facts about Ms. Shire. However, having been a fan of Shire for years, I wanted to share some of my favorite poems and lines by her.

“I want to lay down, but these countries are like uncles who touch you when you're young and asleep. Look at all these borders foaming at the mouth with bodies broken and desperate...I spent days and nights in the stomach of the truck; I did not come out the same. Sometimes it feels like someone else is wearing my body.” ― Warsan Shire

Warsan Shire / BBC

Warsan Shire / BBC

“Your daughter is ugly.

She knows loss intimately,

carries whole cities in her belly.


As a child, relatives wouldn’t hold her.

She was splintered wood and sea water.

They said she reminded them of the war.


On her fifteenth birthday you taught her

how to tie her hair like rope 

and smoke it over burning frankincense.


You made her gargle rosewater

and while she coughed, said

macaanto girls like you shouldn’t smell

of lonely or empty.


You are her mother.

Why did you not warn her,

hold her like a rotting boat

and tell her that men will not love her

if she is covered in continents,

if her teeth are small colonies,

if her stomach is an island

if her thighs are borders?


What man wants to lay down 

and watch the world burn 

in his bedroom? 


Your daughter’s face is a small riot,

her hands are a civil war,

a refugee camp behind each ear,

a body littered with ugly things


but God, 

doesn’t she wear

the world well.” 

― Warsan Shire

Photo by Amaal Said

Photo by Amaal Said

"I won’t glorify or romanticize heartbreak, for me it was a kind of death and I was forced to keep living." -Warsan Shire

“You want me to be a tragic backdrop so that you can appear to be illuminated, so that people can say ‘Wow, isn’t he so terribly brave to love a girl who is so obviously sad?’ You think I’ll be the dark sky so you can be the star? I’ll swallow you whole.” ― Warsan Shire

“I belong deeply to myself.” ― Warsan Shire

“Perhaps, the problem is not the intensity of your love, but the quality of the people you are loving.” ― Warsan Shire

Photo by Amaal Said

Photo by Amaal Said

Shire is not afraid to address topics like rape, social justice, feminism, self-esteem, adolescent angst and more. The thing I love the most about her work is her transparency, and ability to captivate her reader through her poetry. I remember being 19 and reading Warsan's poems on Tumblr. Being blown away by how much I could relate to some of her work. She was such an important part of my self-discovery. Beyoncé featuring her in her new project just affirms the idea that Warsan is an extremely important voice for our generation - particularly for women. I'm so happy that Warsan was placed on such a rich platform. I'm so happy so many people are listening to her voice - the voice that, at some point, we all want to hear. The voice that reveals to us the truth about ourselves, our surroundings, our emotions, our past, present and future, and everything that entails.

I hope her words set free the parts of you that others have hidden or have caused you to hide. I hope that she encourages you to find your voice and I hope, like myself, you find a home in her work. A place of safety and refuge.

Thank you Warsan for sharing your hustle and your soul with us all!

Warsan Shire is a 27-year-old Somali-British poet, editor, and teacher born in Kenya, and currently residing in London.  In 2011, Shire released Teaching my Mother How to Give Birth, and Her Blue Body in 2015. Her full collection is to be released later this year, 2016. You can purchase her collections HERE, and some audio HERE. Check Shire out on TWITTERTUMBLR, and her personal BLOG.