W arsan Shire—Kenyan-born Somali poet—is the best kept secret in the African poetry scene. I discovered her work a few months ago when she won the first edition of the Brunel University African Poetry Prize.

Her poems are blistering, beautiful, bewitching. They are suggestive of violence and a deep sense of loss and longing.  And they smell of woman. I think of some of her poems as anthems to femininity.

The gorgeous and melancholy “For Women Who Are Difficult To Love” is probably her most popular and one of my favorites. What I take from the poem is that sometimes being woman means being “terrifying,” “strange,” and “beautiful”—“somethingnot everyone knows how to love.”

The 24 year old poet lives in London and was recently named the first ever Young Poet Laureate for London.

The two poems below—one titled “Beauty,” the other “Ugly”—are part of the collection of ten poems she submitted to the competition for the 3000-pound Brunel University African Poetry Prize.

Enjoy.

Portrait - edgemagazinesite.com

Warsan Shire (source: edgemagazinesite.com)

Beauty

My older sister soaps between her legs, her hair
a prayer of curls. When she was my age, she stole
the neighbour’s husband, burnt his name into her skin.
For weeks she smelt of cheap perfume and dying flesh.

It’s 4 a.m. and she winks at me, bending over the sink,
her small breasts bruised from sucking.
She smiles, pops her gum before saying
boys are haram, don’t ever forget that.

Some nights I hear her in her room screaming.
We play Surah Al-Baqarah to drown her out.
Anything that leaves her mouth sounds like sex.
Our mother has banned her from saying God’s name.

 

Ugly  

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 seawater.
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 lie 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

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

8 Responses to “Girls Smelling Of Lonely — Two Poems by London’s Coolest Poet, Warsan Shire” Subscribe

  1. Oluwadunni 2013/12/09 at 02:14 #

    Warsan Shire is just so beautiful. Her words, the way they flow into your soul. Palpable emotions. I discovered her on Goodreads early this year so I remember reading the second poem, but not the first. I agree that her poems seem feminist.

  2. Ainehi Edoro 2013/12/09 at 14:21 #

    Yup. She’s awesome. Love what she does with feminine bodies.

  3. ope akiyode 2013/12/12 at 10:58 #

    nice work warsan shire

  4. Obinna Udenwe 2014/01/21 at 21:11 #

    Oh my God! since Diana Eke’s ‘Symphony of Becoming’ i haven’t read poems that are so titillating like these ones. Had to copy and past on Ms word, will print them out tomorrow at the office and keep close to my bed. 🙂

    She will go far!

  5. Ainehi Edoro 2014/01/24 at 15:49 #

    Happy her poem is speaking to you. I was blown away the first time I read her. Like you said: she go go fa.

  6. janet 2014/10/14 at 09:48 #

    Hmnn. She sure has talent. But somethings been eating at me awhile. From my observation, It seems like these days, more attention and awards are given to works of literature that has at least 40 percent explicit content. I mean, I rarely see literature that has almost no mention of sex given much credit. I might be wrong, I’m a student, but i’m not studying literature, though I love it.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Warsan Shire’s Tenure as London’s Young Poet Laureate Comes to a Sweet End | Brittle Paper - 2014/10/14

    […] HERE for a couple of poems to get you started. Feel free to check out her poetry chap book Teaching My […]

  2. The Quirky African Poem We Can’t Stop Reading | Quarantine With Abdelhalim Hafez | by Safia Elhillo | Brittle Paper - 2015/05/22

    […] a training ground of sorts for Africa’s poetry stars. The first winner of the prize, Warsan Shire, went to serve as London’s Young Poet […]

Leave a Reply

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Archives

Greg Ruth Does Something Amazing with Okorafor’s Female Characters

untitled-design-60

Nnedi Okorafor’s novels are universally loved. She builds her fictional worlds and fashions her characters from the most unusual elements. […]

The Three African Books on The NYT 100 Notable Books of 2016 List

ibrahim-abubakar-morland-3

The New York Times has released its prestigious 100 Notable Books of the Year list, and there are only three […]

Adichie Talks Dior, Paris, and Her Fashion Week Experience in New Interview with Elle.com

ibrahim-abubakar-morland-1

In October, Adichie sat front row at a Christian Dior fashion show in Paris and watched models strutting the run way […]

Adichie, Selasi, Teju Cole, and Others Share their Favorite 2016 Books

ibrahim-abubakar-morland-2

2016 is coming to an end and, as is their tradition, The Guardian UK has asked some of the globe’s top […]

The New Yorker Profiles Kenyan Online Bookseller Magunga Williams

magunga-williams-new-yorker

A LITTLE over a week ago, The New Yorker ran a story on Magunga Williams, Kenyan bookstore owner and blogger, […]

Life after Ake Festival Is a Drab Thing | By Ogbu Godwin Ikechukwu | A Memoir

Copy-of-Chinese

…but the powerful memories of Ake Festival, like a good old film, come at me, and I am too weak […]