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[Poetry Friday] The Blazing Words of Warsan Shire: Poems from “Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth”

Shire's poetry is a reflection of the harrowing experiences and plight of refugees and immigrants.


Fats here.

Happy Poetry Friday, everyone! This week, I’m sharing two entries from a poetry anthology by Warsan Shire entitled, Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth. This is the 10th book in the mouthmark series. As noted in Shire’s chapbook, mouthmark poetry is a kind of literary pointillism applied on a jazz-blues-blood-sex-rock-and-rolled canvas with sweat, tears, and spittle as primary colours. Shire’s poetry is a reflection of the harrowing experiences of refugees and immigrants, to tell stories of suffering, displacement, and healing.


Many thanks to Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge for hosting
the Poetry Friday round-up!

Conversations About Home
(at the Deportation Centre)

I know a few things to be true. I do not know where I am going, where I have come from is disappearing, I am unwelcome and my beauty is not beauty here. My body is burning with the shame of not belonging, my body is longing. I am the sin of memory and the absence of memory. I watch the news and my mouth becomes a sink full of blood. The lines, the forms, the people at the desks, the calling cards, the immigration officer, the looks on the street, the cold settling deep into my bones, the English classes at night, the distance I am from home. But Alhamdulilah* all of this is better than the scent of a woman completely on fire, or a truckload of men who look like my father, pulling out my teeth and nails, or fourteen men between my legs, or a gun, or a promise, or a lie, or his name, or his manhood in my mouth.

*Alhamdulilah — Praise be to Allah.

In Love and in War

To my daughter I will say,
‘when the men come, set yourself on fire‘.


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.
She reminded them of the war.

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?

About the Poet Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet and writer who is based in London. Born in 1988, she is an artist and activist who uses her work to document narratives of journey and trauma. Her poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. In 2013, she won Brunel University’s first African Poetry Prize. In 2014, she was named the first Young Poet Laureate for London and chosen as poet-in-residence for Queensland, Australia. In 2018, she was elected fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in its “40 Under 40” initiative.

#WomenReadWomen2019 (United Kingdom)

7 comments on “[Poetry Friday] The Blazing Words of Warsan Shire: Poems from “Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth”

  1. WOW. These pieces slay me! And that opening quote: “My existence is not about how desirable you find me.” LOVE. Thank you so much for these words, which I am printing out to savor some more. xo


  2. From those who know comes heartbreaking tragedy, in words, in actions. I am saddened by the world that holds those images too lightly, have just read a middle school book about the Holocaust through a child’s eyes & now am reading of integration in Tennessee & that terrible conflict more recent. Thank you for these, Fats, I’ll look at Warsan Shire again.


  3. Such a powerful post, Fats – thank your for sharing Warsan Shire’s work. We must all make room to hear these voices, her voice.


  4. maryleehahn

    WOW. This is strong stuff. I’m feeling some resonance with Linda B.’s discovery of a woman poet silenced in the 1900s by her gender, and comparing her to this current woman poet whose voice needs to be heard!


  5. Oh, Fats…..these poems are so incredible. I’m sitting here on a Saturday morning saying, “wow….wow…wow…” to myself as I read. This is power…power in words that demand existence. I’m so glad I stopped by today. Sometimes, all we can do is bear witness with hope that it’s enough in that moment. I’m a changed person by knowing of this poet. I want to read more. Thank you.


  6. Very powerful words. I resonate with them, like my ancestors past is still woven into my fibre. Shame is a blanket we need to cast off, but the world will keep covering us in it again and again.


  7. Strong, powerful words and poems, thanks for sharing them here.


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