Book Review

Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth by Warsan Shire

Photo on 11-07-2013 at 18.06

Warsan Shire was born the same year I was, 1988, so reading this excellent collection of intelligent, though-provoking and mature poems was a somewhat sobering experience.

Warsan Shire is a London-based, Kenyan-born, Somalian poet who writes compelling, frank and deeply involving pieces about sex, betrayal, war and displacement. Many of the pieces take voices that are distinctly not hers, whereas others are flagged up as openly autobiographical. All display an acknowledgement of the horrors inherent in society, but many also show the joy and happiness that can be found in love, sex, friendship and family – in close, positive, human relationships.

The collection begins and ends with very short poems, both framing the book’s central themes of relationships and, really, of desperation. Of desperate people. There are deeply emotionally involving topics discussed throughout. One poem begins: “The first boy to kiss your mother later raped women / when the war broke out”. This is an extreme example, but death and murder and betrayal recur throughout. The men that appear in the book betray not just the sanctity of sexual consent, but also the responsibilities of fatherhood, of marriage, the bravery necessary when a soldier. That may make the collection sound bleak, or at the very least man-hating, but it isn’t. It is powerful because it is about people – men, women, children, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives – living unglamorous lives, with happiness not to be taken for granted. It is poetic, it is beautiful, and it is deeply moving. This collection is definitely worth a read, and this a poet worth looking out for.

(Highlights for me were ‘Fire’, ‘When We Last Saw Your Father’, ‘Conversations About Home’, ‘My Foreign Wife Is Dying And Does Not Want To Be Touched’ and ‘Ugly’.)

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