She was London’s Young Poet Laureate, becoming a voice for its marginalised people – now her work has been recited by the queen of pop
She writes of places where many Beyoncé fans rarely go, the portions of London where the faces are black and brown, where men huddle outside shop-front mosques and veiled women are trailed by long chains of children. Warsan Shire, the Somali-British poet whose words are featured in Beyoncé’s new globe-shaking Lemonade album, is a bard of these marginalised areas – she was even named the first Young Poet Laureate for London at 25.
Beyoncé reads parts of Shire’s poems, including For Women Who Are Difficult To Love, The Unbearable Weight of Staying (the End of the Relationship) and Nail Technician as Palm Reader in interludes between songs in her 12-track, hour-long video album that premiered this week. Truly, Shire was a brilliant choice for Beyoncé’s unapologetically black and female album: like the people and places from which they are woven, Shire’s poems – published in a volume titled Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth – are laden with longing for other lands and complicated by the contradictions of belonging in new ones. In Conversations about Home, she writes: “I tore up and ate my own passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language I can’t afford to forget”, and: “They ask me how did you get here? Can’t you see it on my body? The Libyan desert red with immigrant bodies, the Gulf of Aden bloated, the city of Rome with no jacket.”
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