By Laura Mayron ’16
“you are terrifying / and strange and beautiful / something not everyone knows how to love” –Warsan Shire, “For Women Who Are Difficult to Love”
I’ve been a huge fan of Somali-British poet Warsan Shire’s work since I first stumbled across her poetry in 2012, when I first read “For Women Who Are Difficult to Love”: the lines above have carried me through my late teens and early twenties as I navigated changing sexuality and my own experience as a young poet. It’s easy to understand then, that the chills that I got hearing this poem spoken by none other than Beyonce in her stunning new visual album Lemonade, released just this Saturday, were immediate and electric. Specifically, Beyonce uses adaptations and words from a handful 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,” that form the interludes between the songs. Hearing Shire’s words overlaid over the staggering visuals of Beyonce’s game-changing visual album, I gasped out loud. The recognition was instant. Once you’ve read or heard Warsan Shire, you’ll know her anywhere.
And for good reason: named the Young Poet Laureate of London in 2014 when she was only 25 years old, Shire’s startling, gut-wrenching, primordially beautiful imagery will make your heart ache. Her themes of migration, womanhood, trauma and love are deeply poignant. Muslim, Kenyan-born to Somali parents but raised in London, Shire’s poetry captures the liminality of this transnational identity. She cites her inspirations as Anais Nin, Rumi, Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda, and Hafez, among others–only further evidence of how her poetry is at once nearly universal and deeply private. Her poetic inspirations span time, gender, language, and sexuality, and her poetry continues their traditions of visceral emotion and lyric rawness, but makes it intensely personal and individual. Her poetry feels disturbingly familiar, like she has dug into your own heart, but also fresh and strange through a unique wordplay and use of evocative imagery that is wholly her own.
You can see Shire’s rendition of “For Women Who are Difficult to Love” here (which also features the song “Sun Will Set” by cellist Zoe Keating, another personal favorite artist of mine).