Beyonce took the world by storm on April 23 by releasing her second visual album, this time in the form of an hour long HBO special. No stranger to highlighting strong female voices—such as feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s, featured on her 2013 track “Flawless”—Beyonce chose poet Warsan Shire’s words as the medium to transition between her songs.
But before being featured as the poet responsible for Beyonce’s moments of spoken word in Lemonade, Warsan Shire was a renowned poet in her own right. The 27-year-old, who was born in Kenya and raised in Somalia and Great Britain, released her first chapbook Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth back in 2011 with flipped eye publishing.
“It’s about women, love, loneliness and war, in chronologic order,” says Warsan, who rarely gives interviews, but spoke to Well & Often Press in late 2012. “Poems that focus on adolescence and young adulthood, married life, divorce, motherhood, growing old and death. It has strong references to Somali culture.”
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth is currently a #1 bestseller in African American Poetry on Amazon and, unsurprisingly given the wild success of Lemonade, is temporarily out of stock.
Warsan Shire was honored as the first person to receive the title of Young Poet Laureate of London in 2014. She spent six weeks in Queensland, Australia in 2014 as their poet in residence, and in 2013, Warsan received Brunel University’s African Poetry Prize. Additionally, she has been featured in a number of publications, including The Salt Book of Younger Poets, an anthology of up-and-coming young British poets published in 2011. All of these accomplishments came shortly after Warsan Shire earned her BA in Creative Writing in 2010 from London Metropolitan University.
Warsan is beloved online for penning her own words of inspiration to women who have been hurt, long before Beyonce’s visual album. You may recognize these popular words from her poem “for women who are ‘difficult’ to love”: “you can’t make homes out of human beings / someone should have already told you that / and if he wants to leave / then let him leave / you are terrifying / and strange and beautiful / something not everyone knows how to love.”
Much of the Warsan’s writing featured in Lemonade comes from poems on her digital album called warsan versus melancholy (the seven stages of being lonely), where you can hear Warsan’s own sometimes calming, sometimes cutting voice. Plus, keep your eyes peeled for Warsan’s first full length collection, Extreme Girlhood, rumored to be released this fall.
What were your favorite lines by Warsan Shire featured in Lemonade? What is your favorite Warsan Shire poem not mentioned in this article? I’d love to know in the comments below!