Warsan Shire turns horror into beauty

Warsan Shire, the Netherlands, in 2022. On his sweatshirt, the American writer James Baldwin.

Warsan Shire (pronounced “chiré”) punctuates his answers with his delicately scratchy timbre. The British-Somali poet uses anaphora and epiphora, so much so that, transcribing the interview, one wonders if she has not offered us a poem. As a supplement to the collection which appears today in France. Blessed is this child that a voice in her head has raised is his first book of poetry. Fruit of more than a decade of writing, journey through his creative wounds.

We met her a month ago, under changing London skies. Since 2015, she lives in Los Angeles, but she was passing through Europe. In Wembley, in the northwest of her childhood, she says goodbye to a friend who has just been found. Then she embraces with a sweeping gesture the new stadium where the 2012 Olympic Games were held. Warsan Shire sits down cross-legged, wrapping himself in a large scarf. She squints. It’s the same vibration as before.

“I put a name to my troubles”

Everything has changed, nothing has changed. The same goes for the neighborhood as for the writer, propelled to the front of the poetic scene since her collaboration with Beyoncé. In 2016, the American singer called on Warsan Shire for her album Lemonade. Beyoncé reads excerpts from the first “poetic pamphlet” of his youngest, published in 2011, at the age of 23. Where I teach my mother to give birth (Editions isabelle sauvage) was published in France in 2017, in a translation by Sika Fakambi. It’s about mothers, about trauma passing from one generation to another, about children forced to be parents for their siblings. “I didn’t really know what trauma was. Today, I am almost 35 years old. I wrote my first book of poetry, I went to therapy, I figured out what was wrong with my mom, I figured out what was wrong with my dad, I empathy for them. I became a mother myself. I moved to another country, I fell in love, I got married. I’ve been sick, I’ve put a name to my troubles, it’s OCD, my best friend is dead”she says without taking a breath.

From this maturation was born Blessed be this child that a voice in her head has raised. To build this collection, Warsan Shire put three hundred poems on the table, and kept only fifty. In doing so, she heard the questions of Jacob Sam-La Rose, British poet and publisher who was her mentor: “Why are you writing? Who are you writing for? What is the meaning of all this? » Now she knows: her work will be “a cartography” of his life, “connected to other experiences”. Especially those of his mother and grandmother. “Is this the story of a long suffering? Of great resilience? Is it a story of patience and forgiveness? Yesshe says, but my work also reflects the deep trauma of women battling mental illnesses they believed to be curses. It’s very cathartic to probe that through writing, and make sure I do a blessing book. » Warsan Shire hopes it will give hope to those who relate to it, as well as to the three sisters she raised. This book is dedicated to them.

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