Poetry | bone & Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth

Hey everyone! In my review of salt. by Nayyirah Waheed, I listed a bunch of contemporary poets and my keen interest to enjoy their works in the near future. Yrsa Daley-Ward and Warsan Shire were on that list and I finally read their collections (e-books) a couple of months ago.

Below are two mini reviews of the poetry collections by two popular poets grabbing peoples’ attention in 2016.

bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward 

boneDate Read: April 12th 2016

Published: June 2014

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing

Pages: 136

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

Bone. Visceral. Close to. Stark.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

bone is a brilliant collection of poems. I enjoyed reading the long poems in this collection, as they read like short stories and were packed with lots of suspense and emotion!

Most of the poems in bone have recurring themes of death, sex, family, relationships and Christianity. Yrsa Daley-Ward blends her West Indian (Jamaican) and West African (Nigerian) cultures beautifully in this collection, especially with her references to foods like Jollof rice, stereotypical Black woman mannerisms like eye-rolling and sucking of teeth etc.

Some of my favorite quotes:

Loving someone who hates themselves is a special kind of violence. A fight inside the bones. A war within the blood. (pg. 12)

 

If you were married to yourself could you stay with yourself? My house would be frightening and wild. (pg. 53)

Even though some of the poems read like short stories, there were healing elements to them that I really appreciated. The poems liberate you… They almost reminded me of – Nayyirah Waheed’s collection salt. bone definitely hit home and made me realize and appreciate how difficult and different peoples’ lives can be. This was an eye-opening read. Please don’t sleep on Ysra Daley-Ward!

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward on Amazon


Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth by Warsan Shire 

Warsan shire

Date Read: March 16th 2016

Published: December 2011

Publisher: Flipped Eye Publishing

Pages: 38

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

What elevates Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth, what gives the poems their disturbing brilliance, is Warsan Shire’s ability to give simple, beautiful eloquence to the veiled world where sensuality lives in the dominant narrative of Islam; reclaiming the more nuanced truths of earlier times – as in Tayeb Salih’s work – and translating to the realm of lyric the work of the likes of Nawal El Saadawi. As Rumi said, “Love will find its way through all languages on its own”; in Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth – Warsan’s debut pamphlet, we witness the unearthing of a poet who finds her way through all preconceptions to strike the heart directly.

 

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

Somali-Brit poet – Warsan Shire’s writing is biting, abrupt and shocking. Most of the poems in Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth have recurring themes of immigrant life, being a refugee, war, death, sex, relationships, womanhood, Islam (almost similar to the themes in Somali-Brit – Diriye Osman’s short stories collection, Fairytales For Lost Children). The first set of poems in this collection were pretty wild and literally had my heart racing. When I finished reading this collection back in March, I craved more because this collection was way too short. I’m definitely looking forward to Shire’s new collection of poems entitled, Extreme Girlhood- which is set to be published this Fall!

Some of my favorite quotes:

Conversations About Home (at the Deportation Center)

…No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. I’ve been carrying the old anthem in my mouth for so long that there’s no space for another song, another tongue or another language.

I know a few things to be true. I do not know where I am going, where I have come from is disappearing, I am unwelcome and my beauty is not beauty here. My body is burning with the shame of not belonging, my body is longing. I am the sin of memory and the absence of memory. I watch the news and my mouth becomes a sink full of blood. The lines, the forms, the people at the desks, the calling cards, the immigration officer, the looks on the street, the cold settling deep into my bones, the English classes at night, the distance I am from home. But Alhamdulilah of all of this is better than the scent of a woman completely on fire, or a truckload of men who look like my father, pulling out my teeth and nails, or fourteen men between my legs, or a gun, or a promise, or a lie, or his name, or his manhood in my mouth.

 

Birds

Sofia used pigeon blood on her wedding night.

Next day, over the phone, she told me

how her husband smiled when he saw the sheets, 

that he gathered them under his nose, 

closed his eyes and dragged his tongue

over the stain.

She mimicked his baritone, how he whispered

her name – Sofia, 

pure, chaste, untouched. 

We giggled over the static…

I knew Warsan Shire was a talented poet back in 2013 and was aware of all the accolades she’s been awarded over the years. Thanks to my 2016 Reading Goals to incorporate more poetry into my reading challenge, I decided to finally give Shire’s poetry a try and I must say – I’ve been blessed by her work!

After Beyoncé’s (visual) album – Lemonade was released back in April, I realized a lot of people were finally paying more attention to Warsan Shire’s amazing work. Before Beyoncé’s Lemonade album, I didn’t really hear people (more specifically- not fellow Africans) talk much about Warsan Shire. I made a Facebook status about this observation and it gathered quite a few comments:

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I respect that everyone has their own preferences when it comes to literary works, but I’ve realized that we (Africans) tend to only celebrate the celebrated. Once a big celebrity from the US or UK praises someone from our continent for their craft, all of a sudden we (Africans) start taking notice of the person and are suddenly proud to have them as African (whichever country they hail from). These are just my observations! Anyways, the Facebook post later inspired the four Nigerian women of Not Your African Cliché Podcast  to talk about Warsan Shire, Chimamanda Adichie, Beyoncé’s album Lemonade and the importance of us supporting artists from our continent. I was invited to join the ladies on the podcast to discuss these topics and so much more! Check out the short description of the episode below:

“Although late to the ‪#‎Lemonade dissection game, the ladies of NYAC discuss a less explored running theme in Beyonce’s last two albums – her collaborations with brilliant African writers; Chimamanda Adichie on self-titled Beyoncé and Warsan Shire on Lemonade. Joined by book blogger extraordinaire and longtime listener/supporter Darkowaa (@AwoDeee), we talk about our favorite tracks off the Lemonade album, the pros and cons of being featured in such high profile work, the limited visibility and reach African works of art have in Africa, and what it takes for African artistry to gain a wide following.”

https://soundcloud.com/not-your-african-cliche-podcast/nyac-s1-episode-12-african-artists-western-collaborators-and-lemonade

Please listen to this episode if you have 59 minutes to spare! If you want to just dive right into the topics, you can start listening from 18 minutes 52 seconds – but I highly recommend you listen to the whole episode, it was a great discussion! Feel free to join the discussion with your comments! Also, don’t forget to subscribe to Not Your African Cliché Podcast on iTunes, Soundcloud and follow them on Twitter (@NYACpodcast) as well!

All in all, I truly enjoyed and learned a lot from the works of Yrsa Daley-Ward (above on the left) and Warsan Shire (above on the right). Their poetry makes me proud to be a black woman. I’ll surely be purchasing the physical copies of these books to add to my bookshelf soon 🙂

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth by Warsan Shire on Amazon

Fairytales For Lost Children by Diriye Osman

Date Read: January 7th 2016

Published: September 2013

Publisher: Team Angelica Press

Pages: 156

Diriye Osman

The Blurb

Fairytales For Lost Children is narrated by people constantly on the verge of self-revelation. These characters – young, gay and lesbian Somalis – must navigate the complexities of family, identity and the immigrant experience as they tumble towards freedom. Using a unique idiom rooted in hip-hop, graphic illustrations, Arabic calligraphy and folklore studded with Kiswahili and Somali slang, these stories mark the arrival of a singular new voice in contemporary fiction.

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Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

*sigh*

Is it too early to already know my favorite book of the year? Fairytales For Lost Children just might be the best book I’ve read this year. I read two stories a day from this collection, to adequately absorb everything in little bits. I even smoothed the velvet-textured book cover against my cheeks after reading some of the stories (no, I’m not a weirdo… maybe a little haha). And when I was done reading Fairytales For Lost Children, I wanted more. I need Diriye Osman to write a full novel soon!

This collection of short stories is raw, erotic, sassy, vivid, devastating and most importantly, liberating. These stories are set in modern day Somalia, Kenya and London. The characters of these stories just want to be loved for who they are. They desire to live their lives free from hate, criticism, and scrutiny, while trying to understand the intersectionalities of their own identities.

There are eleven stories in this collection and I loved how Diriye Osman precedes each story with his beautiful artwork, which visually summarizes each tale. Osman also incorporates lots of Neo-Soul (my ultimate favorite music genre) and old school Hip-Hop music into the stories. He refers to Meshell Ndegeocello’s 2002 soul album, Comfort Woman in about three of the stories, so I just had to purchase that album after I read this collection! Osman also blends languages like Somali, Arabic and Swahili into these stories, which make them feel authentic. I deeply enjoyed each and every one of the stories (which is rare for a short stories collection – there are always one or two stories I don’t care for) but my faves were:

Shoga‘ – This tale was pretty explicit but entertaining and heartbreaking at the same time. A displaced seventeen year old Somali boy lives with his grandmother, Ayeeyo, in Kenya. He falls in love with Boniface – the domestic help who is a refugee from Burundi. After enjoying many nights of listening to Bob Marley, smoking marijuana and sleeping with Boniface in his quarters, this seventeen year old later has to deal with the consequences of his pleasures by facing his grandmother – before her time is up.

Earthling‘ – This is a story that follows Somali-Brit – Zeytun, who suffers from psychosis and deeply desires love from her family – more so, from her sister. Her only family and support system is her girlfriend, Mari, who admirably stands by Zeytun and aids in her mental and emotional healing. The love exhibited between this lesbian couple was eye-opening and comforting to me.

Your Silence Will Not Protect You‘ – This story is preceded by Diriye Osman’s artwork that actually looks like a portrait of himself (he’s the man on the book cover by the way!), so I’m assuming this tale is loosely based on his personal story. Osman boldly narrates the series of events that lead to him coming out to his family, and how he boldly deals with the pain of rejection.

The Other (Wo)man‘ – I’ve never read a story like this before. Yassin is a young, twenty-two year old Somali man living in London, pursuing his art degree and is ready to start dating. He meets a middle-aged, British-Jamaican man who works as an army pilot on a dating website (Gaydar) and they go on a couple of dates. But one night, Yassin realizes that the British-Jamaican man’s fetishes not only offend him, but actually push him to maybe trying something he never thought he’d consider. This coming-of-age tale had me sooo worried. But I loved observing Yassin as he strived to understand his ever evolving identities.

My favorite quote from ‘The Other (Wo)man‘ as Yassin takes a walk towards Peckham Rye:

He felt his sense of Somaliness slipping away from him and he was afraid of letting it go, afraid of the moral, psychological and social anarchy its loss threatened to create within him. But at the same time, what was he really hanging onto? A sense of social allegiance? But wouldn’t he be automatically excluded from his community because of his sexual orientation wherever his own allegiance lay? He didn’t belong to just one society: he was gay, Somali, Muslim, and yet all these cultural positions left him excluded… He was Somali first, Muslim second, gay third. But perhaps that hierarchy was only a matter of timing: born Somali, raised Muslim, discovered gay. And now he was venturing out into the world without a sense of his place within it and this frightened him. Yet he realized that he couldn’t mourn what was lost but instead had to consider what was to be gained. He knew he would never belong but did he really want to? (pg. 137)

This collection of short stories is probably the best LGBTQ-themed African fiction out there. I totally understand why Diriye Osman won The Polari First Book Prize back in 2014. Osman’s writing style is bold and fearless and I believe this collection is a priceless gem among the myriad of African fiction novels around. Please read this if you get the chance! And try not to judge the characters in the stories; just immerse yourself in the different happenings of the tales and learn from them. These stories speak volumes on being true to yourself, following your heart and the universal human need to love one another, regardless of sexual orientation, race, occupation, religion. Fairytales For Lost Children must have been liberating to write and I truly admire Diriye Osman as a storyteller and visual artist. Readers around the world will find solace in this work of art – I definitely did! I look forward to reading more of Osman’s work in the future. I’m sure whatever he writes next would be as fierce as this collection.

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

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  • Also!! Read Diriye Osman’s essay published in The Huffington Post (2014): To Be Young, Gay and African
  • I really enjoyed this conversation between Diriye Osman and Another Africa, where they discuss Osman’s background, musical influences and his creative process, difficulties he faced in writing this collection, future projects and so much more!

Other Somali writers I plan on reading in the future (click on their names to check out their Goodreads profiles and their collection of work): Nuruddin FarahAyaan Hirsi Ali, Warsan Shire (Somali-British), Ladan Osman (Somali-American), Nadifa Mohamed (Somali-British).

Purchase Fairytales For Lost Children on Amazon