“Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth,” Warsan Shire

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Well, it’s been a hot minute, hasn’t it? 2016 was weird—personally and universally. Fear not. 2017 is going to be a good year for Lit She Wrote.

My blogging hiatus was primarily consumed with a lengthy (and still ongoing) poetry kick. I found myself wanting to be immersed in the work of primarily modern poets. One poet I’ve wanted to read more of for a long time is Warsan Shire.

Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth was Shire’s first published poetry pamphlet. At just over 30 pages, its intensity is concentrated. The poetry is visceral and deeply intimate. Shire writes holds nothing—if anything—back.

Gender is a primary theme threaded throughout this collection. Many of the poems deal directly with the concept of forced femininity, as well as the societal push for women to accept male abuse as an unavoidable aspect of life. There is dissonance. Male sexuality is generally seen as publically acceptable, while female sexuality should be private if anything. For a woman to sit with her knees apart is an act of defiance against traditional values, but for a man to violate a woman is just how men are. Shire’s intensity and frankness shed light on lack of agency and autonomy allowed to women.

Shire speaks from a variety of perspectives—those of family members, friends, and her own. She transitions seamlessly between personal and universal experiences. In doing a little research, I was not surprised to learn that the poems were all based on true stories. Shire’s poetic voice is raw and honest throughout, and reads like a series of already known but largely suppressed truths. These are experiences shared by countless women, and therefore an understanding.

Warsan Shire’s rising popularity is, without question, deserved. Her greatest talent, perhaps, is her ability to restore female autonomy, to lend women voices. Her poetry features unabashed intimacy and women subverting gender norms by defying expectations. She exposes the prevalence of violence in male partners and the normalization of abuse. Shire’s poetry lays double standards out neatly, looks you right in the eye, and says we deserve better.

“To my daughter I will say,
‘when the men come, set yourself on fire’.”

Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth, page 34

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