We all know Warsan Shire: she and Beyoncé go together, now, after Lemonade. We know that sometimes home is the mouth of a shark: we’ve seen Warsan’s name, heard her words. And in this strange summer of plague, I finally read Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth.
Teaching is such a small book, and its pages contain such grief, blood twining through letters—yet Shire captures joy, too, love and lust and pleasure and family, painting a world rich in its complexities—even if many those complexities might be awful, or bring pain.
Does one expect to find fierce and obvious joy, in the midst of poetry about violence against women, and patriarchal norms (that pigeon blood, in “Birds”), and the grief of exile? Not really—and yet it is there, from depictions of elderly lovers to young women claiming their sexuality and refugees claiming their lives as their own and families coming together to gossip.
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth is both harsh and tender, an unstinting look at horror and at grief and a defiant celebration of life.