Beyoncé dropped LEMONADE on April 23rd to much stan-fare, served with the usual side of haterade. The album – deeply personal, with several songs about heartbreak, infidelity, and her black womanhood, is already fueling chatter about it possibly being the Album of the Year. As she did by interpolating Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s words on feminism in her 5th studio album back in 2013; one of Beyoncé’s key featured artists on LEMONADE is Warsan Shire, a Somali-British poet.
While, for some, Warsan Shire may be the nouveau cool kid on the block; her poetry and writing is neither new nor is her inclusion on Lemonade a fluke. She’s not green at all—Warsan Shire is an accomplished woman. LEMONADE documents a woman’s journey from betrayal to catharsis by skilfully quoting one of Shire’s most beloved poems “For Women Who Are Difficult To Love.”
Here are 5 things you need to know about her and why she was featured in Lemonade.
1. She was named the first ever Young Poet Laureate of London in 2014, a position awarded annually to a poet aged 21 -30 living in London. The role celebrates emerging literary talent and provides a platform for commenting on life in London from the perspective of a young person. In 2014, Shire was also chosen as Queensland, Australia’s poet in residence.
2. As the 2013 winner of the Brunel University’s African Poetry Prize, Shire’s work was described by one of the judges as reflecting ‘a remarkable instinct or freshness of language and insightful ideas. It is especially exciting to read a poet who manages to combine a commitment to substance and urgent subject material with the craft to turn it into illuminating and moving poetry.’
3. A Kenyan-born Somali transplant living in London, Shire’s poetry is about identity, migration, trauma, love and womanhood. Her work touches on displacement, the search for love and belonging and identity through the lens of juggling opposing cultures as an outsider.
4. Words and adaptations from some of Shire’s poems, “The unbearable weight of staying (the end of the relationship),” and “Nail Technician As Palm Reader” appear on LEMONADE too. Shire is noted as having worked on “Film Adaptation and Poetry” securing her spot in the production credits for LEMONADE. These words are taken from her 2011 poetry pamphlet “Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth”.
5. As of 2016, Shire is working on her first full poetry collection, having put out a limited release pamphlet called Her Blue Body. In addition to being a poet, Shire is a teacher and writer. She serves as the poetry editor at SPOOK magazine and she teaches poetry workshops both globally and online to explore memory, voice and heal trauma. Her poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Estonian and Swedish.
Listen to warsan versus melancholy (the seven stages of being lonely) here.