Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire (Book Review)

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He was sitting in the hospital parking lot in a borrowed car, counting the windows of the building, guessing which one was glowing with his mistake
— Warsan Shire, except from When We Last Saw Your Father, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth

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Warsan Shire was unfamiliar to me until after watching Beyoncé's Lemonade. Many people have already had the pleasure of reading her work as early as 2011 but I was late to the party. After reading her book, I was unsatisfied. It was not enough. I read it again, and then went to search for more. I watched videos of her reading her work and I found her mesmerizing. With a soft-spoken demeanor, her pauses between words are just as loud as the words themselves.

"For Women Who Are Difficult to Love" is the poem featured throughout Lemonade and taken from her first publication, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth. It is a social commentary on the harsh conditions of living in darker skin, and growing up female. Her writing narrates the troubled awareness of wives, daughters, immigrant women, and occasionally, the innocent bystander. Many of the poems talk about love, but a painful love. Ritualistic love that can be looked upon as primitive. Infidelity. Lust. Disappointment.


Warsan Shire ( via Google Images )

Warsan Shire (via Google Images)

I caved (because I LOVE physical books) and bought her book on Kindle. I could not find her work at any of my local bookstores. It's really a trick, how short this book appears to be. You assume you'll read it in 10 or 15 minutes, and then go wash the dishes or otherwise return to your life right were you left off. 20 poems. Words with space to breathe. Instead, it unexpectedly changes how you see all of existence. You lift your head after the last word is read, and you are now living in a completely different life- burdened enlightened with a new sense on how others move through space and time.

All of these poems feel as if they are written in the blood of their subjects, or maybe even the author's. Sometimes I could feel her words flowing through my veins, as if she were giving me words to express how I move through the world. I didn't know I could have such a vivid image, crafted by just the right words, in so few lines of poetry. I experienced a flood of emotions as read to myself, both positive and negative. Some poems only a line or two, but filled with so much context. 

In Birds, she talks of fake virginity to appease a new husband. In Fire, she speaks of habitual domestic abuse, the idea of female complacency passed down from mother to daughter, because he pays the bills. But in those same lines, resilience. Cultural understanding. Forgiveness.

To talk about important and heavy things, our words and work must be heavy. I'm not saying all of this to turn you away from her work- this book should be read over and over again. I believe that the reminders of pain and injustice, of sorrow and neglect, are to keep us on the right path. This is what her work says to me and I highly recommend it. 




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About the Author

Black & Bookish is the brainchild of Antoinette Scully, educator and lover of all things bookish. She is on a quest to fill your bookshelves with beloved authors of the African Diaspora. When she's not hanging out online, she's living it up as the mother of two rambunctious girls and wife of a local filmmaker.