For the month of June, we are reading not one, but two books: Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth by Warsan Shire and milk and honey by Rupi Kaur. Both are poetry collections that touch on the traumas of love, loss, and family. The poems are raw and intimate; they provide readers a glimpse into the hardships that women often have no choice but to face.
Shire, who was born in Kenya to Somalian parents, tells stories of refugees and immigrants. These are stories are based off experiences of those she personally knows, as well as her own experiences as an immigrant in London. Her writing is particularly pertinent to political events of late, such as the anti-immigration rhetoric seen in both Britain and America. Writing for the New Yorker, Alexis Okeowo notes that Shire's poetry "evokes longing for home, a place to call home, and is often nostalgic for memories not her own, but for those of her parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, people who forged her idea of her ancestral homeland through their own stories."
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. Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet and writer who is based in London. Born in 1988, she is an artist and activist who uses her work to document narratives of journey and trauma. Warsan has read her work internationally, including recent readings in South Africa, Italy and Germany, and her poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.
Kaur is a Punjabi-Sikh feminist poet, artist, and performer who lives in Toronto. Like Shire, her poems are inspired by experiences and the way people feel. In an interview with Erin Spencer of Huffington Post, Kaur said she was first moved to share her writing in November of 2013: "I felt like, for the first time ever, what I had to say was so much more powerful than my fear of what people might think. It was almost as though I had no choice. It seemed more important for me to express solidarity with women going through similar struggles than to continue being that 'polite, shy, quiet girl'." Her poems are an ode to women everywhere. They highlight the double standards and unrealistic expectations women are faced with, and lines like "loneliness is a sign you are in desperate need of yourself" and "I left because the longer I stayed the less I loved myself" call on women to approach self-care through self-love.
'milk and honey' is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. About the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose. Deals with a different pain. Heals a different heartache. 'milk and honey' takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.
We'd love to hear from you! Did you read the books? What did you think? What were your favourite poems?
Book Club Discussion Questions:
Choose your favourite poems and lines and discuss what you like about them. How did Kaur's poems make you feel? What kinds of themes are in her work?