Somali born poet Warsan Shire touched down in Johannesburg, South Africa, this October for the recently held Word n Sound Festival, a poetry gathering featuring masterclasses, free workshops, slams and talks put together in association with the British Council in South Africa and Connect ZA. The festival was comprised of a range of events including the Poetry League Finale, Poetry Is and the SFYL finale, which all took place at the Soweto Theatre.
Aside from her participation at the aforementioned events, Shire collaborated with Feminist Stokvel – a collective of 8 Black Women living in South Africa whose main purpose is to creatively address the myriad issues unique to being black women in the country – for a one night only conversation about her life, poetry and her personal take on being a feminist.
The first Young Poet Laureate of London and the first ever winner of the Brunel University Prize for African Poetry in 2013, Warsan Shire, 27, was born in Kenya to Somali parents before relocating to England. Shire, who now resides primarily in London and travels across various regions reciting her poems and sharing her truths, was one of the first of a new generation of diaspora-based poets to gain a significant following on social media in recent. Having previously visited South Africa in 2012 – her visit back to the continent and the same year she published Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, her first collection of poems, Shire again visited the country that changed the way she wrote about subjects dealing with movement, migration, forced relocation and homesickness. This time, she found herself at the Soweto theatre speaking to a packed room full of highly anticipating audience members, eagerly awaiting her every word.
Shire’s main performance took place on Friday, October 2nd, where some of the performances of the night included Koleka, Mandi Mvundla, Kabomo, Afurakan, and the band Shef and the Kitchen. “After months of calling and tracking her down, she’s finally here,” said Afurakan as he introduced her to a screaming and excited crowd which consisted of journalists, reporters, established and aspiring poets, and of course, fans of her work.
After reading three beautifully written poems, she closed off with the poem – Home.
Filled with poignant lines that are painfully relevant to the current migration and refugee ‘crisis, and ring true throughout history concerning the displacement of people whose lives and communities have been scattered across the globe, Home croons on issues such as living as an immigrant in a country that wants nothing to do with black people, being called a refugee as an insult, and constantly being told to leave because you do not belong. More importantly, Home echoes and reflects a shift in the narrative surrounding these topical subjects. Where the voices of those affected by forced migration are often silenced and not regarded as relevant, Home compels readers to confront the crisis from the position of the unnamed and the unclaimed, those whose faces we see grief stricken and traumatized between newspaper folds and in hi-res images on news platforms across the web but whose words we rarely hear.
“Go home blacks, refugees, dirty immigrants, asylum seekers. Sucking our country dry, niggers with their hands out, they smell strange, savage. Messed up their country and now they want to mess ours up.” she read.
The poet’s performance was nothing short of amazing and left some with tears in their eyes. Her words speak to the heart and soul. She will leave you wanting more and her voice will leave you nostalgic.
This article was originally published on Dynamic Africa,written and photographed by myself.