…At each and every checkpoint the refugee is asked
are you human?
The refugee is sure it’s still human but worries that overnight,
while it slept, there may have been a change in classification.
(Excerpt from the poem ‘Assimilation’.)
4.5/5 paper planes
What’s This Book About?
Genre: Poetry anthology; contemporary
Publication: 10th March 2022
Pages: 96 (hardcover)
Synopsis: With her first full-length poetry collection, Warsan Shire introduces us to a girl who, in the absence of a nurturing guide, makes her own stumbling way toward womanhood.
Drawing from her own life and the lives of loved ones, as well as pop culture and news headlines, Shire finds vivid, unique details in the experiences of refugees and immigrants, mothers and daughters, Black women and teenage girls. These are noisy lives, full of music and weeping and surahs. These are fragrant lives, full of blood and perfume and jasmine. These are polychrome lives, full of moonlight and turmeric and kohl.
Content warnings (highlight to see): loss of a loved one; reference to a loved one having and dying from cancer; reference to child abuse and murder; reference to sexual assault; sex/sexual references; swearing – there are many others that I might have missed, as lots of things were covered across this very wide range of poems.
What I Thought:
‘Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head’ had plenty of vivid and punchy poems (the audiobook probably hits even harder if the sample I heard was anything to go by), with really fascinating premises, original turns of phrase and imagery that I’d not really seen anything like before.
My favourite poems were: ‘Home’, ‘Earth to Yosra’, ‘Assimilation’, ‘Bless the Qumayo’, ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’, ‘Hooyo Full of Grace’, ‘My Father the Astronaut’, ‘Backwards’ (I loved the structure of this one!), ‘Bless the Blood’, ‘Victoria in Illiyin’ and ‘Bless Grace Jones’. Some poems make more of an impact if you have extra context from other poems; for example, ‘Earth to Yosra’ carries new weight after reading ‘Her Blue Body Full of Light’, so it’s great that they were all collected and ordered into one volume.
Earth to Yosra,
Yosra to Earth.
Gosh those last lines… I wondered if it was a reference to the religious concept about the body being made from earth and to earth it shall return upon death. Regardless, I really loved that poem.
Handy tip: there’s a Glossary at the back clarifying terms for readers unfamiliar with Somali, Somalia, Islam, the UK and some more technical terms like trichotillomania. If you’re one of those readers, I do recommend also having a phone or laptop with you while reading in case you want to look things up in more depth! I learned some interesting new things, for example briefly diving into the discussion about houris in Islam. A couple of the poems are also references to real-life criminal cases, so it helps to look them up (though fair warning, they are disturbing).
Some poems did go over my head even with the Googling and Glossary but I think that happens with every poetry anthology. In any case, there is value in the space between complete understanding and almost-comprehension. It allows you to wonder and make your own connection to the poem, and I think that’s really special.
Thank you to NetGalley and Vintage Books for an eARC for an honest review.
Purchase ‘Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head’ here through my Bookshop.org storefront! (This is my affiliate link, so if you order through this you’ll be supporting me, my blog – and indie bookshops! – at no extra cost to you.)