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Bless the Daughter Raised By a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire

From time to time mothers in the wild devour their young, an appetite born of pure, bright need. Occasionally, mothers from ordinary homes, much like our own, feed on the viscid shame their daughters are forced to secrete from glands formed in the favour of men.



Bless the Daughter Raised by A Voice in Her Head is Warsan Shire’s first full collection and it’s loaded. This collection is divided into four parts ‘What Doesn’t Kill You,’ ‘This Is Not A Love Song,’ ‘Are You There God?’ and ‘Testament.’ With some of her poems from her previously published chapbooks (‘Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth,’ ‘Her Blue Body,’) featuring in this collection you can be assured of a few changes/additions. This collection of poems came at a time when I needed it the most. A time when one is in need of a break and step out of everything else going on. Stepping into Warsan Shire’s world loaded with war, pain, hope and a different reality I found myself sensing the nostalgia on one part, the rage against everything happening in the world right now and acceptance in another. Some of the themes in the book are migration, womanhood, love, religion pain and grief.

The collection opens with What Doesn’t Kill You which is filled with poems of deep pain echoing most of the struggles that so many people have faced and continue to battle. “We never unpacked dreaming in the wrong language, carrying our mother’s fears in our feet-“ (page 5) sums up the tone in this part of the collection. Warsan Shire takes the opportunity to unpack and lay bare the refugee in our bodies, the true grime nature of war and it’s effects on the countries considered ‘ugly’ (those that the superiors of this world have decided do not deserve any form of peace), the heavy burden laid on migrants to work extra hard for nothing to send something back home, the fears that lie beneath our eating disorders, the judgment lashed upon those considered the bitches and witches of this world. To everyone one who finds great meaning in Warsan Shire’s popular poem ‘Home,’ there is an addition to it in this collection and not just a mere addition, it will break your heart further, “My body is burning with the shame of not belonging, my body is longing. I am the sin of memory and the absence of memory. I watch the news and my mouth becomes a sink full of blood.” (page 9)

‘This is Not A Love Song,’ comes as a warning that there is nothing good to say about what has been endured, what came to kill did not destroy but surely it did inflict pain. The poems in this part of the collection sink into the past, perhaps attempting to rewrite what has already been done, to wish for a better past, present and future. To will away the trauma of seeing our mothers battered, the sting of the void left by absent fathers, the haunting memories of sexual harassment, the wounds of war, the pain of unfulfilled desires/dreams and the devastating effect of all this on mental health. The rage against the slow hands of time that made women wait and wait and wait patiently for a better lot in life by staying is palpable. Staying for the sake of the children, for lack of better practical options, fear of what would society say and that despair to just resolve that dying in one place is easier. Warsan Shire exerts her energy in this collection to opening those wounds, making them visible for everyone to see just how much damage has been caused and continues to live among us.

‘Are You There God,’ is a section that asks violent and necessary questions , a hope and a prayer. Warsan Shire asks if God is there when wars destroy the world ending innocent lives. How much pain can one really carry, more so when the body will constantly remind you, “When the body remembers, it bucks wildly. When we try to heal, the phantom smell returns. While in the shower, you break down. While you wash your body you realise it is not your body. And at the same time, it is the only body you have.” (page 41) Are you there God when people celebrate child marriages, when your daughters compare wounds from genital mutilation and lament the ‘catheter sting of womanhood.’ One of my favourite poems from this section is ‘Angela Basset Burning It Down!’ because it highlights the importance of that movie (yes that one!).

‘Testament,’ is the evidence of grief. There is nothing more I can say about the raw emotions that are evoked when reading this part of the collection. What did not kill you will leave you fighting for your life, grieving for the lost parts of your life and people. ‘Hooyo’ is a word that appears in this collection over twenty times and it means mother. And of that I will say bless the daughter raised by a voice in her head who knows loss intimately. Warsan Shire’s first full collection of poems is a good read and if you’ve read her work before you’ll know that her pen is bold. I was a bit taken aback by the fact that a few of the poems from her previously published work make an appearance but going through them again as part of this collection, I can say they belong.


Book Details

Title: Bless The Daughter Raised by A Voice in Her Head

Author: Warsan Shire

Genre: Poetry Anthology

Pages: 73 (Kindle Version)

Publisher: Vintage Digital (2022)

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