April 27, 2016
The Poetry of Bey (and Warsan Shire)
by Taylor Sperry
Beyoncé’s new visual album, Lemonade, dropped last weekend (ICYMI) and, in addition to being what Carrie Battan called “a window into the soul of an icon whose inner life has always seemed just out of reach” (read: lots of stuff about her marriage to Jay-Z), the one-hour-and-five-minutes music video pays moving tribute to black women—both seen and unseen—who have influenced Bey’s career.
Among these women is Warsan Shire, a 27-year-old Somali-British poet whose spoken verses connect the 12 songs included on the album. “As Beyoncé recites them, Ms. Shire’s words radically reframe the songs,” Jon Pareles writes for The New York Times. “So they are no longer one woman’s struggles but tribulations shared through generations of mothers and daughters.”
Shire was the first Young Poet Laureate of London, in 2014, and has for years been hugely popular on twitter and tumblr (where she posts “beautiful, gut-wrenching poems meditating on home, womanhood, and the immigrant experience”), but it feels safe to assume the collaboration with Beyoncé will prove to be a game-changing moment in the young poet’s career.
Here she is performing the haunting and elegant “For Women Who Are Difficult to Love,” just one of the poems featured on Lemonade.
Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.