The world collectively lost its mind when Beyonce dropped what is arguably her finest work to-date: Lemonade, the visual album. The project is loaded with stunning images, beautiful lyrics, and surprisingly, several lines of outsourced poetry.
27-year-old Warsan Shire, a Somali-British poet, provided the interludes of poetry that appeared in the hour-long visual component of Beyonce’s album. Shire’s moving poetry heavily focuses immigration, black identity, and the struggles of womanhood. She’s also highly accomplished – she’s London’s first Young Poet Laureate, author of two chapbooks (which have already sold out on Amazon), and will release a full book within the year.
Bottom line – Warsan Shire is amazing. And Queen B knows it too.
Do you recognize these words from the visual album below? They’re directly quoted from Warsan Shire.
Given her explosive popularity, Beyonce can leverage her influence for the greater good. As such, the visibility Beyonce has brought to black female poets through the Lemonade is incredible. By highlighting minority female poets, Beyonce officially set a new standard for diversified storytelling. Because when Beyonce pulls something off – the entirety of pop culture eventually follows suit.
I am black, a woman, and a poet. I know that I need no validation for any of those identities to feel accomplished, but I can’t help but smile when I see other black women poets shining and getting the credit that they deserve. When they are celebrated, I feel celebrated too.
I am black, a woman, and a poet. I know that I need no validation for any of those identities to feel accomplished.
I started writing poems in elementary school. I remember writing a Mother’s Day poem that brought my mom to tears. It was at that moment that I really considered the power of words, as well as my ability to manipulate them. I started performing poems in high school, but it wasn’t until college that I really got into it. I joined The Excelano Project as a student at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s the university’s first and only spoken word group; our mission is to be a place “for our heart-felt words, striking performances, and well..our fury.” It’s through The Excelano Project that I found a welcoming environment for me to dive into the spoken word scene.
The first poem I performed with the group was one about going on a date with a black man who told me that he “should’ve brought a white girl.” Though I didn’t have the language to tell him how I felt in the moment, later on I was able to channel all that hurt and anger into a poem. When I finally shared it, the responses were overwhelmingly supportive. I felt encouraged. I felt seen and heard and accepted. I felt hurt but not alone in it, which eased the pain. I’ve written about myself, about black womanhood, about the water crisis, and about anything else I have needed to unpack for myself and present to others in a way that we can all understand.
The first poem I performed with the group was one about going on a date with a black man who told me that he “should’ve brought a white girl.”
Writing and performing spoken word poetry allows me to be angry without being an “angry black woman.” I can express myself without any fear of being typecast. I am not a stereotype. I am not an emotional, irrational woman. I am a poet, someone who is respected in society. Through poetry, I can explore my own identity in a language that makes sense to me, and to others as well– the same way that Beyonce commiserated with Warsan’s words so much that she turned them into a movie. And then even more women got involved. Women were hearing the pain of other women, remembering similar traumas, and growing closer together though that common denominator of surviving. That’s what poetry can do: translate the experiences of a single person into a communal feeling. That’s why poets are powerful.
I am looking forward to what comes next for the black women writing poems for themselves and for other black women. I foresee more and more poets getting acknowledged for their work. I am hoping for the proper praise to be doled out among the poets who are still trying to break into the poetry world and beyond. And Beyonce has definitely helped by intertwining her music with dazzling imagery and poetry. As it stands, I don’t think raw poetry gets enough credit in pop culture.
Writing and performing spoken word poetry allows me to be angry without being an “angry black woman.”
But who knows? Maybe we’re on the verge of turning a new leaf. In the meantime, I hope all my black women writers and poets are feeling as inspired and encouraged as I am by this moment.
It’s finally our time.