~ Nationality: Somalia ~

The Ugly Daughter by Warsan Shire

Ugly is an outstanding animated film directed by Anna Ginsburg, from The Ugly Daughter, a powerful poem by Warsan Shire, who speaks her own words in this piece.

The poem is published in English and German at the fabulous Lyrikline website in Germany. The writer’s bio there says this:

Warsan Shire was born in 1988 in Kenya to Somali parents, she grew up in London… She won her first prize at an international slam event and is now the editor of the magazines Literary arts mashup and Spook. She leads workshops, in which poetry is used as a tool to try to overcome personal traumas.

The same poem was earlier choreographed and performed as a dance piece by Ella Misma. Two different video versions of this are here and here.

The film’s animation appears to be strongly influenced by the body movement in Misma’s choreography, which is graceful yet dynamic. The outstanding original artwork by Melissa Kitty Jarram is richly expressive and affecting.

out of shadow by Amaal Said

what are you making your way out of?
maybe skin, maybe shadow.

An author-made videopoem by photographer and poet Amaal Said, featuring Annina Chirade, editor in chief of Rooted In Magazine. The About page on Said’s website gives some insight into her motivations:

I am a Danish-born Somali photographer and poet, currently based in London, UK. I’m concerned with storytelling and how best I can connect with people to document their stories. I have photographed mainly Women of Colour in an attempt to widen representation. I started with taking as many pictures of family members because I wanted to remember them, however far they were. I’m still so fascinated with the way we can use photographs to bring people closer.

The photography grew out of the writing. There were things I could photograph better than I could describe. I am a member of the Burn After Reading poetry collective and a former Barbican Young Poet. I won the Wasafiri New Writing Prize for poetry in 2015.

The Ugly Daughter by Warsan Shire

Dancer/choreographer Ella Mesma performs as Warsan Shire recites her poem. This was one of two dance-poetry pieces premiered at London’s Southbank Centre on October 6, 2014 under the aegis of The Complete Works II, directed by Nathalie Teitler, which gave rise to the Dancing Words project.

For women who are difficult to love by Warsan Shire

An atmospheric video by New York-based artist BriAnna Olson for Warsan Shire‘s widely circulated poem.

Driving through the city towards whatever is beautiful by Warsan Shire

A commissioned poem by Warsan Shire in her capacity as Young Poet Laureate for London in a film from VisitLondon.com. (I wasn’t able to discover who actually filmed and edited it.) It’s an excellent poem that almost redeems the banal advertisement for London in which it is incorporated. Here’s the YouTube blurb:

How do you capture the way a city makes you feel? The anticipation of getting out into the city while driving over Westminster Bridge, the calm that being close to the River Thames induces, or the sense of time standing still as you relax in the park. Watch and share as Warsan Shire opens her heart and pens an intimate love letter to the capital. In her personal London Story, the latest of her commissions as part of her role as Young Poet Laureate for London, she uses the city as the backdrop for an exploration of her feelings of falling in love.

Home by Warsan Shire


This is Home is the barrel of the gun by Dutch filmmaker Paultje Piraat. The music is by Renato Folgado, with the Somali-British poet Warsan Shire reading her poem “Home” in the soundtrack.

With the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, the poem has received a great deal of attention online and in the press. An article in The Guardian provided some background:

“No one leaves home unless / home is the mouth of a shark. You only run for the border / when you see the whole city / running as well.” This evocative stanza from poet Warsan Shire’s Home hit a nerve online recently as the European public finally woke up to the reality of the refugee crisis. Explaining, in short verses, the unthinkable choices refugees must take, Shire writes: “no one puts their children in a boat / unless the water is safer than the land.”

The young Nairobi-born, London-raised writer first drafted another poem about the refugee experience, Conversations about home (at a deportation centre), in 2009 after spending time with a group of young refugees who had fled troubled homelands including Somalia, Eritrea, Congo and Sudan. The group gave a “warm” welcome to Shire in their makeshift home at the abandoned Somali Embassy in Rome, she explains, describing the conditions as cold and cramped. The night before she visited, a young Somali had jumped to his death off the roof. The encounter, she says, opened her eyes to the harsh reality of living as an undocumented refugee in Europe: “I wrote the poem for them, for my family and for anyone who has experienced or lived around grief and trauma in that way.”

Shire was something of a phenomenon well before this poem became famous, though. The New Yorker wrote about her last month: “The Writing Life of a Young, Prolific Poet.”

Her poetry evokes longing for home, a place to call home, and is often nostalgic for memories not her own, but for those of her parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, people who forged her idea of her ancestral homeland through their own stories. With fifty thousand Twitter followers and a similar number of Tumblr readers, Shire, more than most today, demonstrates the writing life of a young, prolific poet whose poetry or poem-like offhand thoughts will surface in one of your social media feeds and often be exactly what you needed to read, or what you didn’t know that you needed to read, at that moment.

And sure enough, I first encountered her work this past weekend, when a stanza from a poem she wrote in 2011 was being passed around in image-meme form in reaction to the Da’esh attacks in Paris. I shared it to my Facebook feed, where it quickly racked up more likes and shares than anything I’ve posted all year.