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Dr Shazia Jagot on her favourite poem

Here, Dr Shazia Jagot discusses her favourite poem, 'Tea with our grandmothers', by Warsan Shire.
Hi everyone, I’m here to share with you reflections on a favourite poem the poem that I’ve chosen comes from a collection that was published in 2011, by the poet Warsan Shire. Warsan Shire is a British Somali poet who won the Young Poet Laureate of London award in 2014 and who had a fantastic collaboration with Beyoncé on Beyoncé’s inconic album ‘Lemonade’ which came out in 2016. And Shire’s poetry is interwoven throughout that album it’s kind of the spine, or the backbone of that album.
The poem that I want to share with you today comes from a collection that’s called ‘Teaching my mother how to give birth’ and it’s called ‘Tea with our grandmothers’, Now I’ll start just by reading it out loud. “The morning your habooba died, I thought of my ayeeyo, the woman I was named after, Warsan Baraka, skin dark like tamarind flesh, who died grinding cardamom waiting for her sons to come home and raise the loneliness they’d left behind, or my mother’s mother, Noura with the honeyed laugh, who broke cinnamon barks between her palms, nursing her husband’s stroke, her sister’s cancer, and her own bad back with broken Swahili and stubborn Italian, and Doris the mother of your English rose, named after the the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, the Welsh in your blood from the land of Cymry, your grandmother who dreams of clotted cream in her tea through the swell of diabetes, then I thought of your habooba Al-Sura, God keep her, with three lines on each cheek, a tally of surviving, the woman who cooled your tea pouring it like the weight of deeds between bowl and cup, until the steam would rise like a ghost.”
There’s lots of reasons why I’m drawn to this poem. I really enjoyed the fact that it uses non English terms to refer to the grandmothers, so this term ‘habooba’ in the first line is an Arabic word for grandmother that’s primarily used in the Sudan ‘ayeeyo’ is the Somali word for grandmother, I love that this is set alongside ‘Cymry’, for instance. I thinking about Wales and these grandmothers are set aside a Welsh grandmother Doris. I am also fascinated with the way it uses ‘tea’ thinking about tea, thinking about drinking tea with your grandmothers in fact as a kind of homely act.
And that this is juxtaposed with some of the, some of the really kind of traumatic experiences that these grandmothers have undergone. I also really love the imagery. So I’m drawn to phrases like ‘skin dark like tamarind flesh’ or the ‘honeyed laugh’ and the ‘cinnamon barks’, the ‘clotted cream in her tea’, so thinking about the sibilance in that, and the alliteration and that also, all of these phases reflect or are part of a wider discourse, or wider sytax of thinking of tea and what we might put in our tea. So there’s lots of reasons why I’m intrigued by this poem, lots of reasons why I’m fascinated by it.

In this video, Dr Shazia Jagot discusses her favourite poem, ‘Tea with our grandmothers’ by Warsan Shire, from her collection Teaching my mother how to give birth. In Dr Jagot’s video she discusses the use of non-English terms, tea, and Shire’s connection to Beyoncé…

Read ‘Tea with our grandmothers’ by Warsan Shire in the Black Renaissance journal.

Shire, Warsan. Black Renaissance; New York Vol. 14, Iss. 1, (Spring 2014): 66,183.

For more on Warsan Shire, and to read some of her poems online, you can visit the Poetry Foundation website.

Poetry Foundation Website – Warsan Shire

Over to you

Consider this prompting question and let us know what you think in the comments section. We look forward to hearing from you!

What do you think of Shire’s poem? What’s your favourite part? Let us know in the comments.

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Poetry: How to Read a Poem

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