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This review is taken from PN Review 230, Volume 42 Number 6, July - August 2016.

Cover of What I SawCover of Unmapped
Alison BrackenburyHome

Warsan Shire,
Her Blue Body, Flat Pamphlet Series (No. 14)
Laura Scott,
What I Saw,The Rialto, £5.50

Emily Wills, Unmapped,
The Rialto, £6.25

Martina Evans, Watch, Rack Press, £5.00
‘I brought the war with me’: Warsan Shire was London’s first Young Poet Laureate, part of the Olympic ‘legacy’. Her pamphlet’s cover describes her as ‘a Kenyan-born Somali writer […] raised in London’. Her poems reveal migrants’ hidden pain: ‘the war’ ever present. ‘I hear its damp breath’.

New British poetry does not often have such terrible subject matter as the legacy Shire confronts: genital mutilation. Her lines build quietly to a final, devastating word. A recovering girl is a ‘mermaid with new legs / soft knees buckling’. ‘Two girls lie in bed […] comparing wounds.’ But Shire also records a range of reactions, equally shocking – and involving. A boy, Hussein, explains (at school?) how it feels to have sex with a girl who has been sewn up. ‘The girl beside me shudders’.

‘At parties I point to my body and say This is where love comes to die. Welcome, come in, make yourself at home’ (‘The House’). In ‘Her Blue Body Full of Light’ cancer’s terrible energy is poured into one long sentence, ‘her throat a lava lamp, sparklers beneath breastbone – ’. Shire’s descriptive ‘fireworks’ are indeed brilliant, but selfless, dedicated to a loved body ‘glowing and glowing, / lit from the inside’.

Her Blue Body is already out of print. I have reviewed it because of the wise strength of poems by a young writer (‘working’ her cover tells us, ‘on her first full collection of poetry’). Displacement, disease and deliberate injury haunt Shire’s work. Yet her poems make their home in love.
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