Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (Book Review)

Who teaches their mother how to give birth? Well, Warsan Shire does. She is Kenyan-born Somali, an artist and activist. In Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth she documents narratives of journey and trauma.

Warsan’s work has been read in South Africa, Italy, and Germany. Add Kenya to the list. She attended the 2013 Storymoja Hay Festival where she read her work alongside African-American Dr Neal Hall, author of Nigger for Life, South Africa’s Mongane Wally Serote , author of Yakhal’Inkomo facilitated by Kenya’s authoress of Minds and Minefields, Njeri Wanagari.

Warsan’s poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. That’s a great success, every author’s dream come true, all the more reason she won the Brunel University African Poetry Prize.

Warsan Shire (Right) Reading her poetry at the 2013 Storymoja Hay Festival in Nairobi. Others are Dr Neal Hall (centre) and Mongane Wally Serote (left).
Authoress, Jane Wangari, facilitating the Voicing the
event at the 2013 Storymoja Hay Festival

Nonetheless, Warsan Shire has had her way (which she wouldn’t have had were it left to me). Her book, only 34 pages, is not a book according to UNESCO who defines a book as bound non-periodical publication having 49 or more pages.

However, the book is simple in all ways: structure, language, setting, themes, name it. I have read it 10 times now. I don’t think I will ever stop Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth any time soon.

The poetry is topical, simple, captivating to read and somehow romantic, with an edge of erotica, the kind of poems you read and say, “Did she really write this?”

Well, the book is the kind of book you read in twenty minutes and go back to read again, wondering whether you were reading a blurb of a bestselling novel. You will love lines like ‘I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes; on my face they are still together’.

As she says in the poem In Love and In War: ‘To my daughter I will say, “When the men come, set yourself on fire”’, I will say: when the bookstores say they have her book, go queue.