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Poets speak out for refugees: ‘No one leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark’

Poet Warsan Shire

Poet Warsan Shire / Photograph by Amaal Said

“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.”

There are a few versions of Home “floating around the strange streets of the internet,” says Shire. The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas was among the political figures who tweeted it, and the poem has been included in the video of a charity single fronted by Benedict Cumberbatch. Shire’s repugnance at the “disgusting, ugly, horrific inhumane atrocities [that] happen when we allow people to be dehumanised” is strongly reflected in Home:

And you are greeted on the other side
with
go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage –
look what they’ve done to their own countries,

Shire was named the first young poet laureate for London, aged 24, and has won numerous awards; she also teaches workshops on exploring memory and healing trauma through the power of the spoken word.

Read the full article at The Guardian

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