For 25 years poet Warsan Shire lived in a “pretty poor” part of London but felt like an outsider in the city. Now 12 months after representing the capital as London’s first Young Poet Laureate (YPL) she said she feels pride for the city and part of it.
On 3 October last year, National Poetry Day, Ms Shire was announced as the city’s inaugural YPL by Carol Ann Duffy, Britain’s Poet Laureate.
It triggered a year of residences ranging from the Houses of Parliament to beauty salons and “beautiful sheds” as well as the creation of a body of work which represented how she saw an ever-changing London, which in turn changed her.
“It started with a residency at the Houses of Parliament around women and democracy,” Ms Shire said.”
It was really surreal and a world within a world – they have a barber shop and they eat jerk chicken one day every week.
“But I wanted to speak to the different staff like the kitchen staff and the cleaners to get all their stories.
“You become really immersed in those surroundings and I wrote about things and topics I wouldn’t usually delve into.”
Ms Shire, who has performed around the world, won Brunel University’s African Poetry prize and had a poem listed as one of the 50 greatest international love poems over the past 50 years.
But despite her various high profile accolades she said one of her favourite residences was working in a Chingford school.When you see young people struggling to express themselves and you suddenly see the idea land and connect, that moment is amazing,” she said.
Despite being born in Kenya to Somali parents, Ms Shire grew up in Wembley and Harlesden.
She said: “I’ve lived here my whole entire life, but I always used to have this idea that I didn’t feel like I belonged, but after this year it feels so much more like home.
“I think because I could travel to so many different parts of it I really understood community and how different neighbourhoods work and now I have this pride.”