Meet the Poet Who Inspired Beyoncé

ARTS

Beyoncé’s latest album is full of heartbreak, jealousy—and quiet poetry. Meet the young woman who is credited second only to Queen Bey on Lemonade. (BBC)

Just in time for National Poetry Month, browse through more verse with our collection of content about poems, poets, and poetry.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Warning: The poem analyzed in today’s Current Event Connection contains adult themes (violence, racism) and language. The section of the poem we analyze does not contain these verses.

Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is a young poet from Houston, Texas. Who inspires her? Photograph by Asterio Tecson, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-2.0

Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is a young poet from Houston, Texas. Who inspires her?
Photograph by Asterio Tecson, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-2.0

Discussion Ideas

 

  • One of Warsan Shire’s most famous poems is “Home.” Read it here. “Home” addresses the outlook and circumstance of refugees in the contemporary world. Consider its opening:
    no one leaves home unless
    home is the mouth of a shark
    What literary device does Shire use in that breathtaking second line?

    • It’s a metaphor, an understanding of one concept in terms of another concept. Specifically, it’s an ontological metaphor. This means an abstract idea (the concept of home) is represented as something very real and concrete (the mouth of a shark).

 

  • What makes that second line such as powerful metaphor?
    • Both sides of the metaphor—home and the mouth of a shark—are immediately familiar, even if you don’t have a permanent home and you’ve never seen a real-life shark.
      • home. The concept of home doesn’t have to be a permanent place of residence. It is often a metaphor for feelings of familiarity, comfort or comfortability, and assurance. At home, or surrounded by people with whom you are “at home,” you don’t have to worry about the language you’re speaking or being literally misunderstood. You don’t have to constantly keep track of your belongings. You don’t have to navigate an unfamiliar area. You can relax, and think about what you want to (as opposed to the immediate practicalities of survival).
      • mouth of a shark. This concept is instant and unambiguous—danger. (A later metaphor in the poem compares home to the barrel of a gun.) The violence associated with the mouth of a shark is often also identified with brutal chaos and a frenzied desperation to escape. In the mouth of a shark (in the mouth, not just near it) the likelihood of being violently consumed is almost certain.
        • Home, the mouth of the shark, speaks to the refugee at the end of the poem:
          leave,
          run away from me now
          i dont know what i’ve become
          but i know that anywhere
          is safer than here

 

  • We’ll end on a lighter note—back to Beyoncé. Does she use metaphors in her lyrics?
    • Not as often as you’d think! Lots of pop songwriters use metaphors in their lyrics, but, in general, Beyoncé seems pretty literal. (“Halo,” a single from 2009, is an exception—a big hit that relies on metaphors and symbols.)
      • Do you think this makes her lyrics any more or less accessible, or able to be identified with?
      • Do you think this makes her lyrics any more or less “poetic”—emotional, expressive, or imaginative?
      • Can you think of other artists who don’t rely on metaphors in their lyrics?
      • Can you think of artists who do?

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

BBC: There’s more to Warsan Shire than the Beyoncé video

Nat Geo: Poems, poetry, and poets

SeekersHub: “Home” by Warsan Shire

New Yorker: The Writing Life of a Young, Prolific Poet

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