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Warsan Shire: young poet laureate wields her pen against FGM


London poet shows solidarity with Fahma Mohamed with poem calling on Michael Gove to involve schools in FGM campaign

Sign our petition asking Michael Gove to tackle FGM in schools
Watch Warsan's video here

Warsan Shire, London's first young poet laureate, has written a poem backing the campaign calling on the education secretary, Michael Gove, to write to all headteachers telling them to inform teachers and parents about the risks of female genital mutilation.

Shire, viewed as one of the outstanding poets of her generation, is supporting the campaign led by 17-year-old Bristol schoolgirl Fahma Mohamed, and backed by the Guardian and FGM campaigners.

She believes awareness needs to be raised to ensure that the practice is eradicated. More than 207,000 have signed the petition.

Shire is the daughter of Somali parents who moved to London.

She is part of a new wave of British Somali writers and activists.

"I write poems on FGM because I have been raised and loved by a community where many people I know have undergone this procedure. To work towards the eradication of this practice, their voices need to be heard."

One of her earlier poems, The Things We Lost in the Summer was inspired by the experiences of people she knew who were to be cut when they were on the cusp of puberty.

Her new poem, Girls, was written exclusively for Fahma's campaign and is read by Warsan on theguardian.com on Monday. The poet hopes that it gives voice to how FGM is viewed from different perspectives.

The 2013 winner of the Brunel Prize for African Poetry, Shire's work has been described by one of the judges as reflecting 'a remarkable instinct or freshness of language and insightful ideas. It is especially exciting to read a poet who manages to combine a commitment to substance and urgent subject material with the craft to turn it into illuminating and moving poetry.'

Shire's debut anthology, 'Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth', published in 2011 is currently Amazon's No 1 best seller for African American poetry despite Warsan being British. Her work has also been translated into Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish and Estonian and she has recited in South Africa, Germany, Canada, America and Kenya.

The aim of the End FGM campaign which was started two weeks ago by Fahma Mohamed is to have the facts about FGM taught in all UK schools. Gove has agreed to meet Fahma at the end of this month.

• This article was amended on 17 February, 2014 to correct a detail of Warsan Shire's family biography and to amend a quote given to the reporter.

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