Tea with Cardamom by Warda Yassin

Publisher and release date: The Poetry Business (2019)

Tea with Cardamom is the first poetry collection from New Poets Prize winner Warda Yassin. It is a short book that not only serves as an opportunity for the emerging talent to display her writing ability, but also for her to give readers an accurate and vivid look into British Somali life.

With the opening poem, Victoria Street, Yassin uses the first line to articulate the symptoms of society’s underbelly and the conditions of many immigrant families who are often stuffed into Britain’s corners. Her observation of the street where she spent much of her life on is rich in detail, like many of the poems in the book, and lines such as “Thugs, imams, families, woman beaters / and a pub reside in anarchy” demonstrate this. Yassin is able to maintain this attribute throughout each of her poems as she often takes the role of someone observing existence from a distance. It allows her to easily pick apart the themes of the book – heritage and family. She does this to such a level that it isn’t very surprising when the poet recalls a moment in In Burco where her mother slapped her for staring at something she shouldn’t have, an act that the reader, after reading Yassin’s poems, would expect a much younger Yassin to have done often. Her position in the book of an almost observant child allows her to tell us about what are often saddening experiences from a safe proximity, but due to the poet having lived in these moments, it means the reader doesn’t miss out on any of the details, such as in Small Talk and My Sisters, where the effects of her heritage, and also family, rise to the surface with sharp clarity. Facts & Trivia collects the themes of the book. It is distinctive for giving the reader an outline of a family’s history, bloodied by a nation during a volatile time, through the voice of a daughter who has heard the stories passed on, and, rightfully so, it makes her day-to-day activities seem trivial. Yassin uses the theme of family to also touch on masculinity, and in Sheffield Children’s Hospital, she provides a unique understanding of a young man trapped in a cycle of violence, while other poems like Stories of Boys and Men carry this theme further, expressing masculinity as a tool used by men in order to cope in a world that is often intolerable. Tales is one of the strongest poems in the collection and one of the most memorable. It shows Somalia in a light alien to western media; somewhere that is colourful, vibrant and mysterious and alone acts as a strong case to visit the country.

Yassin’s writing style is delicate yet tightly woven. It stops her poems from becoming uncomfortable or overwhelming but poignant enough to get the emotive messages of her pieces across, albeit from a protected view, which keeps them enjoyable as well as educational. Yassin’s writing doesn’t suffer from a lack of clarity, and it’s easy to see her intentions behind them. Despite them mostly focusing on certain themes, there are pleasant moments within particular poems where her mind seems to drift away from them, such as in A Love Like Skies and Blick. The latter is an excellent example of this: starting out as a poem wanting to change the term blick from being used as an insult, it expands beautifully into a new idea that shows darkness as a warm place where we all choose to sleep, to be safe and be most vulnerable.

Tea with Cardomom is an important book, not only in the writer’s career but also because of the kind of insight it gives into the UK’s societal underbelly and Somali life. It successfully explores how this life is affected by Britain, through a voice that has a refreshing take on its themes and subjects.

  • Buy the book: The Poetry Business
  • Favourite quote: “Have you ever been held by the night, her strong blick arms cloaking you from this alabaster world? Whenever I am tired, she’ll turn off the light, allow me to disappear into kinder shadows, embroider my mother’s body into the nocturnal sky.”

Warda Yassin | Twitter

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