US-based urban poet Nayyirah Waheed brings words to life in ‘Nejma’


Now you know a writer is kind of a big deal when Nobel Prize Literature winner Junot Díaz uses the word “incomparable” Vibe.

Contemporary American magazine, carried a poem by her on Afeni Shakur’s death in May of this year.

High schools study her body of work in literature class. The Internet is awash with her poems, in staccato, photo depictions and tattoos of the same. Nayyirah Waheed, is an urban poet with near-sacred folk tales of our generation born from honesty. The US-based Nayyirah pens the passion of her soul and the book Nejma is no different.

She starts with a figurative clearing of the throat that reads: “give me a moment... I am adjusting the roses in my tongue.” Roses are both beautiful and thorny.

Nayyirah’s words are sharp and soft, paradoxical but full of feeling. She touches the place between emotion and thought so effortlessly as though she were breathing. Effortlessly.

“Some words. The way they look at you...”

You pause when you flip a page and that is all there is to read.

“When words take off their clothes. for me. so I can write. them exactly. as they are.”

So words have a personality, character, and feeling, ways only seasoned writers can see and glean even in the driest of moments.

Waheed brings them to life, plays them like instruments, sews them like an excellent seamstress.

Poet for all seasons

Nayyirah’s poetry coveys the message with full force. It is what you need it to be, your perception of her work. She does not tell you what to take home. It is open to a variety of interpretations.

Perhaps the true essence of what real poetry is supposed to be. And of those, very few exist in our generation.

“A poem can eat a person whole. for years.” A line that can answer the Swahili question “nini kikulacho?” (What eats you?)

The impact of Nayyirah’s words are punctuated with full stops that feel like appropriate silences. Haiku like. One sentence punches.

She is got a good command of language and knows how to use it, a poet for all seasons.

As she wrote in Nejma, “let the poems have you.”