Somalis + Minnesota: A Nation of Poets

For immediate release

Release dated: 
March 5, 2018
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, 651-259-3148, jessica.kohen@mnhs.org 
Lauren Peck, 651-259-3137, lauren.peck@mnhs.org

Somalis + Minnesota: A Nation of Poets

Excerpted from MNopedia “Somali Poetry in Minnesota” by Ahmed Ismail Yusuf

Somali poetry is a unique art form with an ancient history and a living legacy. Since 1991, it has connected Somali and Somali American refugees living in the United States with those who remain in their East African homeland. In the 21st century, Somali Minnesotans have kept their poetic traditions alive by forming arts groups, organizing public performances in the Twin Cities and encouraging young people to become poets.

Historically, the most popular and powerful genre of Somali poetry has been gabay, one of several genres within the overall field of poetry (maanso). Poets turn to gabay to list, announce, and remember times of plenty as well as hardship, and to grieve over as well as celebrate the tumult of life’s uncertainties.

Somali poetry follows strict rules that dictate scansion, alliteration and pacing. The following poem was written in 1979 for the UNESCO proclaimed “International Year of the Child.” The proclamation was intended to draw attention to problems that affected children throughout the world. Poet Said Salah Ahmed moved to Minneapolis with his family in the early 1990s; he is currently a teaching specialist at the University of Minnesota.

“To the Midwife” by Said Salah Ahmed

The mother we don’t acknowledge;
The mother ignored,
Neglected
And unknown
Is you: the mother who is midwife.

A woman keens with contractions,
Labours under pain,
Utterly reliant
On your compassion and care:
You mother her, midwife.

Each tongue the world speaks
When a child is born,
The welcome
At the threshold of life
Is you, mother midwife.

From the day the egg
Implants in the womb,
As the earth’s
Troubles stir,
As the child is counted,
He gazes,
Hard-breathing,
He cries.
The first in awe,
Enamoured,
Is you: the mother who is midwife.

You are intent
On the baby’s being;
First guide on the path
Of his wobbly walk,
That he might be as good as he can:
One who atones for us.

Visitors to the exhibit can hear more Somali poetry and explore how this work is reaching worldwide audiences.