Every fifth week I talk about my favorite writers. These are the wordsmiths that have instilled the love of literature in me, nurtured my intellect, kept me sane and whole, and the entire spectrum of feels in between.
nayyirah waheed is a bit of an enigma. When I first discovered her poetry (stumbled upon on Instagram, yay stalking), I spent a solid hour scouring the Internet for anything else I could find. And while her poetry abounds in the Tumblr streets and can be found in other strategic places if you know what to search for, I couldn’t find a single picture of her, nor any particularly personal interviews. That was in 2014. To this day, still, I’ve never, ever seen a picture of her. This is part of her allure. Where most artists rely heavily on their social media accounts to market themselves and promote their brand, waheed very literally lets the work speak for itself. Her Instagram and Tumblr pages are mostly full of pictures of her poetry, as well as pictures of other people who have used her poetry in their captions, or odes to her own favourite artists and inspirations.
The veil of secrecy is fitting given her sparse, minimalist approach to literature. waheed fans know her and love her for her deliciously frugal use of words and unusual employment of punctuation. She somewhat pioneered and popularized this style of writing, and other writers since have either drawn inspiration from it or just jocked her swag completely. Using only full stops (or periods as ye Americans call them) and non-capitalized letters, she creates entire universes in very small spaces and leaves you breathless while doing it.
can calm itself
so can you.
She has previously expressed that she writes in this way - choppy, sharp, unforgiving - because the English language cannot accurately convey all the emotions she is trying to have the poem hold. The language, she says, was not created for us - us being black people. In an https://ezibota.com/nayyirah-waheed/ interview with Ezibota, responding to critics who say her work is not poetry because it doesn’t align with the standards of Shakespeare and Robert Frost and the like, she says: “What is their sound… their mouths to our words, our emotions, expressions, or experiences? We don’t need validation. I actually want their hands off our work. Our work is a different universe, a requiring of a different set of senses. That which they do not fully understand, is meant for them not to understand, as it is not theirs.” What she does with the English language, therefore, is manipulate it. She breaks it down to its smallest pieces, and tries to let individual letters and words tell their own stories.
waheed currently has two bodies of work out: salt. and nejma, which can both be purchased on Amazon. Very different, but sharing the ability to stir up emotions in very few words, they are both worthy pieces of literature to explore. I would definitely recommend them both to anyone who loves the way literature can make you feel nameless feels.