Poetry best served in “Lemonade”

A London poet’s raw lyrics make Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” a concoction for all.



Grace Gibney, Writer

Walt Whitman once said, “To have great poets, there must be great audiences.” I would imagine Beyoncé had those two considerations in mind when piecing together her visual accompaniment for “Lemonade.”

journey of loneliness

London native Warsan Shire is a woman who understands the journey of loneliness, yet her lyrics teem with underlying self-belief – making her the perfect fit for providing lyrics to “Lemonade.” The 27-year-old was born in Kenya to Somali parents, and was eventually raised in London, where her interest in poetry blossomed.

After graduating from London Metropolitan University in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in creative writing, she released her first chapbook in 2011 — “Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth,” — which marked the start of her deep relationship with poetry enthusiasts worldwide. Her second release in 2015, “Her Blue Body,” only solidified this austere understanding with her readers. After reading Shire’s collective, it is easy to understand why she was named the first Young Poet Laureate of London in 2014.


When considering the ingredients to “Lemonade,” Beyoncé needed a voice that could illustrate the journey of grappling with the shock of husband Jay Z cheating on her. She needed to connect the album’s 11 emotions — intuition, denial, anger, apathy, emptiness, accountability, reformation, forgiveness, resurrection, hope, redemption — alongside themes of black womanhood, infidelity and reconciliation. Shire’s lyrics quenched this need.

Many of the lyrics Beyoncé reads between interludes were tailored from Shire’s previous chapbooks. In one of the beginning scenes of “Lemonade” Beyoncé is trapped underwater, saying “I tried to change / Closed my mouth more / Tried to be softer, prettier, less awake.” She claims Shire’s words as her own, and as I watched the scene unfold, I found myself echoing those lyrics too.

Lyrics of intuition soon transition to lyrics of anger: “I drank the blood and I drank the wine / But still inside me coiled deep was the need to know / Are you cheating on me?” I soon learned the answer to this question. The scene unfolds as Beyoncé strolls gleefully down the street, embracing her fury as she busts the windows of parked cars with a baseball bat to the reggae-tinged lightheartedness of “Hold Up.”


Despite this rage, the emotions of the story lead the audience to forgiveness. An intimate scene unfolds between Beyoncé and Jay Z. The lyrics convey the tenderness, saying “Baptize me. Now that reconciliation is possible, if we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious.” Shire’s words light hope for the superstardom couple as the scene draws to a close.

Shire’s lyrics are the glue that interweaves Beyoncé’s journey. As a viewer, I watched the artist weigh the history of black womanhood through ornate, 1800s style dresswear and Southern landscapes and houses. This historical reference leads Beyoncé to consider her own parents’ history in their failed marriage. Throughout the visual album, her parents’ divorce is a paperweight in her mind as she processes Jay Z’s betrayal. Shire’s word “curse” in “Sandcastles” gives Beyoncé’s family history and lineage a whole new brutal reality as this realization slowly comes up for air. In this visual mastery, I found Beyoncé leading viewers down a path of reconciliation that all can join.

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