My name is Nimo Hussein, and I am a British Somali. I was actually born in Hargeisa but raised in London by my birth mother's sister- who is also my mother- the familial joys of being Somali . I studied History as my BA and MA with research focusing on gender in African societies. I like how old things teach us about new things. I especially love to understand how gender constructs inform who we think we have to be.
Do you remember the first time you wrote a poem and what was it about? Who was the first person you shared it with?
I was 9 years old the very first time I wrote a poem for school. I was surprised to have won a competition and was presented an award by our mayor. All for a very cringey poem about racism ('Racism is bad, it's much more than sad, so don't do this it's totally mad'- my brain refuses to remember the rest as there's only so much embarrassment I can take.)
Your poems speak on variety of topics but one theme that you have consistently and passionately written about is women. You have written about the issue of FGM, about Somali women, about Somali mothers, etc --- what inspires this?
Being a woman is a very big part of who I was taught to be. Much of the conditions of joy and despair of Somalis is tied very closely to womanhood and femininity and how that instructs the idea, and assertion, of masculinity. For me FGM is one of the most important topic for Somalis to discuss and ultimately eradicate. Female Genital Mutilation is not about religion, or history, or culture. It is about making men feel like men. We stand before God Himself and tell Him that He didn't do a good enough job on the bodies of women; that it is up to us to fix His design. And for that little girls die, and mothers die in childbirth and women dread their wedding night and live their entire lives being ripped, cut, sewn, ripped, cut, sewn. This isn't something our elders did that we're getting rid of. In Britain we have 20,000 girls at risk every year, many of whom are Somali. This is a real problem and needs to be talked about. There is a war on the bodies of little girls and we really can't expect a positive nation to spring from such a disgusting act.
I do try not only to challenge however, but also to celebrate, for there is so much resilience and power in Somali womanhood. My mother and father have very different accounts of what life was like when the war started in Hargeisa and they had to flee to Ethiopia. My father through no fault of his own was demoralized, dejected. My mother tells of thinking every single member of her family was murdered but realizing that at the age of 18 years old with only one biological son, she was responsible for the lives of her sibling's children. She would get up before fajr prayer in the camp and make tea (straining the dirty water with a head wrap) and laxoox to sell. This became her business, with which she saved enough money to save the lives of 15 of us. The very fact I am alive is testimony to the strength and the power of Somali mothers. This is why Somali women are a central theme in my writing. In the midst of all the reports of famine and war and disease and war and pirates and war and clans and war, the story of that soldier in the middle holding it all together is never really covered. I am trying to cover it.
what do you do when you go into a dry spell of some sort or how do you write another piece when you have been away from it for some timeDo you sit and think through every word of every stanza or do you just write freely and allow the words to flow?
Writing has really always been something I do, never something that I think. I don't really know where it's going to end up when I first start writing. Many times, I am embarrassed of the product but I always use the same method. I just write. I write a lot that I never share. Some poems and stories, some plots and characters are really about healing myself and I am not yet brave enough to heal with an audience. So I share the work that is general; that is about topics and things in my head and sometimes my heart, but never my fears or heartbreaks. Not yet. I haven't written any poems for a little while and it is always so hard for me to get back into the swing of it when I've left so many words unwritten. But with my dry spells, I can't force myself out of them. The writing will happen. The only sad part is perhaps the stories I neglected to tell in my absence might have been the most needed. I just haven't yet learned how to master myself and my craft to make it work when I am not in the mood.
Who are some of your favorite poets?
One of my favourite poets right now is the Def Poet StaceyAnn Chin. I don't always agree with everything she says but I believe in the power of her thoughts in art. She has passion and is a real social activist. You have to want to change something with your work and she is the embodiment of a revolution waiting in the wings.
But the all time greatest poet in my opinion is Hadrawi- the present occupant of the throne of the Nation of Poets. My parents always recited Hadrawi growing up, and his theme of nationalism and patriotism allowed me to grow up with a sense of pride in my Somaliness, even when it might not necessarily have been considered the 'cool' thing to be. Hats off to Maxahmed Ibrahim Warsame for an unrivaled talent. MashaAllah.
What advice do you have for aspiring poets? Any word of advice for closet poets?
My advice to closet poets is mainly that they may never know who might be healed by their work. It is difficult to understand the power of your words in someone else's life when you don't believe in that power yourself. But think, hasn't someone else's words touched you deeply? or given you clarity? or made you understand the world, or yourself, a bit better? If they can and have, why can't you? Having said that, some work could be about understanding yourself, and for that maybe you don't want, or need to share. That's ok too. But always write without fear.