Yrsa Daley-Ward’s transformative poetry took the literary world by storm. Now, her new book The Terrible reveals the life behind the words…
If you’re not a poetry enthusiast, you might have missed 29-year-old Yrsa Daley-Ward’s entry into the collective consciousness last year. The former model was hailed as a major literary talent for her first work, the poetry collection Bone, but she is now branching outside of pure verse with her new memoir, The Terrible. It’s a recounting of Daley-Ward’s experiences growing up as a queer Jamaican-Nigerian woman in the white heartlands of north-west England, raised by a loving, hard-working mother and a man she later discovered wasn’t her biological father. Stylist explores why Daley-Ward is one of the most original new voices in writing…
She self-published her debut poetry collection
After moving to South Africa in 2007, Daley-Ward wandered into a spoken-word event in a Cape Town bar and rediscovered a love of poetry. She began performing and gained local recognition, but it was promoting her work on Instagram that gained her international attention. In 2014, social-media backing enabled her to self-publish Bone, which explored sexuality, religion and mental health issues. It was so popular it was reissued in 2017 to further acclaim.
She writes frankly about sexuality
Daley-Ward doesn’t shy away from the personal. The Terrible explores her experiences as a young girl, beginning to fumble with life under a male gaze and a burgeoning understanding of her queerness while growing up in a religious family. She speaks about the power and powerlessness that young women are subject to in a wholly fresh, clear-eyed way.
She’s honest about mental health
The Terrible extensively documents the struggles of Daley-Ward as she deals with “going under” – her way of expressing the feeling of sinking into depression. Suicide attempts, self-medication and wrenching grief are laid out on the page in unflinching detail.
She mixes poetry and prose
Daley-Ward’s memoir is an unconventional tangle of poetry and prose vignette. In theory, it sounds impenetrable. In practice, it’s achingly effective – you’ll find it hard to come away from The Terrible without a stab of recognition in your chest. Singer Florence Welch has described Daley-Ward’s work as, “like holding the truth in your hands”. We couldn’t agree more.
The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward is out 5 June