Poetry by bilingual children

9 April 2009 at 7:01 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Sometimes, we so-called professional writers take a more-literary-than-thou attitude towards attempts by beginning language learners to write poetry. We think that poetry classes in schools and communities are well and good, as classes, but they should not be taken seriously as contributions to the grand tradition of world-class poetry (whatever that means). It might be instructive to look at what’s happening in Georgia, where Latinos are being taught to write poetry in English. Melissa Cahmann-Taylor and Dorine Preston argue this way: “We debunk a key misconception about poetry, that it is an elite craft reserved for those who have both talent and Standard English proficiency. We argue that poetry is a powerful genre for developing students’ love of language, especially students in the early stages of Standard English language acquisition. Building upon Hornberger’s (1989, 2003) biliteracy framework, we analyse bilingual and bidialectal poetry by contemporary published poets as well as work by bilingual writers in our one-year poetry workshop.”

They give an example of multilingual criticism in their brief mention of two famous lines from a poem by Lucille Clifton:

the grayer she do get, good God,
the Blacker she do be!

“Rhythm,” they write, “is one of the dependable delights of Clifton’s poetry, and all any reader need do to appreciate vernacular music is ‘translate’ Clifton’s last two lines into ‘standard’ English, something like: ‘the grayer she gets, good God, / the blacker she gets.’ No comparison.” Exactly! Certain poetic effects (in this case, rhythm) can only be achieved through a bilingual poem (here, a bidialectal poem).


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