• Sabine Little


Recently, for World Poetry Day, I asked people on Twitter about poetry that features multiple languages, or poetry that focuses on aspects of migration, identity and belonging. Over two decades ago, when I first moved to the UK, 'Poems on the Underground' was in its heyday. Newly arrived, I remember sitting in a carriage on the Central Line that would take me from College to my shared flat in Hackney, when I first came across the poem 'Immigrant', by Fleur Hadcock. My arrival to the UK pre-dates the internet, so it took me many years to realise that Fleur Adcock had immigrated from New Zealand, but the description as she tests her accent by repeating 'St James's Park' reminds me of what friends tell me was my tell-tale Germanically-pronounced word, long after all other German traces had disappeared: 'Debenhams'.

Via the magic of Twitter, Oren (@LangPol_JER) introduced me to the beautiful poem 'Pine' by Lea Goldberg (here in a wonderful translation by Rachel Tzvia Back), set to music and extended by Nini Achinoam (Noa). I love both the poem and the song, which is also bilingual, and the 'heartache of two homelands' resonates with many of the families I have worked with.

A beautiful poem from the perspective of a monolingual person is Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's 'Language(s)', which looks like a wonderful way to kick-start discussions about multilingualism in the classroom. When I went into a multilingual classroom reading 'The Town Musicians of Bremen' and encouraging children to tell me the words for 'donkey', 'dog', 'cat' and 'cockerel' in their home languages, the teacher told me children who were typically silent were participating enthusiastically, and the whole class had fun trying to imitate 'cockadoodledoo' in multiple languages.

Searching for Rhina Espaillat's poem 'Bilingual/Bilingüe', I found a recording of the author reading it herself. The poem is, in its essence, about family language policy, about a father's fears that his daughter will lose the family language, and how the daughter manages to combine two languages into one heart. I particularly love this poem because of the intergenerational aspect, because it reflects all the families who have spoken to me about the language they are trying to pass on, and fears that children may not understand their heritage. I have written about some of the conversations I have had and witnessed, and how families might work together to help understand each other, and, hopefully, avoid parents standing by the children's bedroom doors in fear.

Back on Twitter, Laura (@LauraSKh) shared with me an amazing trilingual poem 'Malay Sketches' by Singaporean/Australian poet Aisyah Shah Idil, which beautifully illustrates her loss of the Jawi script and her Malay mother tongue, blanking out all words she has no knowledge of. The poem has a very strong visual impact, before we even engage with the content - again, a wonderful way to explore multilingualism in the classroom.

Finally - and I am currently waiting to receive this - this picture book by Jorge Argueta and Alfonso Ruano is a collection of poems about children from Central America migrating to the States. 'Somos como las nubes/We Are Like The Clouds" has been translated by Elisa Amado, and I'm grateful to the lovely people at Planet Picture Book (@plapibo) for pointing it out to me. After I have read it, it will make its way to the multilingual children's library, for others to enjoy.

I am sure I have overlooked plenty of wonderful work, so please do share any you are aware of :)