Chen-ou Liu's Translation Project: First English-Chinese Haiku and Tanka Blog

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

ESL Class Tanka

I used to be...
from an immigrant's mouth
stretches his story --
the pin-drop silence
fills an ESL classroom

(Note: ESL stands for English as a Second Language)

Gusts, 16, Fall/Winter 2012


Appraisal by Keitha Keyes:

This tanka really spoke to me as it reminded me of when I taught ESL to adults.

I used to be…
This is one of the saddest things you hear immigrants or refugees say. Their identity is often based in the past, left behind in their country of origin....

Sometimes when students start to share personal details it is like the opening of a flood gate of thoughts and emotions. The use of the verb stretches is very apt here....

The other students listen in silence. There is no need for a teacher to impose silence on the class. They listen out of respect for their classmate. Perhaps they have had a similar experience. The silence is absolute, captured by the poet...

At the end of the tanka we are left in our dreaming room. What was his story? What is his future? ...

The language in this tanka is simple and concise.
The punctuation when it is used is very effective.
The ellipsis at the end of the first line suggests that the student pauses before he tells his story. It also invites the reader to focus on the student. The em dash at the end of the third line shifts the perspective from the speaker to the rest of the class.