Poems on immigration

Many poems and songs lyrics have been written about immigration, immigrants' experiences and related issues. This lesson invites you to explore a few selected poems and song lyrics. You may find that you want to explore more poems and songs by one or more of these writers in preparation for an individual oral or HL Essay.

  1. Place each poem on a different table in your classroom. Walk around the room and visit each table and read each poem. At each table, there should be three mind maps: one labelled 'perspective', another labelled 'representation' and another labelled 'culture'. Write your ideas around these words and other words that people have added to the mind maps before moving around the room to the next poem in this 'gallery walk'. 

  2. Perspective Representation Culture
    Whose perspective does this poem take? How does this poem How are immigrants represented in the poem?  How does this poem challenge or reinforce people's culture and value system?

    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
    “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
    With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    We came from our own country in a red room
    which fell through the fields, our mother singing
    our father’s name to the turn of the wheels.
    My brothers cried, one of them bawling, Home,
    , as the miles rushed back to the city,
    the street, the house, the vacant rooms
    where we didn’t live any more. I stared
    at the eyes of a blind toy, holding its paw.

    All childhood is an emigration. Some are slow,
    leaving you standing, resigned, up an avenue
    where no one you know stays. Others are sudden.
    Your accent wrong. Corners, which seem familiar,
    leading to unimagined pebble-dashed estates, big boys
    eating worms and shouting words you don’t understand.
    My parents’ anxiety stirred like a loose tooth
    in my head. I want our own country, I said.

    But then you forget, or don’t recall, or change,
    and, seeing your brother swallow a slug, feel only
    a skelf of shame. I remember my tongue
    shedding its skin like a snake, my voice
    in the classroom sounding just like the rest. Do I only think
    I lost a river, culture, speech, sense of first space
    and the right place? Now, Where do you come from?
    strangers ask. Originally? And I hesitate.

    no one leaves home unless
    home is the mouth of a shark
    you only run for the border
    when you see the whole city running as well

    your neighbours running faster than you
    breath bloody in their throats
    the boy you went to school with
    who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
    is holding a gun bigger than his body
    you only leave home
    when home won’t let you stay.

    no one leaves home unless home chases you
    fire under feet
    hot blood in your belly
    it’s not something you ever thought of doing
    until the blade burnt threats into
    your neck
    and even then you carried the anthem under
    your breath
    only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
    sobbing as each mouthful of paper
    made it clear that you would not be going back.

    you have to understand,
    that no one would put their children in a boat
    unless the sea is safer than the land
    no one burns their palms
    under trains
    beneath carriages
    no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
    feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
    means something more than journey.
    no one crawls under fences
    wants to be beaten
    wants to be pitied

    no one chooses refugee camps
    or strip searches where your
    body is left aching
    or prison,
    because prison is safer
    than a city of fire
    and one prison guard
    in the night
    is better than a truckload
    of men who look like your father
    no one could take it
    no one could stomach it
    no one's skin would be tough enough

    go home blacks
    dirty immigrants
    asylum seekers
    sucking our country dry
    niggers with their hands out
    they smell strange
    messed up their country and now they want
    to mess ours up
    how do the words
    the dirty looks
    roll off your backs
    maybe it's because the blow is softer
    than a limb torn off

    or the words are more tender
    than fourteen men between
    your legs
    or the insults are easier
    to swallow
    than rubble
    than bone
    than your child body
    in pieces.
    i want to go home,
    but home is the mouth of a shark
    home is the barrel of the gun
    and no one would leave home
    unless home chased you to the shore
    unless home told you
    to quicken your legs
    leave your clothes behind
    crawl through the desert
    wade through the oceans
    be hungry
    forget pride
    your survival is more important

    no one leaves home unless home is a sweaty voice in your ear
    run away from me now
    i dont know what i’ve become
    but i know that anywhere
    is safer than here

    Shopping in London winter
    is a real drag for the fat black woman
    going from store to store
    insearch of accommodating clothes

    and the weather so cold

    Look at the frozen think mannequins
    fixing her with grin
    and de pretty face salesgals
    exchanging slimming glances
    thinking she don't notice

    Lord is aggravating

    Nothing sof and gright and billowing
    to flow like breezy sunlight
    when she walking

    The fat black woman curses in Swahili/Yoruba
    and nation language under her breathing
    all this journeying and journeying

    The fat black woman culd only conclude
    that when it comes to fashion
    the choice is lean

    Nothing much beyond size 14

    When the palefaces came in their whitewing'd canoes,
    Long ago, from the sun-rising sea
    When they ask'd for a lodge, and we did not refuse
    Happy then was the red man, and free.
    He could then choose a spot for his wigwam to stand,
    Where the forest was crowded with game;
    For the blue-rolling lake and the ever smiling land
    Were his own till the palefaces came
    For the broad grassy plains and the forests deep and grand,
    Were his own till the palefaces came.

    They came! they came! like the fierce prairie flame,
    Sweeping on to the sun-setting shore:
    Gazing now on its waves, but a handful of braves,
    We shall join in the the chase nevermore
    Till we camp on the plains where the Great Spirit reigns,
    We shall join in the chase nevermore.

    We receiv'd them with gladness, as Sons of the Sky
    We believ'd them of heavenly birth;
    But alas! to our sorrow we found by and by,
    That like us they were born of the earth.
    By their false traders wrong'd, by their firewater craz'd,
    There was no one our braves to restrain;
    So the swift flew, and the tomahawk was raise'd
    While we both mourn'd the blood of our slain;
    So the smoke-wreath did cease from the calumet of peace,
    While we both mourn'd the blood of our slain.

    When the oaks, pines and cedars were fell'd to the ground,
    'Twas a sight that with sorrow we saw;
    For the game fled affrighted, and no food was found
    For the old chief, the papoose and squaw.
    Driven westward we came, but the paleface was here,
    With his sharp axe and death-flashing gun;
    And his great iron horse is rumbling in the rear
    "O, my brave men!" your journey is done.
    Like the beaver and elk like the buffalo and deer
    "O, my brave men!" your journey is done.

  3. After having read all of these poems and making your class's mind maps, compare and contrast the mind maps on the three concepts: perspective, representation and culture. How might these other concepts be relevant to these poems: transformation, communication, creativity and identity? Discuss the similarities and differences between these poems as a class, with regards to the concepts.

  4. Can you find another text, either literary or non-literary, that relates to this theme of immigration? Do an individual search and place a copy of your text on a wall in your class or a virtual wall (such as Stormboard, Padlet or Pinterest). Give everyone in your class 2 minutes to explain their contribution to the others.

  5. Where on your class' (virtual) board do you see connections between texts that you have found on immigration? Form groups of 2-3 students. Take one of the six question from Intertextuality below and discuss your answers as smaller groups about the texts that you have chosen:

    • How can texts be typical or atypical, conventional or unconventional?

    • How can the conventions of a text type evolve over time?

    • What can diverse texts have in common?

    • To what extent can a text be considered a ‘classic’?

    • How can different texts offer different perspectives on a topic, issue or theme?

    • How can comparing and interpreting texts be transformative for the reader?

  6. Report to your class on your group's discussion. As a class discuss how these texts may be useful for the individual oral, the HL Essay or a practice Paper 1 analysis.
Approaches to teaching

One of the approaches to teaching is: Teaching for conceptual understanding. This lesson shows you how a few mind maps, a (virtual) wall of texts and a few discussion question from the areas of exploration encourage conceptual thinking.

Last modified: Monday, 24 February 2020, 4:16 PM