Writing Poetry in English as a Second Language – Fang-Yu Liao


Writing Poetry in English as a Second Language 


Poetic Auto Ethnographer: Fang-Yu Liao

Participant: Second Langauge Writer of Poetry

Project: Meaningful literacy in a second language

Source: Liao, F. (2020). When my professor tells me to write poetry in my second language: A poetic autoethnography. In B. Yazan, S. Canagarajah, & R. Jain (Eds.), Autoethnographies in ELT: Transnational Identities, Pedagogies, and Practices (pp. 57-74). Routledge: New York, NY.



My heart started to pounder and wonder...



You must be kidding me?

How can I write poetry?

Poetry like

Shakespeare’s Sonnet?


classic poems from Chinese poets?

Not even a poet in my first languages.

Never written any poems in Mandarin.

What should I do?

Can I survive from this class?


Smile on my face,

to convince myself,

I can do it......





Closing eyes we all sat,

I felt relaxed and comfortable.

This time,

I neither worried

whether I had to rhyme or use figurative languages

nor felt

inclined to compare myself as L2 writers with L1 professional poets.

I don’t feel like I need to become writers like L1.

I don’t feel inferior compared to L1 writers.

I am myself.

My poems don’t have to be a masterpiece

from others’ point of view.

I am not requesting appreciations from others. It’s

expressing and re-experiencing

my emotional, personal, meaningful insights

about my own understanding of my life experiences.

I am one of its kind as an L2 writer.



Closing my eyes,

I went back to the memory: writing poetry

for the very first time.

I use Chinese characters

for the very first time.

Why did I use Chinese characters?

I didn’t know how to use English

to phonetically spell these words correctly.

I didn’t want to disrupt my writing and thinking process.

I felt if I do use the English phonetics instead of Chinese characters,

it lost its beauty and the original meaning of it.

I questioned the need to translate Chinese into English

for whose convenience?

It doesn’t represent

my linguistic competence

my writer’s identity

as the agent of my own writing pieces.

Writing poetry in a second language,

does not mean

to abandon or downgrade my first languages.


I feel proud of my multilingual and multi-cultural resources.



First day in class

The instructor asked us about our interests of creative writing

I was the 8th to speak about

my poetry writing experience in a second language

my belief on values of applying poetry writing to L2 students

There were four more students

but the introducing process stopped

The instructor started to give us a lesson

a study that examines 25000 student writings

why some are considered as

good” writing whereas some are not

divided into three piles

expressive (writing for self; 4%)

poetic (writing for own sake; 9%; problematic term)

transactional (writing for audience; good writing; 87%)

It implied

ESL poetry writing plays the poetic function of language



The instructor was bothered by the term “poetry”

we use in the field of Applied Linguistics

Why can’t you come up with new term to describe it?

“There are different concepts of poetry used in different disciplines,

and what I use is the definition that Hanauer used.”

Who can define poetry? Who has the right to define poetry?

Even Aristotle didn’t define it.

“What about terms like ‘ESL poetry’ or ‘EFL haiku’?”

None of the above the instructor satisfied with . . .


An Indian lady I assumed,

joined the conversation.

Looking at me and said:

You are not on the same page.

ESL poetry is not poetry because it’s



”NO!!!!!!!!!!!” I jumped in and replied.


Nobody was on my side or supported my ideas,

not even the instructor in the class.


but I tried to keep smiling and being polite.

When the class time was over,

I felt eager to leave the classroom right away.

Literary, RIGHT AWAY!!!

I can’t stand it for another second to be present in that environment.

I rushed out silently and alone.

My mask I put on crushed.

I couldn’t fake it anymore.