I've been working on this poem since 2012, when I went to an exhibition of Persian literature at the State Library of Victoria called Love and Devotion. I've grown up hearing snippets of Farsi poetry from my maternal grandmother who was a lecturer in Urdu Literature for many years and is from a Farsi-speaking family herself. My grandfather, for his part, had a beautiful singing voice and so long as his Parkinson's allowed, would sing ghazals of an evening. Poetry, and particularly Farsi poetry from which Urdu poetry emerged, was a constant presence in the house when I was little, specially when the family gathered for meals. Imagine then the weirdness of seeing this intimate, personal thing displayed as a curiosity in Australia, thousands of miles away from its origins.
I can't speak Farsi myself, but when I was a child my grandmother would often recite a couplet to me and then ask me to work out what it meant based on what little Urdu I knew at the time. Because Urdu - specially the 'good' Urdu you're taught in school - takes its nouns from Farsi, I could usually work out what the subject of the couplet was and perhaps even the sentiment being expressed. (But because Urdu is an Indian language, which means that the grammar works like that of other North Indian languages and not like that of Farsi, I couldn't - and can't - tell what is actually happening in the poem.) It was a game I enjoyed and one that has helped me focus on the connections between languages rather than the differences.
My Grandmother's Language has gone through many different iterations and edits since my first encounter with the verse that opens it, but it has always had that title. One version of it was shortlisted for the June Shenfield Poetry Award last year, and another served as the dummy poem I gave to my poetry students to practice workshopping earlier this year. - I'm quite happy with the version that eventually got published, but there's no telling how much more I'm going to tinker with it.
Here's the poem as it appeared in Peril.