This paper explores the poetry writing of 15, multilingual ninth graders to construct a practitioner framework for analyzing writing as discourse with multilingual learners (MLs). Grounded in an understanding of poetry as a genre of access for both teachers and students, we asked: How does poetry—read as a specific, situated discourse—reveal linguistic and cultural competence among MLs in an urban, high-school classroom?

Using four tools of Critical Discourse Analysis—situated meaning, significance building, connections building, and identity building—we analyzed student poetry produced via an online mentoring platform. Through applying these lenses, three major themes emerged, which structured our framework: language experimentation, ascribing meaning to adversity, and cultural exchange. We illustrate each component of our framework through a close reading of one poem, “Bolsillos.”

Poetry itself emerges as a discourse providing practitioners access to students’ lived realities, what we term What is. We argue that broader frameworks for approaching student writing can offer a safe space for students to experiment with language, develop unique voices, and make sense of adversity in their lives, evidencing students’ literary deftness in a way that is not manifest in high-stakes writing assessments or conventional classroom writing tasks. We conclude that this approach also provides teachers with critical insight into students’ culture, experiences, and talents, challenging preconceived notions about MLs’ capacity to become proficient in a variety of literacies and affirming linguistic diversity as an asset.