In this collection of poetry, Moskovitz gives the traditional Mother Goose nursery rhymes an inner-city spin. She depicts the stark reality of urban life, drawing attention to social issues such as poverty, crime, racism, unemployment, poor housing, and police brutality.
One key difference between this collection and more traditional nursery rhymes is the use of language. While traditional nursery rhymes use comforting, dreamy, and child-friendly language, this collection uses urban slang, explosive phrases, expletives, and crude imagery to describe urban life. Examples of "inner-city" language include:
• "Pigs" (police officers)
• "Junkies" (drug addicts)
• "Bums" (homeless people)
• "Wino" (a person who drinks excessive amounts of alcohol)
• "Pushers” (a person who sells drugs)
• "Junk" (heroin)
Clearly, we would not expect to find these phrases in traditional nursery rhymes. The use of urban language (specifically from the 1960s and 1970s) is crucial in creating the powerful impact that The Inner City Mother Goose has on many readers.
Firstly, Moskovitz’s use of urban language paints a realistic and detailed picture of inner-city life. The use of appropriate language, phrases, terminology, and dialect is a subtle yet effective way in which writers can make their literary settings feel authentic. For example, if Moskovitz used the dialect of a middle-class Victorian person, the collection would not have the same impact. By including urban language, Moskovitz's inner-city setting appears more believable, vivid, and authentic.
The inner-city language also brings attention to key issues faced by urban communities. Many of Moskovitz’s phrases are concerned with issues such as homelessness, drug use, and police brutality. The fact that people within these communities have colloquial phrases to describe these situations suggests that they are commonplace. For example, we might consider why members of this community would refer to police officers as "pigs," which suggests feelings of animosity between the community and the police force. Through her use of urban language, Moskovitz reveals the key social issues experienced by urban communities.
The use of inner-city language also contributes to the shock-factor of this collection. The Inner City Mother Goose is a controversial text, partly because it uses titles, rhyme schemes and structures from traditional nursery rhymes to paint a crude and graphic picture of inner-city life. For example, Moskovitz subverts the traditional nursery rhyme title "Pease Porridge Hot” in her poem “Poverty Program Hot, Poverty Program Cold."
The use of urban language contributes to the sense of shock a reader might feel when they read this collection. For example, the first poem in the collection opens with lines we might expect to see in a nursery rhyme:
Boys and girls come out to play,
The moon doth shine as bright as day.
Leave your supper and leave your sleep,
And join your playfellows in the street.
These cheerful and positive lines are closely followed by an expletive, making clear that these poems will not be your typical nursery rhymes. Essentially, the comfortable and sheltered worlds of traditional nursery rhymes are challenged and disrupted by this explosive collection of poetry, which presents readers with a shocking picture of inner-city life.
By using graphic and crude language, Moskovitz makes a crucial point about the experiences of children from different socio-economic backgrounds. Although parents might complain that this collection is not appropriate for children, Moskovitz points out that inner-city children often do not have the luxury of being sheltered from the real world. In fact, many children experience social issues such as poverty, homelessness, and crime directly in their lives, and their parents are unable to shelter them from it. While nursery rhymes traditionally offer shelter from the dismal and distressing realities of society, this collection holds a mirror to it.
Finally, the use of inner-city language contributes to the contrast between the child-like form of the poems, and the harsh subject matter. Moskovitz uses the simplistic and child-like forms, rhyme schemes, and meters traditionally found in nursery rhymes. However, the poems often include crude language and discuss troubling topics such as crime, drug addiction, and police brutality. This creates a disconcerting and uncomfortable contrast, emphasizing the fact that many innocent children are unjustly exposed to harsh living conditions and distressing social issues.