Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Deaf American Poetry

For anyone with even a passing interest in Deaf culture, Deaf American Poetry edited by John Lee Clark and published by Gallaudet University Press is essential reading. It is also a book that anyone teaching a course in disability literature needs to keep handy on their shelf. Quite simply, what Clark does is chart the development of Deaf poetry in the United from the poems written by deaf writers in from the early 1800’s up through today. He accomplishes this by introducing each poet in historical and social context, then supplying and exam of the poets work. The journey takes the reader from John R. Burnett to contemporary poets like Raymond Luczak and John Christopher Heuer. Along the way the way poets tackle such a wide range of topics as whether a Deaf poet can actually pray (no lie – that is the kind of ignorance that the Deaf faced) to the linguistic and translation issues of American Sign language poetry.
The resistance to translation comes from a somewhat different direction than some readers might expect. As Clark points out, something is always lost in translation, which is why ASL poets like Clayton Valli strenuously resisted having their work translated into print until he was able to see what a poet of the caliber of Ray Luczak could do with his work. Was Valli right in resisting? That is something readers will have to judge, but Luczak’s rendering of Valli’s popular poem “A Dandelion”it does give readers not literate in ASL some sense of what creating poetry in ASL is about. Other writers have tried incorporating ASL poetic techniques into traditional print poems.
Naturally, anyone trying to define the parameters of a genre are going to include as well as exclude, so we do not really know who Clark may have excluded among contemporary poets who are biologically deaf, but who do not consider themselves part of Deaf culture. Every anthology is political to some extent, though, and Clark’s book is an extremely important one.


Anonymous Adrean Clark said...

Thanks for the review! :)

August 12, 2009  

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