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American Sign Language Poetry: "Hear My Hands"

Alyssa Dyer
May 27, 2015

Hear my Hands

"Can you hear me? Listen, not with your ears But with your eyes. To you they speak, 
My silent hands. Hear me tell my tale. My beautiful native language. 
Full of color and expression!
 Hear my silent hands. We have a tale to tell, 
A song to sing. Open your eyes and hear and see me speak!
" (Jaswal pg.1).

Language has a powerful affect on mankind. It moves us deeply within our heart and soul. The Deaf Community is contributing to the poetic genre of our world in two specific ways:  Deaf poetry and ASL poetry.

     Deaf poetry is written by those who identify themselves with the Deaf community. John Lee Clark, editor of Deaf American Poetry: An Anthology, states "Collectively, the poems tell the story of the signing community's development and how Deaf people struggle against oppressive forces to discover more about themselves and to celebrate who they are" (Clark pg.1). The strong emotions evoked by a hearing loss can span the spectrum from loneliness to triumph. The classic poem by Willard Madsen entitled, "You Have to be Deaf to Understand", clearly expresses what it means to be Deaf.

          What is it like to be laughed in the face
          When you try to repeat what is said;
          Just to make sure that you understood
          And you find that the words were misread-
          And you want to cry out, "Please help me, friend?"
          You have to be Deaf to understand (Berke Pg.1).

One can also see there are words of encouragement and overcoming hard challenges.
The poem, My Hands, by Stevie Drown, embraces what others may see as a disadvantage:

          Then I looked into the mirror and
          Saw the good this looking back,
          I had to take the positives--
          Put them on the right track.

          I thought a lot about it       
          And now i want to shout,
          The wondrous gifts God gave me
          Outnumber what He left out.

          So let me take the challenge
          In meeting life's demands--
          I have the power to change things,
          And it lives here in my hands (Berke pg 3).

     Deaf poetry  has expanded our understanding and vision into the hearts and minds of the Deaf.  In addition to Deaf poetry, ASL poetry is a beautiful art form that intersects both the hearing and the non-hearing world. Spoken or written poetry may not have the same impact as the images created using visual signs. Words become images.

    ASL poetry has different, special components and characteristics that spoken poetry does not have. It is three dimensional. Body movements convey the meaning. No paper or text is required. The body is the text. The performer paints a picture and makes the poetry come alive, thus enabling people to understand and enjoy this art form.

     Many of the components of the ASL poetry are similar to the signing of ASL. Hand shape is the first aspect.. In poetry, the same hand shape used repetitively is indicative of rhyming words. Non-manual signs such as head, mouth, and eyebrow movement may be exaggerated for greater effect. Movement is also very important. Signing in slow motion can have a dramatic effect on the audience. ASL poetry also utilizes simultaneous right/left signing. For example, the right hand is continually "crying" while the left hand is telling the story. In addition to simultaneous signing, this poetic form can use multiple people. The team of Peter Cook and Keith Wann entertain their audiences around the world with four hands signing simultaneously with one performer standing behind the other. The visual and descriptive imagery made with signs allow those that might not know ASL to understand the message of the poem.

     Language is powerful. It has the ability to reach to the very core of humanity The arts help us express the struggles of life we all encounter. Deaf poetry and ASL poetry  provide an outlet for the Deaf community to express, educate, enlighten and entertain society about Deaf culture. "Listen carefully and you will hear the heart beat of the Deaf. You will gain access to their world and their understanding and culture. You are privileged to be allowed to glimpse inside their world. Handle it gently. Allow yourself to feel what they feel to experience what they have experienced. Allow it to impact with this world. If you do, you will be forever changed" (Deaf World Ministries).

Works Cited:

. Jaswal, Anita. "Listen To Her Hand." FG:. Arap Media, 1 June 2013. Web. 27 May 2015.

2. Clark, John Lee. Deaf American Poetry. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

3. Berke, Jamie. "Poetry by Deaf and Hard of Hearing People." N.p., n.d. Web. 27 May 2015.

4. Berke, Jamie. "Poetry by Deaf and Hard of Hearing People." N.p., n.d. Web. 27 May 2015.

5. "Expressions of the Heart." Deaf World Ministries. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 May 2015.


Also see: Deaf Poetry: "Hearts and Hands"


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