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A Deaf Poetics
Part II, an interview with ASL/deaf poet Peter Cook
 More of this Feature
• Part I
• Part III

In our continuing feature on Deaf Poetry, meet Peter Cook, an outstanding Deaf poet, purveyor of a gestural style that sends dance and theater flying back to their original roots as poetry. Peter is also a poetry activist, and in his work with the deaf & hearing poetry duo, Flying Words Project, has brought American Sign Language (ASL) poetry to hearing audiences around the world. Peter currently lives in Chicago with his partner Candace and their newborn son, where he teaches and acts along with “writing”/performing poetry. I’ve worked on numerous poetry videos with the Cookie Monster (signing is filled with nicknames -- Peter Cookie Monster calls me Blob), including his appearances in Words in Your Face and The United States of Poetry on PBS.

This interview was conducted via the Internet. The thrilling conclusion will appear next week.

Bob Holman


How has the Web affected Deaf Poetry? Deaf in general?


To tell you truth, I have not seen any homepages for Deaf Poetry. I have seen some written works, not performance poetry -- I found them under “ASL Literature” at several college home pages. However, I can tell you that the Internet does change the way we communicate. With it, we are able to reach any info like other people. No discrimination. Because you cannot see Deafness in the Web. Unless the person declares that he or she is Deaf, that’s all. No need to go through a relay operator, no need to wait for an answer. It’s much faster! I get more bookings through the Web than by phone. No phone tag here. Now, people are starting to get video programs so they can sign through the Web. We need to wait few more years for the technology to make it faster so we can see each other in normal motion.
I can see the possiblity of Deaf kids sending their poems from school to professional Deaf poets for feedback through the Internet. We Deaf poets can pass around our works. The Internet should become the “book” for us to pass around. I think that the Internet is the closest thing to a bookstore for a deaf poet to “browse” in. What we really need is a virtual ASL bookstore for us to dig into. Maybe I should think of doing that... hmmmm....


Why is there no sign for “poetry”? What is it?


That is not true!! Liar!! Murderer!! DEMYSTIFICATE!!! Yes, we do have a sign for poetry! In fact we do have two signs! OK, I gotta get my drink now, slurrrpppp. OK, I’m ready. These two signs have different meanings: one sign for Hearing poetry and one sign for Deaf poetry. The sign for Hearing poetry is a generally traditional sign. The handshape is “P” (at dominant hand) and flat “B” (non-dominant hand). The P moves while the B stays. It is almost the same sign as for music. This sign is strongly associated with rhythms/rhyme.
The other sign was created at the Deaf Way Festival at Gallaudet University in 1989 (I think). Every Deaf poet from around the world came and performed together. I remember a meeting where we were discussing that we needed a sign that shows our poetry. Finally, we decided to use this sign: Handshape “S,” start at the chest then move forward into handshape “5.” This sign is similar to “Expression.” It looks like this: HEART+EXPRESS. So since that festival, we have been spreading that sign. So yes, we have a sign for Deaf poetry!


Can hearing people who do not know ASL “read” deaf poetry without a translator?


That would be very difficult unless s/he knows ASL. You have to understand ASL to see how they play with it. Some deaf poets will explain what they will do & then perform it without a translator. Like an opera. It’s up to them to enjoy or not. I prefer to have an interpreter to work with when I have a hearing audience. It's important to reach them and show what ASL poetry is all about.

Next page > A Deaf Poetics, Part III, the conclusion of our interview with “Cookie Monster” Peter Cook, links to Net resources & books > page 1, 2, 3

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