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

Last week in our continuing feature on Deaf Poetry, we met Peter Cook, Deaf poet, new dad, “Cookie Monster,” poetry activist, and half of the deaf & hearing poetry duo, Flying Words Project, which has brought ASL poetry to hearing audiences around the world. Here is the conclusion of our interview with him.

Bob Holman


What's it like being a Dad and a Poet?


Who’s got time to be a poet? I love being a Dad, and watching Ethan growing. He is my poem. Always changing the lines as he matures... He shows me things I never saw about life. Sometimes I am in a mood where I want to finish something but I've got to stop and spend time with him. He’s very spontaneous and I love the way he makes up. By the way, Ethan is hard of hearing! He had 40 to 50 db hearing loss from jaundice! So we make two generations of Deaf poetry! Yahooooo! Me Cookie Monster and Little Cookie will take over the world! Heheheheh... Ethan signs and picks up vocabulary fast. Like any Dad, I’m proud of him.
Seriously, being a poet isn’t something that you have a badge on your coat. It's inside me and stays there. It’s always brewing. Whenever I see a language (whenever I understand it) coming at me, I love to play with it, take it apart, modify, minify, magnify, chop, sew, paste, paint, pull, then create a language sculpture and let it be stand still or see it in ACTION. If it excites me, then I will put it in my heart and carry it. I will polish it as I carry it.
I feel that being a poet is like collecting slices of life. You see things around you everyday that you could easily forget. But if you see something like a few seconds’ image that tells a lifetime story, you should never forget that one and should brand that image into your works. That’s what a poet should do. Say no more. Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge, say no more....


Where are you/Flying Words performing?


At this moment, Kenny [Lerner, hearing poet/ASL translator/Peter’s partner in Flying Words -- ed.] and I are creating new material and have not set up any bookings. Kenny has been in contact with several places for next year. For myself, I will be performing at the Illinois Storytelling Festival in Richmond, Illinois the last weekend of July, at DeafFEST in Frankfort, Kentucky on August 2, at the Wisconsin Association for the Deaf in Stevens Point, Wisconsin on June 6, at Florida School for the Deaf in St. Augustine, Florida on June 20 -- plus a residency at the National Theater of the Deaf Summer Professional School. I can tell you more about the fall later!

We think Peter & Kenny aka Flying Words are doing the most extraordinary ASL poetry being “written” these days. The Museum of American Poetics has a featured reading by Peter in the only way his work can be published -- via video!

Peter was quite correct in his observation in the first section of this interview that there is not yet a lot of Deaf poetry on the Web. But there are some resources:

  •  From About.com Guide - Jamie Berke, About's Deafness Guide, has compiled a good collection of books & Net links.
  • Deaf Theaters - Here's a list of U.S. theaters whose language is American Sign Language.
  • Poems Related to the Deaf Experience - From Omer Zak, this is a selection of poems by Deaf poets, including “You Have to Be Deaf to Understand the Deaf.”
  • The Signwriting Site - Developed by Valerie Sutton (who first wrote a language of Dance Writing to preserve the Royal Danish Ballet's Bournonville Schools), Sign Writing is a language of symbols for reading, typing & writing signed language: It “records exactly how people sign, without changing the signed language.”
  • Michael Sattler's Web site on Deaf Culture & Signed Languages - Here you can find an annotated list of books if you want to read more about Deaf culture & ASL, the experience of being Deaf, or works by Deaf writers. Here are links to purchase some of the books he recommends:
American Deaf Culture: An Anthology
Edited by Sherman Wilcox
(Linstok Press: 1989) “A collection of 'classic articles' about the Deaf community and ASL, it's a must-read for newbies.”

The Deaf Experience: An Anthology of Literature By and About the Deaf
Edited by Trenton W. Batson & Eugene Bergman
(Merriam Eddy: 1976) “Stories by and about Deaf people, grouped into three categories: Deaf authors, the nineteenth century, the twentieth century.”

Deaf in America: Voices From a Culture
Edited by Carol Padden & Tom Humphries
(Harvard University Press: 1990) “A collection of personal reflections [& folklore, poetry & jokes] on the experience of being Deaf in hearing society.”

David Wright: Deafness
(Stein & Day: 1969) “An autobiography, this personal perspective is one of the most poetic paeans to the experience of being without hearing in a hearing world.”

This edition is out of print & hard to find, but there is also a more recent edition issued by HarperCollins in 1994.

Back to first page > A Deaf Poetics, Part I, Introduction to our series, “If I Were To Throw My Money,” a poem by Bob Holman > page 1, 2, 3

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