Poetry for the deaf

What is it like to be deaf?
People have asked me.
Deaf? Oh, hmmm, how do I explain that?
Simply, I can’t hear.
Nooo, it is much more than that.
It is similar to a goldfish in a bowl.
Always observing things going on.
People talking all the time.
It is being a man on his own island
Among foreigners.
Isolation is no stranger to me.
Relatives say hi and bye.
But I sit for five hours among them.
Talking great pleasure at amusing babies.

The peom continues here.

This post by Rujuta got me thinking about deafness in general, and sign language in particular. She attended a workshop centered around deaf people in Pune conducted by Avanti!!. Her post isfull of interesting tid-bits that make you think. What I found most thought provoking was how well-meaning efforts by others sometimes simply work to rub salt in the wounds. For example, did you know that the award-winning acting of Amitabh and Rani in Black was not really enjoyed by deaf people because they couldn’t really make out the sign language? Turns out Amitabh and Rani were pretty bad with sign language. Remember the “news for the deaf” on Doordarshan on Sunday afternoons? Here’s the inside scoop:

In India there are no television channels, which the deaf people can enjoy just like the hearing people. The only news channel that has news for deaf people once a week is the national Doordarshan channel. But that’s no good as apparently in that show they use sign language used by a small deaf community in Delhi and not the Indian sign language. So this news hour is just watched by hearing people, as deaf people spread across India don’t understand this sign language.

I have also been a little interested in Sign Language. About a month back, I bought a book on sign language – on a whim. I had an idea in mind that I’ll take it up as a hobby. I had recently learned that sign language is not just a simple matter of translating the words of your regular “hearing” language into gestures – it is much more interesting with its own rules. That sounded interesting to me.
Here is what wikipedia has to say about sign language:

Sign Language for “I love you”

In linguistic terms, sign languages are as rich and complex as any oral language, despite the common misconception that they are not “real languages”. Professional linguists have studied many sign languages and found them to have every linguistic component required to be classed as true languages.

Many unique linguistic features emerge from sign languages’ ability to produce meaning in different parts of the visual field simultaneously. For example, the recipient of a signed message can read meanings carried by the hands, the facial expression and the body posture in the same moment. This is in contrast to oral languages, where the sounds that comprise words are mostly sequential (tone being an exception).

A gesture made with the hands can mean quite different things if done with an angry expression as opposed to a smile. A gesture made with hands at the shoulder level of the speaker (technically “signer”) can mean something different from the same gesture made with the hands at the hip level. Fascinating stuff. But only when I started googling sign language for this blog post did I find that there is a large body of sign language poetry.

Exemplary for the mature status of sign languages is the growing body of sign language poetry, and other stage performances. The poetic mechanisms available to signing poets are not all available to a speaking poet. This offers new, exciting ways for poems to reach and move the audience.

Google for deaf poetry. You’ll be fascinated by the stuff you find.

If you are from Pune, you might be interested in this: Avanti!! will conduct classes on sign language starting in June. Contact avanti-pune@hotmail.com if you are interested.

4 thoughts on “Poetry for the deaf”

  1. “I am lonely and Deaf”
    Hearing Communicate
    Quietly Happily Painfully
    Mad Pressure

  2. well,its sad to see that the deaf community of India did not enjoy the movie “Black” which got lof of credit to itself, nor is the news for hearing imparied any help to the larger deaf community of India,because of the usage of different sign languages, so at this point, i would like to ask that is there any accepted or official sign language used in India? Please help. I m new to deafness and am confused whether to use native sign language or British sign language or American sign language.

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