Sign language poetry?
January 20, 2021 8:03 PM   Subscribe

I am mildly curious about poetry that is organic to sign language (that is, not interpreted from an oral language). I am curious about what is visually analogous to rhythm, rhyme and alliteration, and any other related info.

I found this, but I am looking for info that is much more concise.

Also, are there sign language poetry performances that can be appreciated for visual lyricism by people who don't know any sign language? And can you point me to any?
posted by NotLost to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Bernard Bragg performs a short poem starting at around 1:09:00 in Through Deaf Eyes
posted by Seboshin at 11:38 PM on January 20, 2021

Best answer: There is so much great stuff out there!

This a classic ASL poem by Ella Mae Lentz.

Here she is performing "A Children's Garden".

Ian Sanborn's Caterpillar and Tick Tock

Daniel Durant's ASL Poetry: "Alone"

Hands Land has ASL nursery rhymes. (You can get an idea about rhythm/rhyme in ASL through these videos)

Some of these links have interpretation into audio English, so I recommend turning off the sound.

Here is a whole website on Visual Vernacular with videos.
posted by Toddles at 12:09 AM on January 21, 2021

Best answer: Also here is a neat study on how powerful ASL rhythm/rhyme is as an educational tool.

And for something that strikes me as poetic, though people reference it as a story - ABC stories are really neat.
posted by Toddles at 12:13 AM on January 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One way rhyme can work in ASL poetry is for two words to have the same handshape but different movement and location, or the same movement and location but different handshapes, or etcetera. It's like how English rhyming or alliterative words share some of their sounds but not others. The similarity means the words remind you of each other and feel connected, even though they aren't the same.

(My understanding, from a friend who went to Gallaudet and studied this stuff in detail, is that ASL poetry tends not to have a formal rhyme scheme, but to use rhyme in a looser way. But don't quote me on that.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:14 AM on January 21, 2021

Best answer: When I first started learning South African sign language (SASL), I did a deep dive into SL poetry and performance. I'm no expert, but feel that SL poetry is in some ways different from spoken (oral) poetry, it's a valid and powerful art form but offers the unique aspects of mime and movement. These aspects can be parts of other forms of poetry, but I feel is integral to SL poetry. I also find interesting the potentially minimal and powerful use of classifier hand shapes. A narrative can be expressed with a single hand shape which can become different things depending on the context. Here's an example: Avocado

I also find the flexibility of SL interpreting not so English poetry. Here is a version of Lewis Caroll's Jaberwocky which was recorded backwards, then played forwards. This process would be almost impossible using spoken word.

Creative finger spelling (describing and object or concept using letter signs) and ABC poems (using the letters of the alphabet) can be a fun and a useful step towards creating new poetry, especially for beginners.


I teach Design and Creative Arts at a school for the Deaf. This ABC is much requested by my kids: Ninja

And there is of course rap and hip hop.
Sean Forbes Hammer.

Here's my full working list of creative Deaf culture.

posted by BrStekker at 6:40 AM on January 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the helpful answers! I look forward to checking these out.
posted by NotLost at 8:08 PM on January 23, 2021

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