Check Out These Fantastic Examples of Sign Language Poetry

This short video shows us three different American Sign Language poems - two of which are less than a minute long. They give us an idea of poetry that is entirely out of most mainstream experience, and surprisingly understandable.

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We read science fiction and fantasy fiction to explore different realms of experience, but different realms of experience aren't that far away. Deaf people are part of every culture, but have also created a culture of their own. The most basic concept of language - to most people - is that it's spoken and heard. Poetry, especially early poetry, was an entirely oral, and aural, tradition. But every culture makes art with language. Sign language speakers - in this case American Sign Language speakers - have their own way of making art out of their language.

American Sign Language (ASL) poetry is mostly untranslatable, as poets don't tend to put their poems on paper. Still, there are basic concepts that translate, a repeated sign at the end of each "line" creates a poem that seems to rhyme, and similar hand shapes are like alliteration. Some poets also play with hand shapes, doing things like letting one hand be the "reflection" of the other. As you can see, although it's not possible to follow the refinements, even people who don't speak ASL can get a sense of an ASL poem. The one about the spider is particularly evocative. Which is your favorite?

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[Via Deaf Jam, Sign Language Literature and Poetry.]

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DISCUSSION

Those were beautiful! How have I not seen this before?

Still, there are basic concepts that translate, a repeated sign at the end of each "line" creates a poem that seems to rhyme, and similar hand shapes are like alliteration. Some poets also play with hand shapes, doing things like letting one hand be the "reflection" of the other.

Ugh, that's just so cool. So much of poetry, for me, is how the words sound and move and shift, and it's so cool to see how this works in ASL! I must show this to my poetry buddies and demand to know why there is this whole collection of amazing and moving poetry out there that I've never even seen.