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Deaf American Poetry

An Anthology

John Lee Clark, Editor

Publication Year: 2009

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Editor’s Note

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pp. xiii-xvi

I embarked on this project with the thought of finding poets who refl ected in some way, either directly or obliquely, on their deafness or their experiences as deaf people. After canvassing over three hundred volumes of poetry and many periodicals, I found that nonculturally deaf poets, at least in American literature...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-8

The Deaf poet is no oxymoron, but one might think so, given the popular understanding that poetry has sound and voice at its heart. Add to this the popular philosophy that says deafness reduces human experience. As a result of such ideas, Deaf poets are often objects of amazement or dismissal, their work rarely...

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John R. Burnet (1808–1874)

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pp. 9-10

Deaf history is a story of cultural warfare, but before the heavy blows comes diplomacy. “Emma,” John R. Burnet’s 1835 narrative poem, is a prime example of pandering to a hearing audience. It is an elaborate advertisement for “institutions for the instruction...

Emma

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pp. 11-23

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James Nack (1809–1879)

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pp. 24-25

Scarcely a decade passed between the founding of the first permanent American Deaf school and the publication in 1827 of the first book by a Deaf American. The Legend of the Rocks, and Other Poems contains sixty-eight poems composed before James Nack was eighteen years old. His long, lyrical poem “The Minstrel Boy”...

From The Minstrel Boy*

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pp. 26-36

The Music of Beauty

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p. 37-37

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John Carlin (1813–1891)

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pp. 38-39

John Carlin is a baffling question mark in the history of Deaf leaders. He was a successful artist, was responsible for great strides in organizing Deaf people, and, as his lovely writing attests, was an embodiment of English literacy through a sign-based education. Yet he supported oralism, the method by which deaf children...

The Mute’s Lament

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pp. 40-41

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Mary Toles Peet (1836–1901)

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pp. 42-43

John Carlin and James Nack were among the first students to attend their respective schools for the Deaf, and their educational experiences were fundamentally different from that of Mary Toles Peet and succeeding generations of Deaf school alumni. While the first wave of Deaf teachers, who were the peers of Carlin and Nack...

Thoughts on Music

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pp. 44-45

To a Bride

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p. 46-46

The Silent Child of Art

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pp. 47-48

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Laura C. Redden (1840–1923)

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pp. 49-50

Only a very few Deaf people have made writing their vocation, and Laura Redden is among the most successful of them. Because of societal bias against women in the professions, she wrote many of her poems and articles, which were published in the most popular magazines, under the name Howard Glyndon. She holds the...

My Story

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pp. 51-52

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet

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pp. 53-54

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Angeline Fuller Fischer (1841–1925)

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pp. 55-56

What the signing community in the nineteenth century knew of its history was limited to the Bible, the founding in Paris of the first school for the Deaf, and the saga of how Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc began the education of the Deaf in America in Hartford, Connecticut. This wispy past did not stop...

Scenes in the History of the Deaf and Dumb

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pp. 57-69

To a Deaf-Mute Lady

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p. 70-70

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Alice Cornelia Jennings (b. 1851)

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pp. 71-72

In “A Prayer in Signs,” Alice Cornelia Jennings answers any could pray. What is more, she contends that they do so “with force more potent than the spoken word.” She would have had reason to make this declaration because the Lord’s Prayer was the first thing ritualized in American Sign Language. Translated in a highly...

A Prayer in Signs

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pp. 73-74

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George M. Teegarden (1852–1936)

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pp. 75-76

George M. Teegarden was not a poet but rather a versifier who wrote in what would later be recognized as the American Victorian mode. He devoted most of his verse to excruciatingly mainstream subjects. Even when he turned to matters closer to home, he processed them in the same formal manner. Still, his poems...

The “Nad”*

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p. 77-77

Gallaudet College

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p. 78-78

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J. Schuyler Long (1869–1933)

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pp. 79-80

“I Wish That I Could Tell” is but one of many poems Deaf people have written about the music of tinnitus, the music for their eyes, and the music of signing hands. It is such a common subject that it is prevalent even in American Sign Language poetry; such classics as Ella Mae Lentz’s “Eye Music” and Cara...

I Wish That I Could Tell

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pp. 81-82

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Agatha Tiegel Hanson (1873–1959)

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pp. 83-84

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, uneasy distinctions were drawn within the Deaf community between “deaf-mutes” and “semi-mutes.” The latter group tended to have more residual hearing, and the very term “semi-mute” meant they could speak to some degree, either because they had received oral training or simply...

Semi-Mute

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p. 85-85

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James William Sowell (1875–1949)

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pp. 86-87

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, proponents of oralism mounted a sustained and devastating campaign to “restore deaf people to society” through teaching deaf children to articulate and read lips and prohibiting them from signing. The oralism movement dovetailed perfectly with Social...

The Oralist*

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p. 88-88

Dear Eyes of Grey

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p. 89-89

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Howard L. Terry (1877–1964)

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pp. 90-91

Howard L. Terry’s “On My Deafness” is only one of the many instances of Deaf poets rephrasing Keats’s “melodies . . . unheard / Are sweeter” to explain how truth is found in silence. However, his long poem, “The Old Homestead,” demonstrates that one does not experience the world in a lesser way because of deafness. It is richly...

From The Old Homestead

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pp. 92-96

On My Deafness

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p. 97-97

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Alice Jane McVan (1906–1970)

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pp. 98-99

Deaf people have often identified themselves with other oppressed people and their histories and struggles. This is why Alice Jane McVan can write with personal authority in “And No Applause” about the pressures of bowing to the white man’s laws. The white man is, of course, also hearing, and the tightrope act...

And No Applause

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pp. 100-101

Response

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p. 102-102

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Earl Sollenberger (c. 1912–1947)

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pp. 103-104

Earl Sollenberger’s sensitivity to any attempts by others to control him comes not only from him being a Deaf person but also a Jewish-American man. With a chip on each shoulder, he wrote poetry that is ahead of his time in that it exhibits the spirit of the Deaf Pride movement, which did not begin until three decades...

The Legend of Simon Simplefuss

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pp. 105-106

Birds Will Sing

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p. 107-107

Reply to “Beware Lest People Think—”

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p. 108-108

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Thoughts in a Pennsylvania Cornfield

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pp. 109-113

Is way ahead. He makes the “bucks” and ties the stalks togetherThan dwell upon thoughts that men have been hanged for expressing.Think the same way about life: “We’re nearly through now.”...

To a Neglected Poet

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p. 114-114

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Felix Kowalewski (1913–1989)

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pp. 115-116

Aside from penning the obligatory tributes to his teachers and to leaders of the signing community of his time, Felix Kowalewski’s poetry is surprisingly negative and, at times, despairing. This is surprising because he graduated from a residential school for the tive cultural perspective of deafness. Perhaps the despondency in...

I Will Take My Dreams . . .

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pp. 117-118

Heart of Silence

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pp. 119-120

Quasimodo May Not Dare

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p. 121-121

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Loy E. Golladay (1914–1999)

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pp. 122-123

Not only was Loy E. Golladay the first poet to devote the bulk of his poetry to Deaf subjects, but much of his work is also sunny, celebratory, and humorous. In other words, he was a poet of the Deaf Pride movement. Earl Sollenberger, his close contemporary, Felix Kowalewski, another close friend, did not have...

On Seeing a Poem Recited in Sign Language

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p. 124-124

Silent Homage (For an Interpreter)

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p. 125-125

Footnote to Anthropological Linguistics I (Washoe No. 1)*

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p. 126-126

Footnote to Anthropological Linguistics II

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pp. 127-128

Surely the Phoenix

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pp. 129-130

Incident at the B.M.T.

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pp. 131-132

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Rex Lowman (1918–2001)

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pp. 133-134

Treating deafness as a source of alienation, being strange and even not of the earth, Rex Lowman’s poetry has a strong taste for deliberate metaphors and a brooding language. In “Bitterweed,” bitterness is a foreigner’s tool for survival as a foreigner, where the only means for securing respect is through answering hate with...

Bitterweed

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p. 135-135

Beethoven

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p. 136-136

Wing

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p. 137-137

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Robert F. Panara (1920– )

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pp. 138-140

“On His Deafness,” Robert F. Panara’s poem about tinnitus and how reading makes him feel as if he can hear, is the most widely people who wish to find an expression for what they experience, for whom the word “silence” is never accurate. Panara wrote many poems that are useful in this way, and “Lip Service” and...

On His Deafness

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p. 141-141

Lip Service

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p. 142-142

Idylls of the Green*(College Days at Gallaudet)

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pp. 143-150

Ars Poetica (Or, Advice to Aspiring Deaf Poets)

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p. 151-151

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Mervin D. Garretson (1923– )

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pp. 152-153

Mervin D. Garretson is the second modern poet, after Loy E. Golladay, to dedicate most of his art to Deaf themes, often using them bluntly as politically charged declarations and even as indictments. In “for Bill Stokoe,” he portrays Deaf culture as being in the dark and lost before Stokoe sparked a controversy among linguists...

for Bill Stokoe

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pp. 154-155

to Doin Hicks

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p. 156-156

to an expert

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p. 157-157

deaf again

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p. 158-158

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Dorothy Miles (1931–1993)

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pp. 159-160

At the time Dorothy Miles produced her book-and-video collection of written and signed poems, Gestures, the signing community was giving itself more and more permission to express art in its own language. Until William C. Stokoe’s academic defense of American Sign Language (ASL) as a language in its own right...

The Hang-Glider

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pp. 161-162

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Linwood Smith (1943–1982)

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pp. 163-164

Linwood Smith died at the age of thirty-nine and, so, was denied the opportunity to fully mature as a poet. As a result, many of his poems seem to fall short of expressing all that he wished to say. Still, and perhaps even in part because they are neither developed nor sophisticated, they are profound. “Percy” and “Mike” are rare...

Percy

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p. 165-165

Mike

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p. 166-166

The Dream Song of the Deaf Man

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pp. 167-168

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Curtis Robbins (1943– )

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pp. 169-170

The Deaf Pride movement reached its zenith in March 1988 when the students and faculty of Gallaudet University, joined by practically the whole signing community, protested against the board of trustees’ selection of a hearing woman, over two other Deaf finalists, for the school’s next president. The triumph...

The Rally That Stood the World Still

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pp. 171-172

Solo Dining While Growing Up

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p. 173-173

The Promised World

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pp. 174-175

Russian Roulette

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p. 176-176

Deaf Poet or What?

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p. 177-177

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Clayton Valli (1951–2003)

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pp. 178-179

Clayton Valli’s gliding and eye-widening “A Dandelion” is, partly because many of them themselves are not fully literate in it and are unable to be moved by words in the same ways literate readers can be moved. Another factor is the relative lack of literary interaction between ASL poets and fluent signers who have an...

A DandelionTranslated from American Sign Language by Raymond Luczak

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p. 180-180

Pawns

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pp. 181-182

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E. Lynn Jacobowitz (1953– )

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pp. 183-184

Asserting, as many American Sign Language (ASL) poets do, that her poem “cannot be translated,” E. Lynn Jacobowitz advises her readers to “please use [their] imagination and sign along in a slow, rhythmic form.” Yet her notes for the signs and facial expressions used in “In Memoriam: Stephen Michael Ryan” go a long way in...

In Memoriam: Stephen Michael Ryan

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pp. 185-186

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Debbie Rennie (1957– )

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pp. 187-188

The year 1980 was very exciting for Deaf theater as Mark Medoff’s Children of a Lesser God won the Tony Award for best play. Phyllis Frelich, who played Sarah Norman, won the Tony Award for best actress, then the highest honor conferred on a Deaf actor. Marlee Matlin later won an Oscar for the same role in the 1986...

As Sarah

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p. 189-189

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Willy Conley (1958– )

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pp. 190-191

“A Deaf Baptism,” Willy Conley’s clever miniature parable, pays respects to Hans Christian Andersen’s famous ugly duckling, here representing someone who is plunged into the Deaf world. The poem is a member of a long line of works in Deaf literature and artwork featuring birds. One needs only to look elsewhere in this...

A Deaf Baptism

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p. 192-192

The Miller of Moments

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pp. 193-194

Salt in the Basement: An American Sign Language Reverie in English

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pp. 195-197

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Peter Cook (1962– )

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pp. 198-199

Most American Sign Language (ASL) poetry, interestingly, is universal, not Deaf, in content. When Deaf poets create work in their native language, they are likely to be much less conscious of their “otherness” than are Deaf poets who write in English. In other words, it is as fundamental human beings—citizens of the...

Don Quoxitie Didnt Really Attack the Windmill*

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p. 200-200

Ringoes

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pp. 201-202

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Flying Words Project: Peter Cook and Kenny Lerner

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pp. 203-204

The Flying Words Project has met, and continues to meet, with wide acclaim both in the signing community and the mainstream. It does not pretend to translate the American Sign Language (ASL) poetry that Peter Cook performs. Even if full and nuanced translations were done, they could scarcely be presented to audiences...

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Wise Old Corn #1

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pp. 205-210

This poem is about change. And we have several images we want to Olympics of 1968 that two Black Americans won first and second a special dance called the Sun Dance. And what they would do is they would take a piece of wood, very sharp . . . pierce their chest with it, and tie a rope, and then hang from it. This was a very...

Ode to Words

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pp. 211-215

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Katrina R. Miller (1965– ) and Damara Goff Paris(1965–

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pp. 216-217

Two decades after the invention of the cochlear prosthesis in 1957, the artificial hearing device began to be implanted widely among deaf children. This sparked no small amount of controversy, as many Deaf people found it threatening. It became the target of outrage in a dizzying catalogue of works of art and literature...

How the Audist Stole ASL

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pp. 218-222

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Raymond Luczak (1965-)

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pp. 223-224

For those who went to public schools instead of schools for the Deaf, Raymond Luczak’s poems are overwhelmingly familiar. It is surreal how many of their experiences are the same, down to the smallest details and to each emotional wound infl icted by all manner of neglect and rejection. His long journey from being a walking...

The Audiologist

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p. 225-225

Spelling Bee 1978

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pp. 226-228

Learning to Speak, Part I

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pp. 229-232

Hummingbirds

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p. 233-233

The Crucifixion

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pp. 234-239

Instructions to Hearing PersonsDesiring a Deaf Man

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p. 240-240

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Abiola Haroun (1970– )

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p. 241-241

While Abiola Haroun did attend Gallaudet and, afterward, kept her connection to the signing community, she was never exposed to the writings of other Deaf poets—that is, until she fell in love with Loy E. Golladay’s collection of poetry in a public library. This discovery led her to take her passion for writing to a higher level by...

Deaf Mind

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p. 242-242

The Deaf Negro

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p. 243-243

Ode to a Silent World

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p. 244-244

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Christopher Jon Heuer (1970– )

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pp. 245-246

The six poems here by Christopher Jon Heuer make up three pairs: pangs of wistfulness, snapshots of a Deaf man under duress, and sarcastic scoffs. As different as these poems are, they all have Heuer’s trademark intensity. “Visible Scars” is particularly illuminating about the difficulty in putting a finger to audism, which is...

Bone Bird

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p. 247-247

The Hands of My Father

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pp. 248-249

Visible Scars

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pp. 250-251

Diving Bell

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p. 252-252

Koko Want*

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pp. 253-254

We Can Save the Deaf!

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p. 255-255

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Kristi Merriweather (1971– )

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p. 256-256

Writing her poems in Ebonics style—about being excited by an attractive, fellow Black Deaf person of the opposite sex and her rejection of any cultural labels other than her own for herself— Kristi Merriweather clearly performs one important social function of poetry. Poetry can be a gateway for one community to...

It Was His Movin’ Hands

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pp. 257-258

Be Tellin’ Me

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pp. 259-260

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Pamela Wright-Meinhardt (1971– )

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p. 261-261

“Silent Howl” and “When They Tell Me . . . ” together make a thorough prosecution of audism. The first represents an accomplishment that victims of oppression must attain before they can respond: to see through “the mask of benevolence.” Pamela Wright-Meinhardt is not shy of doing this seeing subjectively, of...

Silent Howl

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pp. 262-266

When They Tell Me . . .

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pp. 267-268

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John Lee Clark (1978– )

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pp. 269-270

Perhaps because he led a charmed Deaf childhood with Deaf parents and siblings and was never the only Deaf student at school, John Lee Clark’s poetry about his experiences with signing and Deaf culture is free of angst. “Story Actual Happen,” based on a story about one of his intimate role models, the superb storyteller...

Story Actual Happenafter Taras J. Dykstra

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p. 271-271

Long Goodbyes

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pp. 272-273

The Only Way Signing Can Kill Us

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pp. 274-275

My Understanding One Day of Foxgloves

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p. 276-276

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Kristen Ringman (1979– )

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pp. 277-278

Reading Kristen Ringman’s “the ear gods,” one may be puzzled at how she would know what the “faceless ears in the sky” are telling her if she cannot hear them. The answer is simple: there are levels ranging from merely hearing to listening. Deaf people have always been aware of what society tells them, but that doesn’t...

the ear gods

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pp. 279-280

Calling Van Gogh*

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pp. 281-282

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Alison L. Aubrecht (1979– )

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p. 283-283

As the exodus of deaf children from residential schools continues, and most hearing parents continue to neither learn American Sign Language nor include their deaf children fully in the family, the signing community is being flooded with young adults, some very angry, who are seeking to clarify their identities and to...

ape-child

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pp. 284-285

Conditional Wings

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pp. 286-287

What My Teacher Taught Me

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pp. 288-290

The Ghost in Yellowed Photographs

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p. 291-291

Hearing-Headed

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p. 292-292

Bibliography

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pp. 293-294


E-ISBN-13: 9781563684555
E-ISBN-10: 1563684551
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563684135
Print-ISBN-10: 1563684136

Page Count: 310
Publication Year: 2009

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Subject Headings

  • American poetry.
  • Deaf, Writings of the, American.
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