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Sign Language - ASL Poetry

Making Music With the Hands

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Updated August 28, 2011

An artistic form of sign language expression is ASL poetry. This is a poetry in sign language, usually original, themed ASL works. If you are not able to see it performed in person, it is possible to appreciate it through video materials.

ASL Poets and Videos

Peter Cook is one of the best known ASL poets, and About Poetry has an interview with him.

Another well known ASL poet was the late Clayton Valli. His ASL poetry can be seen on ASL Poetry: Selected Works of Clayton Valli on DVD, from DawnSignPress.

The following ASL poetry video materials may be in your local library if it has the ASL Access video collection:

  • Poetry in Motion - Original Works in ASL by Patrick Graybill, Debbie Rennie and Clayton Valli (originally producted by SignMedia Press)
  • United States of ASL Poetry - a video featuring works by Peter Cook.
Another video item is "Gestures - Poetry in Sign Language" from Joyce Media Inc., a book/DVD collection of ASL interpretations of English poems.

ASL Poetry in Colleges

ASL poetry is one of the subjects often taught in sign language studies. For example, at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York, there is a course, "Narrative and Poetic Styles in ASL" that examines and teaches ASL poetry. ASL poetry is also taught at Gallaudet University in its ASL Literature courses.

ASL Poetry Articles and Books

Deaf Life magazine, No.8, February 1989, has an article, "Flying Words Project: Exciting world of ASL poetry." ASL poetry articles have also appeared in issues of On The Green, Gallaudet University's faculty and staff newsletter. The Department of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University often hosts presentations and discussions of ASL poetry, usually in conjunction with National Poetry Month (April). The Museum of American Poetics Publications has a book, "Sign Mind: Studies in American Sign Language Poetics."

ASL Poetry Competitions

River of Words, an international children's art and poetry competition, accepts videotaped poetry entries in ASL. A search of the site using the keyword phrase "American Sign Language" will turn up past winners. In addition, Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts has an ASL Program that holds a regular George W. Veditz ASL Festival that features the Marie Jean Philip ASL Poetry, Storytelling and Deaf Art Competition.

ASL Poetry Online

Slope, an online poetry publication, publishes ASL poetry videos online and also offers a prize for the best ASL poetry. Issue 19 of Slope was devoted solely to ASL poetry.
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