Detail View: Deaf Studies, Culture, and History Archives: A Tribe is Deaf

A Tribe is Deaf
Cohn, Jim, 1953
Deafness - Poetry
National ASL Poetry Conference (1987)
Jim Cohn refers to a 1984 February 1 video when Allen Ginsberg visited and presented in a NTID classroom. The captions on this video were typed in teletypewriter (TTY) style. There are excerpts of the historic meeting of the poets Dr. Robert Panara, and Allen Ginsberg. The first excerpt shows Panara performing his most famous poem, “On His Deafness”. Cohn discusses the “Golden Age Poets” from the 1930-1950s Gallaudet era and Ginsberg’s affiliation with the Beat poets. The next excerpt is Ginsberg discussing Patrick Graybill’s concept of poetry as a picture and idea similar to the work of the 20th century Imagist poets, William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound with an emphasis on imagery in their works. These poets had a lot of influence on free verse. Ginsberg states that the best poems that translates into other languages are those that have pictures, which is also best for Deaf people, as there is less emphasis on sounds and rhymes. Cohn then discusses how a clear and strong image can be translated between languages and cultures and an excerpt of Ginsberg reciting his favorite lines from the “Howl” poem is shown. Graybill asks why he chose those two words “hydrogen jukebox” and Ginsberg explains its apocalyptic meaning—the noise of the jukebox is like the bomb. Ginsberg asks whether “hydrogen jukebox” could be shown in sign language and in a stunning moment, Graybill translates “hydrogen jukebox”. Ginsberg realized that Graybill had captured the word-image visually. Cohn ends the presentation by discussing the legitimacy of ASL poetry, and quotes Earl Sollenberger, “you have to know what your tribe is speaking.” He shares the story of a Deaf boy who said, “it’s not NTID, it’s ATID.” When Cohn asked him what he meant, the boy replied, “A tribe is Deaf!” Sign interpreted by Kip Webster. [summary by Joan Naturale]
Digital Publisher: 
Rochester Institute of Technology - RIT Libraries - RIT Archive Collections
Ginsberg, Allen, 1926-1997
Panara, Robert
Date of Original: 
Date of Digitization: 
Broad Type: 
moving image
Specific Type: 
presentations (communicative events)
Digital File Format: 
Physical Format: 
American Sign Language
Original Item Location: 
Library Collection: 
Miriam and Kenneth Lerner ASL Poetry collection
Digital Project: 
2018-2019 CLIR Grant-ASL Poetry and Literature
Catalog Record:
New York - Rochester
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
RIT Spaces and Places: 
Henrietta Campus
[Written by Joan Naturale. Some transcriptions of the interpreter’s signs provided by NTID Focus Magazine, Spring/Summer 1984. SPR.pdf?sequence=1] For his lecture, Jim Cohn refers to a February 1, 1984 video when Allen Ginsberg visited NTID. The captions were written in TTY style as Jim Cohn wanted to mimic the TTY look of that period (Cohn, Jim. “A Tribe is Deaf.” Message to lecturer. 1 Feb. 2017. E-mail). Starts at 1:55—4:17 DEAD SPACE before that Captions only. Starts with bright green CAPS captions scrolling on black screen introducing himself and welcoming - talks about the historic meeting between Deaf and hearing poets Panara and Ginsberg. Verbatim captions: Hello my name is Jim Cohn and I’d like to welcome you to the national deaf poetry conference here in Rochester, NY. For the first part of my presentation, I want to play a few excerpts of a videotape that was made by the NTID Department of Instructional Television. This footage contains the historic meeting of major Deaf and hearing American poets Robert Panara and Allen Ginsberg. First, we’ll look at Robert Panara doing his most famous poem “On his Deafness”. By the way, this meeting occurred on Feb. 1, 1984. 4:18-4:26--DEAD SPACE Starts at 4:27-5:42. Panara signs the poem “On His Deafness”. (Panara, Robert. On His Deafness and Other Melodies Unheard. Rochester, NY: Deaf Life, 1997, Print). Sign only MY EARS ARE DEAF BUT STILL I SEEM TO HEAR SWEET NATURE’S MUSIC AND THE SONGS OF MAN FOR I HAVE LEARNED FROM FANCY’S ARTISAN HOW WRITTEN WORDS CAN THRILL THE INNER EAR JUST AS THEY MOVE THE HEART AND SO FOR ME, WORDS ALSO SEEM TO RING OUT LOUD AND FREE IN SILENT STUDY I HAVE LEARNED TO TELL EACH SACRED SHADE OF MEANING AND TO HEAR A MAGIC HARMONY AT ONCE SINCERE, THAT SOMEHOW NOTES THE TINKLE OF A BELL THE COOING OFA DOVE THE SWISH OF LEAVES THE RAINDROPS PITTER PATTER ON THE EAVES THE LOVER’S SIGH AND STRUMMING OF GUITAR AND, IF I CHOOSE, THE RUSTLE OF A STAR 5:43-5:59—DEAD SPACE 6:00—10:58---captions only Pink CAPS captions scrolling on black background. Jim Cohn talks about the impact of Panara and Ginsberg and how different they are. Panara is from the 1930s Gallaudet poetry era (The Golden Age Poets). (Note from Joan-I think he meant to say the 1930-1950s era--Panara was born in 1920). Allen Ginsberg is part of the Beat generation of American poets. Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, and William Burroughs. They had an influence on Post World War II American Poetry. Verbatim captions For me, it was tremendously exciting …and continues to be a day I think about again and again….that day when Bob Panara and Allen Ginsberg met to compare notes. Both men were my teachers. Both men are very different. It was amazing to see how much Poetry meant to each of them. Panara comes from a proud tradition of Gallaudet poets in the 1930’s. This group, the Golden Age poets, includes Loy Golladay, Stephen Koziar, Felix Kowalewski, Rex Lowman, and Earl Sollenberger, among others. Allen Ginsberg was part of the Beat generation of American poets. This group, which included Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, William Burroughs and Ginsberg himself has had a lasting influence on post World War II American poetry. It was Allen who encouraged me to check out Deaf poetry. He did so by his strong emphasis, based on the lineage of Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams who said “no ideas but in things.” In this next segment, Allen explains what he sees as an “international poetic style”. This style he says, is based on “harder and harder and clearer and clearer images.” 10:59-11:09 – DEAD SPACE 11:10-14:00 -- Interpreter only Ginsberg with interpreter, Kip Webster sitting to Ginsberg’s left. Later, screen shows Panara sitting next to Ginsberg (to his right). Translation of Interpreter signing Allen Ginsberg’s comments re: Patrick Graybill: “Then Graybill sees poetry as a picture and an idea. That is what most 20th century poetry is-- ideas in the form of pictures. Two of the greatest ‘Imagist’ poets are William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound. There’s a tendency to develop an international poetical style without rhythm and rhyme, but with harder and clearer pictures. It’s fortunate that modern poetry is the closest verbal formation to what might be useful for deaf people.” (Kanter, Ann. “Campus Workshop Heralds Era of Signed Poetry.” NTID Focus Spring/Summer 1984: 23-24. Web. 2 Feb. 2017. ) Joan’s rendition of interpreted signs. Poetry is for the visual or the idea, rather than sounds…sounds not involved, purely pictures and ideas right? 20th century poetry is mostly pictures and ideas. So 20th Century poetry, especially after Ezra Pound and William Carlos WillIams, and the Imagist poets should be best - or is specifically tailored for those who are deaf. Pound pointed out that poetry had three different aspects, for him. One was sound - melopoeia, second was the dance of intellect among the words, the wittiness -or the sophistication–or the strangeness, funny words put together like the phrase,”Nazi milk”. But the other was the pure picture aspect - the third was the pure picture aspect, the casting of the picture on the mind’s eye. And ever since their work, the reason we’ve gone into a lot of free verse - different than the kind Bob likes, has been the emphasis on the picture aspect. And, especially in the 20th century, there’s been a lot of translation from many languages into English, and from English into many languages. And the poetry that translates the best is the poetry that has lots of pictures in it. It does not depend on the sound. It doesn’t depend on the rhymes, but just depends on the pure picture. So there’s been more and more of a tendency to develop an international poetry style which is free verse, which is open verse, which doesn’t have a recurrent meter, it doesn’t have recurrent rhyme, but has harder and harder, clearer and clearer pictures. 14:01-14:12-DEAD SPACE 14:13 –18:14 purple CAPS captions scrolling on black background. Verbatim captions below. In the next segment, you will see what Allen meant by pure picture aspect and how a clear and strong image can be translated between languages and cultures. From a Poet’s point of view, the centrality of the image is obvious. But, from the linguistic and language researcher’s point of view, the iconicity of language particularly the system of classifiers in ASL (as well as in Athabaskan languages like Navajo). Please watch now as Patrick Graybill engages Allen Ginsberg in a translation of the best liked lines of “Howl”. “Howl” by the way was first published in 1956 by City Lights books in San Francisco. The publisher was taken to court because “Howl” was considered to be indecent. It was considered a “dirty” poem. So I hope you enjoy this moment in history when Patrick shows Allen how his favorite lines of poetry “look” in ASL (watch Allen!). 18:15-18:30-DEAD SPACE 18:30-21:35 Allen Ginsberg with interpreter (to his left) Kip Webster, both seated. (translation from interpreter) Allen talks about his favorite line from “Howl” (Kanter, Ann. “Campus Workshop Heralds Era of Signed Poetry.” NTID Focus Spring/Summer 1984: 25. Web. 2 Feb. 2017.) Note that the dialogue below is from this article. I would like to do my favorite line from HOWL. “who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford’s Cafeteria, floated out on the street and sat through the stale beer afternoon in desolate beer bars listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox” . Hydrogen jukebox--how would you do that in sign? Graybill: Why hydrogen? Ginsberg: The noise of the jukebox is apocalyptic--almost like the H-Bomb noise. Those are two concrete things: the jukebox and hydrogen, juxtaposed. Graybill: Yes, but if I had to sign without using English words, I would make a compound sign. Ginsberg: Does any interesting sparkle come through, or does that go dead in translation? Graybill walks up to the front and signed and mimed the words for “music,” “box,” “coin from pocket,” vertical record becoming horizontal,” “needle going around,” “thunder shaking,” and “bomb exploding.” Joan’s rendition of interpreted signs of the above dialogue Interpreter translating Allen: What’s hydrogen jukebox in sign language? A Hydrogen jukebox - of course, that refers to a thing, the jukebox, anyway. A jukebox is a mechanical record machine in the bars. Graybill in audience: (Interpreter copy signing Patrick Graybill). I understand but why did you pick the word “hydrogen”? Ginsberg (Interpreter translating): Because “hydrogen” is a bomb. The noise of the jukebox is apocalyptic. So the emergence of that kind of rock and roll and that kind of heavy noise is almost the beginning of the explosion of the end of the world. Hydrogen jukebox. But it does depend on an image, a very abstract one. There are two very concrete things - there’s a jukebox and then there’s hydrogen. Hydrogen is real, and a jukebox is real, and when you put them together it makes an unusual kind of jukebox. Graybill in audience: (Interpreter copy signing Patrick Graybill). If I had to sign it without thinking of English words, I would make some kind of compound. There are several signs that you could use to explain the picture I might get from those two words. Ginsberg (interpreter translation): What I’m wondering is, once it’s explained does any kind of interesting sparkle come through with that combination or does that go dead in translation? Graybill: (Interpreter translation). Let me try. I don’t know if it’s what you want. Patrick walks to front and signs the concept in ASL “Hydrogen Jukebox”. When done, people clapped. Ginsberg: (interpreter translation) That looks like it! 21:35-21:50-DEAD SPACE Captions only 21:51-22:44----yellow CAPS captions scrolling on black background Verbatim captions: Ok…..let’s “listen to the sound of the crack” of doom on the hydrogen jukebox once more. Really, what Patrick has done is taken an abstraction and in ASL translation made it come alive. 22:45-22:59-DEAD SPACE 23:00-23:20 Patrick Graybill enters the camera’s frame. See his sign translation of Hydrogen Jukebox from the front view. 23:26- 27:15….(Jim Cohn, narrator)….white CAPS captions scrolling on blue background. Verbatim captions As with any art form, poetry is concerned with human dignity. You can see what a person thinks --- through their language --- about who is worthy & who is not. There is absolutely nothing handicapped or lesser about the poetry you will be experiencing. The visual poetry of the Deaf is part of a legacy, a world legacy, in which language and nature are not separate. As a hearing modern American poet, I testify to the greatness of ASL Lew Welch, another American poet who killed himself like Earl Sollenberger once said, “you have to know what your tribe is speaking.” A little boy who is Deaf once said to me, “Mr. Cohn, it’s not NTID, it’s ATID.” When I asked him what he meant he replied, “A tribe is Deaf!” Now let me get out of this fake TTY and let you see me……GA to SK…… End of video. Sign Language Interpreter: Kip Webster