Detail View: RIT/NTID Deaf Studies Archive: Interview

Filename: 
ds_0027_lernerinterview_cap_01.mp4
Identifier: 
ds_0027_lernerinterview_cap_01.mp4
Title: 
Interview
Creator: 
Lerner, Kenny
Subject: 
Lerner, Kenny Interviews
Subject: 
American Sign Language literature
Subject: 
Deaf Poetry
Subject: 
Deaf, Writings of the, American
Subject: 
American poetry 20th century
Subject: 
American poetry 21st century
Subject: 
ASL poetry
Summary: 
Part of a collection of interviews made for a film on ASL poetry, "The Heart of the Hydrogen Jukebox." In this interview, Kenny Lerner, the hearing half of the ASL/spoken word poetry duo the Flying Words Project, discusses his work and how it fits within the ASL poetry movement.
Publisher: 
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
Digital Publisher: 
Rochester Institute of Technology - RIT Libraries - RIT Archive Collections
Contributor: 
Lerner, Miriam Nathan
Date of Original: 
2007
Date of Digitization: 
2018
Broad Type: 
moving image
Digital File Format: 
mp4
Physical Format: 
DVD
Dimensions of Original: 
74 minutes
Language: 
American Sign Language
Language: 
English
Original Item Location: 
RITDSA.0027
Library Collection: 
Sculptures in the Air: An Accessible Online Video Repository of the American Sign Language (ASL) Poetry and Literature Collections
Library Collection: 
Miriam and Kenneth Lerner ASL Poetry Collection
Digital Project: 
2018-2019 CLIR Grant-ASL Poetry and Literature
Catalog Record: 
https://albert.rit.edu/record=b3955033
Catalog Record: 
https://twcarchivesspace.rit.edu/repositories/2/resources/815
Place: 
New York - Rochester
RIT Spaces and Places: 
Henrietta Campus
Rights: 
RIT Libraries makes materials from its collections available for educational and research purposes pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. It is your responsibility to obtain permission from the copyright holder to publish or reproduce images in print or electronic form.
Rights: 
CC BY-NC-ND: Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivatives 4.0 International
Transcript: 
I GRADUATED COLLEGE, AND I WAS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT TO DO WITH MY LIFE, SO I DECIDED TO TAKE A ROAD TRIP AND JUST TRY TO DECIDE WHERE I MIGHT LIVE. I WENT TO NEW YORK CITY. I WAS VISITING MY COUSIN THERE. I STAYED FOR ABOUT A WEEK, AND THE VERY LAST NIGHT I WAS IN TOWN MY COUSIN SAID, "YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO GO SEE THIS WONDERFUL PLAY ON BROADWAY WITH ME." I SAID, "SURE, FINE." SO, WE WENT TO SEE "CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD." AND...I JUST--[CHUCKLING] YOU KNOW, I WAS JUST FASCINATED. I FELT LIKE I HAD TO LEARN SIGN. I WAS ADDICTED FROM THE MOMENT I SAW IT. SO OF COURSE I DECIDED TO GO TO GRAD SCHOOL AT THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA. SO I WENT TO UVA, AND AT THAT PROGRAM, THEY DID NOT TEACH SIGN LANGUAGE. THEY ONLY FOLLOWED THE ORAL METHOD OF TEACHING DEAF CHILDREN, WHICH PRECLUDED THE USE OF SIGN LANGUAGE. AND PEOPLE TOLD ME, "WELL, ALL DEAF KIDS CAN LEARN TO TALK. THEY CAN LIP READ, THEY CAN HEAR A LITTLE BIT," ALL THIS STUFF. AND I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT I WAS DOING, SO I BOUGHT IT. BUT AS IT HAPPENED, THERE I WAS, AND I WAS HANGING OUT WITH DEAF KIDS, AND THERE WAS A DEAF SCHOOL NEARBY, AND I HAD TO ASSOCIATE WITH LITTLE DEAF KIDS, AND THERE WAS THIS ONE LITTLE BOY WHO WAS JUST BRILLIANT. I MEAN, HE REALLY WAS A SMART KID. AND I WOULD GO OUT WITH HIM AND HIS MOM, AND WE WOULD PLAY. WE'D HANG OUT. HIS MOM WOULD SHOW UP AND SAY, "HI. HOW ARE YOU?" AND THE KID WOULD TRY TO TALK. YOU KNOW, HE WAS TRYING TO SAY, "I SAW A SQUIRREL. I SAW A SQUIRREL." AND HE WAS JUST SAYING THIS OVER AND OVER AGAIN. AND THEN HE GESTURED. "I SAW A SQUIRREL," SOMETHING THAT LOOKED LIKE AN ANIMAL RUNNING AROUND. AND I WAS JUST SO STRUCK BY THAT. I THOUGHT, "I'VE GOT TO LEARN SIGN. IT MAKES MORE SENSE." SO I DECIDED MY PROGRAM WAS OK. IT WAS GOOD ENOUGH. I WAS LEARNING. BUT I REALLY NEEDED TO LEARN SIGN LANGUAGE. I WAS STILL SO HUNGRY FOR IT. I STILL WANTED THAT. SO I'M LOOKING AROUND THE TOWN WHERE I'M LIVING, AND THERE WERE JUST A FEW DEAF PEOPLE LIVED THERE, AND THERE WAS THIS ONE OLDER DEAF GUY WHO MIGHT ACTUALLY HAVE BEEN THE AGE I AM NOW, BUT I'M CALLING HIM OLDER. BUT HE WAS WILLING TO SIGN WITH ME. HIS NAME WAS JERRY GRIZZLE. SO I WOULD GO OVER TO HIS HOUSE ONCE A WEEK ON A REGULAR BASIS AND JUST KIND OF SPEND SOME TIME WITH THIS GUY. THAT'S HOW I LEARNED SIGN. LATER, I WAS REALLY HANGING OUT A LOT WITH DEAF PEOPLE AND LEARNED IT MORE THEN. I WAS LOOKING FOR A SCHOOL. WELL, I NEEDED A STUDENT TEACHING EXPERIENCE FOR MY PROGRAM. AND RIT/NTID HAD A POSITION AVAILABLE, SO I WENT. AND THAT'S WHERE I REALLY KIND OF THREW MYSELF INTO THE DEAF WORLD. I WENT AND HUNG OUT WITH DEAF STUDENTS AT THE BARS AND PLAYED AND PARTIED DOWN. AND REALLY, THAT'S WHERE MOST OF MY SIGN LANGUAGE LEARNING OCCURRED. AND THAT WAS 1983. IT WAS AN INTERNSHIP. JUST A SHORT 3 OR 4-MONTH TIME PERIOD. AND THEN THEY OFFERED ME A JOB, WHICH WAS GREAT. SO I ACCEPTED THE POSITION. AND WHEN I STARTED, I JUST WORKED PART-TIME. I WAS TEACHING ENGLISH. I'M TRYING TO REMEMBER EXACTLY WHEN BIRD BRAIN GOT GOING ON. UM, AND I CAN'T REMEMBER EXACTLY, BUT... MOSTLY IT WAS JUST KIND OF HANGING OUT AND PLAYING WITH LANGUAGE. I GOT THIS JOB, AND... BUT JIM COHN--AND THIS IS HIS NAME SIGN-- IS A REALLY GOOD FRIEND OF MINE. AND HE CALLS ME UP ONE DAY, AND HE SAID, UM, "I KNOW THIS AMAZING POET, AND HIS NAME IS PETER COOK." "AND HE'S GOING TO BE PERFORMING SOON, "AND I WANT YOU TO VOICE FOR HIM. ARE YOU WILLING TO DO IT?" AND I WAS LIKE, "I DON'T KNOW. I MEAN, I'M NOT SURE." AND JIM--AH, I'M NOT SAYING THIS RIGHT. LET ME START AGAIN. I HAD THIS GREAT FRIEND WHEN I FIRST STARTED OUT AT NTID, AND HIS NAME WAS JIM COHN. ONE DAY HE CALLED ME AND HE SAID, "HEY, I WANT YOU TO VOICE FOR THIS AMAZING DEAF POET. WILL YOU DO IT?" AND THE PROBLEM IS, I'M NOT AN INTERPRETER. HE SAID, "I DON'T CARE. COME ON, COME ON, COME ON. JUST DO IT." AND I SAID, "WELL, I'M JUST NOT SURE." AND HE SAID, "WELL, OK, MAYBE I'LL JUST FIND SOMEBODY ELSE. THERE'S A GIRL I KNOW WHO I COULD ASK." AND THEN I REALIZED I DON'T REALLY WANT SOMEBODY ELSE TO DO IT. "OK, FINE. YOU GOT ME THAT WAY." SO I MADE THE ARRANGEMENTS TO GO AND MEET PETER AND ALL THIS, AND I WENT TO PETER COOK'S HOUSE ONE DAY. KNOCK ON THE DOOR. THE DOOR IS OPENED. I WALKED INTO HIS HOUSE AND HE HAD TVs. NOT JUST ONE, 3 TVs. FOOTBALL ON ONE, FOOTBALL ON ANOTHER, AND A COMMERCIAL ON THE ONE IN THE MIDDLE. AND THEN AFTER THE COMMERCIAL WAS DONE, A FOOTBALL GAME CAME ON. IT WAS REALLY FUNNY BECAUSE REALLY, IN RETROSPECT, PETER'S NOT REALLY INTO SPORTS. BUT ANYWAY, PETER INVITED ME IN AND WE SAT DOWN AND PETER JUST SORT OF SPONTANEOUSLY PERFORMED THIS THING FOR ME. [LAUGHING] I WAS MESMERIZED. I THOUGHT, "MY GOD, THIS IS SO AMAZING." THE AMOUNT OF ENERGY THAT HE EXUDED, IT WAS JUST INCREDIBLE. AND HOW HE WAS ABLE TO DO THAT, I DON'T KNOW. AND HOW WOULD I EVER VOICE THAT? I DON'T KNOW. BUT ANYWAY, IT WAS JUST SUCH AN INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCE, AND... YOU KNOW, WE WOULD MEET FROM TIME TO TIME, AND WE WOULD PLAY AROUND WITH DIFFERENT IDEAS, AND THE SYNERGY WAS INCREDIBLE. WE REALLY GOT EACH OTHER. WE HAD AN INSTANTANEOUS CONNECTION, AND IT'S BEEN THAT WAY EVER SINCE. WE NEVER ACTUALLY TRIED TO CREATED THINGS TOGETHER OR DECIDE TO BECOME A TEAM. IT JUST SIMPLY HAPPENED. WE JUST CONNECTED AND WE BECAME FRIENDS. AND THEN THE TWO OF US BECAME WHAT WE CALLED CO-FRIENDS INSTEAD OF CO-FOUNDERS. WELL, IN THE BEGINNING, PETER WOULD COME UP WITH THE SIGNS, AND THEN I WOULD JUST WATCH HIM. AND I'D SAY, "DO IT AGAIN, DO IT AGAIN." NOW, OF COURSE, THIS IS BEFORE THE DAYS OF HAVING VIDEO, SO HE HAD TO PERFORM THINGS FOR ME OVER AND OVER AGAIN, WHICH DROVE HIM CRAZY. IT WAS VERY FRUSTRATING. IT WAS VERY DIFFICULT, BECAUSE I'M TRYING TO MATCH HIS STYLE AND HIS TIMING AND THE MOVEMENTS AND ALL THESE DIFFERENT ELEMENTS, AND HOW AM I AM GONNA GET A VOICE-- A VOCAL RENDITION TO BE IN SYNC WITH HIM? SOMETIMES HE WOULD GIVE ME SOME WORDS, AND THEN WE WOULD TALK ABOUT THE WORDS THAT HE'D CHOSEN. BUT REALLY, WHAT HAPPENED OVER THE COURSE OF TIME WAS THAT IT BECAME THIS SORT OF PROCESS WHERE I MIGHT SUGGEST IMAGES TO HIM AND HE WOULD SUGGEST WORDS TO ME, AND OUR WORK BECAME MELDED TOGETHER IN THAT PARTICULAR WAY. THERE WAS NOBODY ELSE TO ASK. THERE WAS NOBODY TO ASK ADVICE FROM AT THAT TIME. NOBODY HAD EVER SEEN THIS PROCESS BEFORE, ANYBODY DOING IT. I WOULD THINK REALLY HARD ABOUT HOW TO VOICE THESE IMAGES THAT WERE COMING MY WAY. AND I FELT VERY STRONGLY THAT THESE ARE PICTURES PETER'S CREATING, AND I'M NOT THE ARTIST, HE IS. THE ART IS HIM, AND THE PICTURES ARE HIM. THAT'S THE ART FORM THAT WE'RE PUTTING OUT THERE. SO I HAD TO FIGURE OUT THE WAY TO FIND WORDS THAT WOULD SOMEHOW SUPPORT WHAT HE WAS DOING SO THAT THE HEARING PEOPLE WOULD BE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND IT. I WANTED THE HEARING PEOPLE TO WATCH HIM AND NOT NECESSARILY PUT THE FOCUS ON MY WORDS AND ON ME. I WANTED THEM TO TAKE IN WHAT PETER WAS DOING AND THE WHOLE TRAJECTORY OF THE POEM VISUALLY, NOT BE DISTRACTED BY MY WORDS. WELL, IN THE BEGINNING THE INTERPRETERS WERE REALLY MAD AT ME, AND THEY JUST CRITICIZED THE HECK OUT OF ME. YOU KNOW, ONE OF THE THINGS WAS, LIKE, WELL, INTERPRETERS ARE TRAINED-- THEY VOICE EVERY SINGLE THEY SEE. THEY HAVE TO. THAT'S HOW THEY'RE TRAINED. BUT I WOULD JUST THROW IN A WORD HERE OR THERE, JUST SORT OF A CUE. SOMETIMES PETER WOULD-- YOU KNOW, IF HE WAS LIKE SHOWING SOMEBODY COCKING A GUN OR A RIFLE OR WHATEVER, I DIDN'T FEEL LIKE I HAD TO VOICE THAT. IT WAS OBVIOUS, SO I WOULD STAY SILENT FOR THOSE PARTS. OR IF THERE ARE TREES RUSTLING IN THE WIND AND A PERSON IS RUNNING THROUGH THE WOODS AND STEALTHILY GOING AROUND THE TRUNKS OF THE TREES, I WOULD JUST SAY THERE'S A PERSON IN THE WOODS, AND THEN MY VOICE WOULD JUST FADE OUT COMPLETELY AFTER I'VE BEEN GIVING A FEW CUES SO THAT THE HEARING AUDIENCE WOULD BE ABLE TO JUST SEE THIS UNFOLD. A PERSON LOOKING FROM BEHIND A TREE, THEY CAN UNDERSTAND THAT. SO IN THE BEGINNING, INTERPRETERS REALLY TOOK ISSUE WITH ME AND MY METHOD. AND AFTER A WHILE, I THINK THEY ACCEPTED WHO I WAS, BUT, BOY, WAS IT TOUGH IN THE BEGINNING. AND ALSO, A LOT OF DEAF PEOPLE WERE PRETTY UPSET WITH ME. PETER AND I WERE REALLY GOOD FRIENDS, AND WE WERE CREATING THINGS TOGETHER. AND THAT'S JUST WHO WE WERE. BUT DEAF FOLKS WOULD GET ANNOYED BECAUSE THEY FELT LIKE A HEARING PERSON SHOULD NOT BE CREATING WITH A DEAF PERSON. A LOT OF PEOPLE WERE AFRAID THAT, ME-- OR I AS A HEARING PERSON WOULD CO-OPT THE PROCESS OR TAKE OVER, WHATEVER, AND OPPRESS PETER AND WHAT HAVE YOU. BUT, I MEAN, HONESTLY, WE WERE JUST FRIENDS. WE WEREN'T EVEN THINKING ABOUT ONE OF US BEING DEAF OR ONE OF US BEING HEARING. WE WERE JUST HAVING FUN AND BEING CREATIVE TOGETHER AND THINGS WERE WORKING OUT HUNKY-DORY FOR US. I MEAN, IF ANYONE WAS TO WATCH PETER COOK AND REALLY KNOW HIM VERY WELL, YOU'D REALIZE YOU CAN'T FORCE THAT GUY TO DO MUCH OF ANYTHING. I THINK ALSO A PROBLEM WAS THAT A LOT OF INTERPRETERS FELT THAT I WAS PRESENTING MYSELF AS AN INTERPRETER, BUT I'M NOT AN INTERPRETER. I NEVER LEARNED THE INTERPRETING PROCESS OR THAT SKILL. I WOULD NOT KNOW HOW. I DON'T POSSESS THAT ALACRITY. YOU KNOW, I'M REALLY GREAT AS A VOCAL INTERPRETER FOR PETER COOK, AND WE CREATE THESE PIECES TOGETHER. AND SO I'M NOT TRYING TO PRESENT MYSELF AS AN INTERPRETER OR ACT IN THE CAPACITY OF AN INTERPRETER. I DON'T HAVE THAT BACKGROUND. I JUST HAPPEN TO KNOW THESE PIECES. I KNOW WHAT THIS PERSON IS DOING. I UNDERSTAND WHAT HE'S DOING IN TRYING TO PUT IT OUT THERE FOR HEARING PEOPLE, AND THAT'S MY GOAL. WELL, I NEVER PRETENDED TO BE AN INTERPRETER. I DIDN'T. YOU KNOW, I CAN'T DO THAT. INTERPRETERS ARE INCREDIBLE. I CAN'T DO WHAT THEY DO. I NEVER WOULD BE ABLE TO. I DON'T KNOW. LET'S SEE. I'M TRYING TO REMEMBER THE FIRST NIGHT I MET DEBBIE RENNIE. I CAN'T REMEMBER HOW OR WHERE OR WHEN. I JUST REMEMBER THAT IMMEDIATELY WE HAD A GREAT RELATIONSHIP, JUST THE SAME WAY I HAD WITH PETER. WE HAD THIS REALLY FAST CONNECTION CREATIVELY. AND PETER AND DEBBIE HAD THE SAME SORT OF CREATIVE SYNERGY. SOMETIMES THE THREE OF US WOULD HAVE THAT, AND WE BECAME A TEAM. AND WE WOULD JUST PLAY AROUND. THAT'S THE ONLY WAY I COULD SAY IT. WE WERE SO CREATIVE TOGETHER, AND IT WAS WONDERFUL. IF DEBBIE DIDN'T LIKE THE IDEA THAT I'D PUT OUT THERE, PETER WOULD. AND IF PETER DIDN'T LIKE MY IDEA, MAYBE DEBBIE WOULD. SOMETIMES I WOULD GO TO ONE, THEY DIDN'T LIKE IT, I'D GO TO THE OTHER, AND THEN WE WOULD TAKE OFF. SOMETIMES PETER AND DEBBIE HAD SOMETHING THAT I DIDN'T CARE FOR, BUT THEN THEY'D SAY, "FINE. THEN WE'LL TAKE CARE OF THIS," AND THEY WOULD COME UP WITH SOMETHING TOGETHER. IT WAS A GREAT TEAM. VERY FUN. SHARE WHAT? MM. SO LATER, THE THREE OF US WERE LIVING IN THE SAME HOUSE. AND THIS HOUSE SORT OF BECAME HOT, I GUESS YOU COULD SAY, 'CAUSE YOU HAD THESE TWO AMAZING DEAF POETS LIVING THERE, AND THAT MEANT THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE CAME OVER. IT BECAME SORT OF A CENTRAL LOCATION. I'D COME HOME SOMETIME--I'D WALK IN THE HOUSE, I'D GO INTO THE KITCHEN, AND OF COURSE, THE KITCHEN, RIGHT? THAT'S DEAF CENTRAL ANYWAY. THAT'S WHERE MOST DEAF PEOPLE HANG OUT IN THE HOUSES. AND THE TABLE WAS COMPLETELY SURROUNDED BY DEAF PEOPLE JABBERING AWAY. AND SOMETIMES, TO BE REALLY HONEST WITH YOU, I'D WALK IN AND GO, "HOLY COW! WHAT AM I DOING HERE?" THEY'RE SO GOOD. I MEAN, YOU'VE GOT DEBBIE AND PETER AND-- YOU KNOW, I'M REALLY GREAT WITH IDEAS, BUT NOT AS A SIGNER. AND ALL THESE DEAF PEOPLE WOULD BE IN MY KITCHEN, AND I FELT LIKE SUCH A NEWBIE. I WASN'T THAT GREAT OF A SIGNER YET. YOU KNOW, SOMETIMES I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT WAS GOING ON. AND I KNOW A LOT OF PEOPLE LIKE, YOU KNOW, PATRICK GRAYBILL OR WHATEVER WOULD BE IN THERE, PEOPLE THAT I, YOU KNOW, BOW DOWN TO WITH RESPECT. THEY'RE SO WELL-KNOWN. PETER AND DEBBIE, ALL THESE LUMINARIES. AND I JUST FELT LIKE I SHOULD KEEP MY MOUTH SHUT. SO SOMETIMES I'D JUST WOULD LOOK BACK AND FORTH AND WATCH EVERYBODY TALKING. IT WAS SO EXCITING. I JUST TOOK IT ALL IN, YOU KNOW? REALLY, I LEARNED SO MUCH. MY SIGN LANGUAGE SKILL REALLY IMPROVED JUST FROM BEING IN THAT ENVIRONMENT. ALL THESE ASL POETS, WATCHING HOW THEY WORKED, HOW THEY CREATED, AND HOW THEY EXPRESSED THEMSELVES IN THAT LANGUAGE, IT HELPED ME UNDERSTAND SIGN LANGUAGE IN GENERAL BETTER FROM BEING IN THAT ENVIRONMENT. IN THE BEGINNING, I VOICED FOR BOTH OF THEM BECAUSE THEY WERE MY IDEAS AS WELL. I CREATED A POEM WITH DEBBIE CALLED "MISSING CHILDREN." WELL, WHEN THIS POEM WAS DONE, YOU KNOW, LIKE, IT WAS TIME TO PERFORM IT, AND I WANTED MY WORDS TO BE IN SYNC WITH IT BECAUSE IT WAS MY POEM, TOO. BUT DEBBIE WANTED A FEMALE VOICE TO REPRESENT HER. SHE REALLY FELT THAT IT WOULD BE BETTER. AND I, OF COURSE, WAS FINE WITH THAT. I MEAN, LIKE--IT'S NOT THAT SHE DIDN'T TRUST ME. IT WAS JUST THAT SHE WANTED TO BE REPRESENTED BY A FEMALE VOICE. SHE FELT THAT WAS A BETTER PORTRAYAL OF HER ART. AND SO SHE ASKED DONNA KACHITES TO VOICE FOR HER, WHICH WAS FINE WITH ME. AND DONNA WAS GREAT. I MEAN, DONNA JUST DID A SUPERB JOB VOICING FOR DEBBIE. AND I DO REMEMBER THIS ONE TIME... PETER AND I WERE PERFORMING AT THIS REALLY SMALL COFFEEHOUSE CALLED JAZZBERRY'S. DEBBIE INTRODUCED US, AND SHE STOOD UP ON THE STAGE. SHE PRETENDED TO BE PETER, AND SHE COMPLETELY IMITATED WHO HE WAS, HIS STYLE, EVERYTHING. AND SHE DID EVERYTHING PERFECTLY. AND DONNA DID THE MOST AMAZING JOB VOICING FOR HER. IT WAS JUST BEAUTIFUL. AND DEBBIE DID A BEAUTIFUL INTRODUCTION, TOO. IT WAS JUST SUCH AN EXCITING TIME. THERE WERE SO MANY SHOWS. AND A LOT OF DEAF PEOPLE PERFORMED AT THE TIME, TOO. ALSO, THERE WERE A LOT OF HEARING ARTISTS, HEARING POETS. THERE WAS A SERIES. NOPE, REALLY HAVE TO BACK UP. REALLY WHAT HAPPENED WAS JIM COHN INVITED PETER TO BE PART OF THIS HEARING POETRY SERIES. AND HE NEEDED ME TO VOICE FOR HIM, TO SORT OF, QUOTE, INTERPRET FOR HIM. BUT THERE WERE A LOT OF HEARING POETS THERE. AND SO THEY NEEDED INTERPRETERS FOR EACH HEARING POET SO IF ANYBODY DEAF SHOWED UP, THEY WOULD UNDERSTAND WHAT WAS GOING ON, TOO. DEAF PEOPLE WOULD FLOCK TO THESE, MOSTLY TO SEE PETER OR DEBBIE, BUT THERE WERE ALSO HEARING PEOPLE WHO WERE COMING TO LISTEN TO THE HEARING POETS. SO IT WAS REALLY FOR EVERYBODY. THEY SAW ALL KINDS ON INTERPRETING. THEY HAD VOCAL RENDITIONS. THEY HAD INTERPRETED HEARING POETS SO THE DEAF PEOPLE COULD SEE IT. SO THEY WERE GETTING ASL, THEY WERE GETTING ENGLISH. IT WAS KIND OF A STRANGE TIME, IN A WAY, BECAUSE THERE WAS SO MUCH OF A MIXTURE BETWEEN THESE TWO GROUPS. IT WAS AN INTERESTING TIME FOR PEOPLE TO DEVELOP FRIENDSHIPS BETWEEN HEARING AND DEAF. PETER BECAME FRIENDS WITH PEOPLE WHO DIDN'T KNOW ANY SIGN LANGUAGE WHATSOEVER, LIKE TODD BEERS, WHO IS AN INCREDIBLY CREATIVE HEARING POET. AND HE AND PETER BECAME FRIENDS. BUT THE ENERGY JUST KEPT BUILDING MORE AND MORE. THERE WAS A GOOD CROSS-FERTILIZATION OF ALL THIS TALENT. IT WAS JUST AN AMAZING TIME. I NEVER INTERPRETED FOR ANY HEARING POETS. NOPE. NOPE. I JUST WATCHED. AND I ENJOYED MYSELF. AND I LEARNED SO MUCH FROM THE HEARING POETS. BUT, YOU KNOW, ONE INTERESTING THING IS THAT I DON'T CONSIDER THE WORDS THAT I PUT OUT TO HAVE BEEN POETRY AT THE TIME. I MEAN, MY WORDS WERE PUT OUT AS A SUPPORT TO THE IMAGES THAT PETER WAS PORTRAYING. AND OFTEN, PETER AND I WOULD-- YOU KNOW, WE'D BE PLAYING AROUND AND, YOU KNOW, I WOULD HAVE THIS IDEA, AND I WOULD GIVE IT TO PETER, AND PETER WOULD TAKE THIS IDEA AND HE WOULD CHOP IT AND DICE IT AND SLICE IT AND PUT IT IN THE BLENDER AND MAKE SOMETHING GORGEOUS WITH IT. AND WE'D BOTH GO, "YEAH!" AND HIGH-5 EACH OTHER. "WHAT AN AMAZING PIECE OF WORK!" AND THEN PETER WOULD SAY, "WELL, KENNY, HOW ARE YOU GONNA VOICE THIS? HA HA HA HA HA." AND I'D THINK, "OH, NO. MY OWN IDEAS ARE BEING USED AGAINST ME." BUT YOU ASKED ME SOMETHING BEFORE. WHAT WAS IT? UH, NO. I DIDN'T INTERPRET FOR HEARING POETS. I CAN'T REMEMBER WHAT ELSE IT WAS. OH, THE PERSON WHO ASKED ME THAT QUESTION IS GONE. OH, THERE YOU ARE. AM I BEING CLEAR SO FAR? OK. I WAS NEVER A POET. I WAS MORE OF A PERFORMING ARTIST, I WOULD SAY. IN HIGH SCHOOL I HAD THIS GREAT FRIEND. HIS NAME WAS JOE GELATI. AND THE TWO OF US WERE ALWAYS PLAYING AROUND WITH DIFFERENT VOICES-- VOCAL RENDITIONS OF THINGS. AND LATER IN COLLEGE, I HAD THIS OTHER WONDERFUL FRIEND NAMED JODI PRAD, AND WE CAME UP WITH THESE PERFORMANCE ART PIECES ALL THE TIME. ONE TIME WE HAD A WEDDING CEREMONY. THE WHOLE THING WAS JUST A GOOF, JUST THIS CREATED WEDDING CEREMONY. ALL THE IDEAS IN IT WERE BASICALLY IMAGES, AND JODI WOULD COME UP WITH THE WORDS MOSTLY. I DID COME UP WITH SOME OF THE WORDS FOR IT. BUT MOSTLY I CAME UP WITH, LIKE, DIFFERENT TABLEAUS AND THINGS THAT I WANTED. [LAUGHING] THERE WAS ONE IMAGE IN THE WEDDING WHERE I HAD A FRIEND WHO HAD REALLY LONG, BLONDE HAIR, ALL THE WAY PAST HIS SHOULDERS, AND HE WAS DRESSED LIKE JESUS. HE EVEN HAD A CROWN OF THORNS ON AND THIS LONG, FLOWING ROBE. WE HAD A CROSS ASSEMBLED BEHIND THE WEDDING COUPLE, AND MY FRIEND GOT UP AND WAS KIND OF HANGING ON THE CROSS FOR THE WHOLE CEREMONY. I KNOW IT'S SICK. ONE MY SICK IDEAS. AND THEN AS THE WEDDING PROGRESSED-- I GUESS MAYBE, YOU KNOW, IT HAD GONE ABOUT HALFWAY OR SOMETHING, AND THEN ANOTHER FRIEND CAME DOWN THE AISLE. HE WAS WEARING A HARDHAT AND, YOU KNOW, HE HAD, LIKE, BIG CONSTRUCTION CLOTHES ON AND WHAT HAVE YOU. HE GETS TO THE END OF THE AISLE, TAKES OFF ALL THOSE CLOTHES, AND UNDERNEATH HE HAS A LONG, FLOWING ROBE, THE SAME AS THE GUY WHO'S PLAYING JESUS, TAKES OFF HIS HARDHAT, HE PUNCHES THE CLOCK AS IF HE'S GOING ON SHIFT, AND JESUS ON THE FIRST SHIFT GIVES HIM THE CROWN, COMES DOWN, AND THE B-SHIFT JESUS CAME ON AND GOT ON THE CROSS. THAT WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WEDDING. ANYWAY, YEAH, MIGHT BE CONSIDERED SICK, BUT I'M KIND OF A SICK PERSON. BUT THE POINT IS THAT I WAS NOT A POET. I WAS AN IMAGE KIND OF GUY. AN IN THE EARLY EIGHTIES WHEN THE DEAF POETS AND THE HEARING POETS WERE JUST STARTING THIS FUSION, I WAS LOOKING AT THIS AND I WAS LISTENING TO A LOT OF THE WORDS THAT WERE CREATING THE IMAGES THAT THE HEARING POETS WERE CREATING BECAUSE THAT WAS BEAT POETRY IN A SENSE, ALL THESE DIFFERENT IMAGES PUT TOGETHER. AND I SAW THE SIGN LANGUAGE POETS DOING IMAGES AS WELL. AND THAT KIND OF STARTED ME ON MY PATH OF BEING AN IMAGE PERSON EVEN IN SIGN LANGUAGE AND WITH THE WORDS USED TO SUPPORT THEM. YEAH, IT'S INTERESTING. ASL... WELL, I'M NOT A GREAT SIGNER. I WATCH ELLA AND PETER AND PATRICK AND DEBBIE AND VALLI AND ALL THOSE AMAZING POETS, AND THEIR SIGN LANGUAGE IS JUST GORGEOUS. AND THAT'S SOMETHING THAT I CAN'T APPROXIMATE. BUT WHAT I CAN DO IS THINK IN IMAGES, EVEN IF I CAN'T DO THEM MYSELF. I'M REALLY GREAT AT THINKING IN IMAGES AND MAKING THE LINKAGES BETWEEN THEM. AND I'M ALSO A GREAT DIAGNOSTICIAN. I'LL WATCH PETER OR DEBBIE, AND I'LL SAY, "OH, WHAT IF YOU JUST ADD THIS IN THAT PART? OR WHAT IF YOU DO A LITTLE MORE OF THIS OR THAT?" I CAN SEE THAT SOMETHING ISN'T CLEAR ENOUGH THAT THEY'RE PUTTING OUT OR-- I MEAN, I GUESS I'M AN ASL POET WHO DOESN'T REALLY SIGN THE POETRY MYSELF. I DON'T KNOW. I MEAN, PEOPLE CALL ME AN ASL POET, BUT MAYBE THAT'S NOT THE RIGHT NAME FOR ME. I DON'T KNOW. I AM A PERSON WHO CREATES AND PLAYS WITH DEAF PEOPLE'S LANGUAGE, AND I HAVE A SYNERGY WITH THEM AND A CHEMISTRY WITH THEM. MAYBE THAT MEANS I'M AN ASL POET OR MAYBE I'M STILL A PERFORMING ARTIST. I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'D CALL ME AT THIS POINT. YEAH, WELL, SOMETIMES MY IDEAS ARE THINGS I JUST GIVE TO PETER, AND HE TAKES THEM AND FUSSES WITH THEM, AND THEN HE CREATES THIS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING THING. IT'S LIKE... YOU KNOW, IT'S LIKE A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH, IN A SENSE. I GIVE HIM THIS BIG OLD HULKING ROCK, IMMEDIATELY HE SEES WHAT LAYS WITHIN AND HE CHIPS AWAY AND FINDS ALL THE FACETS AND UNCOVERS THE SPARKLING GEM INSIDE OF IT. PETER CAN FIND THAT. BIRD BRAIN SOCIETY. IT WASN'T ALL POETRY, ACTUALLY. SOMETIMES IT WAS STORIES, SOMETIMES SKITS, JUST VERY BRIEF SKITS. BUT THE ENTIRE FOCUS OF IT WAS TO PLAY WITH LANGUAGE. IT WAS TO PLAY SPECIFICALLY WITH ASL. AND THERE WAS NO VOICE, NO INTERPRETER, NOTHING LIKE THAT. IF YOU WANTED TO GO, YOU JUST WENT. IT WAS IN THE BASEMENT UNDERNEATH THE DORMS AT RIT. THERE WAS REALLY NOTHING IN THERE, JUST SOME BENCHES, SOME CHAIRS. PEOPLE WOULD TAKE TURNS DOING THEIR THING. AND IT WAS SO FUN, JUST REALLY FUN. I DIDN'T LABEL IT AS POETRY. I DIDN'T LABEL IT AS ANYTHING. I WAS JUST GOING AND WATCHING DEAF PEOPLE DO WHATEVER THIS WAS. AND I DID NOT ALWAYS UNDERSTAND IT. NO. I MEAN, SOMETIMES IT JUST FLEW RIGHT BY ME. BUT I ENJOYED IT ANYWAY. I DIDN'T REALLY CARE. I MEAN, POETRY ITSELF-- HEARING POETRY, DEAF POETRY, IT DOESN'T MATTER. I MEAN, I'M HEARING, AND HERE I AM, A HEARING PERSON AND I GO AND LISTEN TO SPOKEN LANGUAGE POETRY. I DON'T ALWAYS UNDERSTAND IT, BUT I DON'T CARE, BECAUSE I LISTEN TO IT AND LET THE IMAGES JUST COME TO MIND, AND THAT'S ART. THAT'S WHAT THE MEANING OF ART IS REALLY. ARTISTS CREATE THESE BEAUTIFUL CANVASES THAT THEY PUT ON A WALL, AND THEN A PERSON MIGHT WANDER INTO THE MUSEUM AND LOOK AT IT, AND THEY'LL BE REMINDED OF SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED WHEN THEY WERE A CHILD, JUST FROM LOOKING AT THAT PAINTING. OR MAYBE THEY LOOK AT THE PAINTING AND THEY SAY, "OH, THERE'S AN AIRPLANE." THE ARTIST DIDN'T HAVE AN AIRPLANE IN THEIR MIND AT ALL. BUT THAT'S THE NATURE OF ART. IT'S THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN THE ARTIST AND THE PIECE OF ART AND THE AUDIENCE, AND THE DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES THAT EVERYBODY BRINGS TO THE TABLE. I DON'T REMEMBER WHAT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT, BUT... OH, YEAH. BIRD BRAIN. NOPE, I DID NOT UNDERSTAND IT. QUITE OFTEN I GOT IT, OTHER TIMES I DIDN'T, BUT I REALLY DIDN'T CARE. I JUST DIDN'T CARE 'CAUSE I WAS HAVING SUCH A GOOD TIME JUST TAKING IT ALL IN. I DIDN'T THINK... I DIDN'T THINK WHAT WE WERE DOING WAS POETRY OR PLAYING WITH THE LANGUAGE. I JUST--I DON'T KNOW. I WAS JUST HAVING FUN. I MEAN, I WAS TRYING TO LEARN SIGN. AND I HAD THIS FRIEND NAMED CHUCK STRUPPMANN. AND LATER HE BECAME PART OF NATIONAL THEATER OF THE DEAF. BUT WE WERE REALLY GOOD FRIENDS, AND WE USED TO HORSE AROUND WITH LANGUAGE THE SAME WAY THAT I DID WITH PETER. WE CAME UP WITH STORIES TOGETHER, AND THEN WE WOULD LAUGH OUR ASSES OFF, AND THEN WE WOULD COMPLETELY FORGET THEM AFTERWARDS. I MET PETER. WE CAME UP WITH ALL THESE DIFFERENT IDEAS. WE NEVER WROTE THEM DOWN. WE NEVER RECORDED THEM IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM, OR USED THEM IN ANYTHING. AND WE WOULD JUST LAUGH. WE'D SAY, "WHOA, THAT WAS AMAZING! LOOK AT THAT! HUH!" AND WE'D COMPLETELY FORGET IT. SO, THAT WAS A TIME FOR ME THAT WAS ALL ABOUT LEARNING SIGN LANGUAGE AND JUST SEEING EVERYTHING, NOT COMPLETELY UNDERSTANDING WHAT I WAS SEEING, LOOKING AT ASL POETRY, ASL STORIES, LOOKING AT ASL ITSELF, SOMETIMES NOT UNDERSTANDING WHAT IT WAS BUT NOT CARING, JUST ENJOYING BEING IN THIS SEA OF LANGUAGE ALL THE TIME. I WAS SO LUCKY TO BE AT THAT TIME IN THAT PLACE, SO FORTUNATE THAT PETER AND I CONNECTED IN THE WAY WE DID. I DON'T KNOW WHY IT HAPPENED. NO IDEA. DEBBIE, TOO. WHY? WHO KNOWS. WE JUST HAD THIS CONNECTION. AND THE BIRD BRAIN SOCIETY REALLY GREW. I MEAN, IT'S LIKE PATRICK'S RENDITION OF "THE HYDROGEN JUKEBOX." WATCHING THE JUKEBOX EXPLODE. IT WAS EXACTLY THE SAME THING. BIRD BRAIN SOCIETY GREW, PROLIFERATED, MORE PEOPLE JOINED, AND THE WHOLE POETRY SCENE JUST EXPLODED. DEAF POETRY REALLY TOOK OFF AND JUST CREATED THIS AMAZING FUSION OF ENERGY. THEN WE HAD THE DEAF POETRY CONFERENCE. AND THEN PETER--WELL, IT WAS PETER'S IDEA. LET ME GO BACK A BIT. PETER--OK. [CHUCKLES] SO, PETER AND DEBBIE AND I, THE 3 OF US, WE WERE PERFORMING FOR $15 ONE TIME. WE WERE AT A PLACE HERE IN ROCHESTER CALLED WRITERS AND BOOKS. WHAT? WHAT DID THEY BUY FOR $15? WELL, THEY BOUGHT ME AND PETER AND DEBBIE. OH, I MISUNDERSTOOD. WHAT DID WE BUY WITH THE $15 WE GOT PAID? HMM. PROBABLY BEER. I'M SURE I PROBABLY BOUGHT BEER WITH IT. BUT ANYWAY... THE 3 OF US WERE PERFORMING FOR OUR $15 FOR THIS EVENT, AND IT HAPPENED TO BE A WRITER'S CONFERENCE THAT WE WERE HIRED TO PERFORM FOR. AND A MAN IN THE AUDIENCE CAME UP TO US AFTERWARDS, AND HE SAID, "MY NAME IS GREGORY KOLOVAKOS, "AND I'M FROM THE NEW YORK STATE COUNCIL ON THE ARTS, AND I WANT TO GIVE YOU SOME MONEY." AND THE 3 OF US WERE LIKE, "OH, MY GOD! HOW GREAT IS THAT? WOW. SURE. WE'LL TAKE IT." AND HE CONVINCED US THAT WE SHOULD WRITE A GRANT. AND PETER AND I DECIDED, OK, WE'LL FIGURE THIS OUT. AND WE DID WRITE A GRANT. THIS GRANT MONEY WAS SPECIFICALLY FOR US TO TRAVEL ACROSS NEW YORK STATE IN DIFFERENT VENUES AND DO SOME PERFORMANCES. DEBBIE WAS NOT INVOLVED IN THIS PARTICULAR ASPECT. IT WAS JUST PETER AND ME. SO WE TRAVELED AROUND AND WE PERFORMED. AND, OH, GOSH, IT WAS SO FUN. WE REALLY ENJOYED IT. WE EXPERIENCED SO MUCH. WE SAW A LOT. WE MET WONDERFUL PEOPLE. THAT YEAR ENDED, AND WE DECIDE THAT WE SHOULD TRY AGAIN FOR A GRANT THE FOLLOWING YEAR. SO WE SUBMITTED AGAIN. AND THEN PETER HAD HAD THIS BEE IN HIS BONNET FOR A WHILE. HE WAS JUST THINKING, YOU KNOW, WE'RE SO ISOLATED. HERE WE ARE JUST IN ROCHESTER. THERE'S NOT ENOUGH ASL POETRY IN ROCHESTER. AND WE'VE GOT PATRICK, WE'VE GOT DEBBIE, WE'VE GOT ME, PETER SAYING THIS, BUT THAT'S NOT ENOUGH. AND SO HE DECIDED THAT HE WANTED TO WRITE A SECOND GRANT, AND THIS GRANT WOULD BE SPECIFICALLY TO ESTABLISH A DEAF POETRY SERIES. AND HONESTLY, THERE WAS NOTHING LIKE THIS HAPPENING IN THE U.S. ANYWHERE. SO THE NEW YORK STATE COUNCIL ON THE ARTS GAVE US BOTH GRANTS THAT WE APPLIED FOR SO THE TWO OF US COULD DO ANOTHER 10-CITY TOUR. AND WE ALSO HAD ENOUGH MONEY THAT WE COULD BRING IN PEOPLE FROM OUT OF TOWN TO COME PERFORM IN ROCHESTER. AND THAT WAS INCREDIBLE INSPIRING TO SO MANY PEOPLE. IT WAS AMAZING. WE HAD SO MANY AMAZING DEAF PEOPLE COME TO PERFORM, AND WE HAD HEARING POETS COME TO THESE PERFORMANCES AS WELL AS DEAF PEOPLE. SO THE AUDIENCES WERE MIXED. LET'S SEE WHO WE BROUGHT IN. WE BROUGHT IN MALZ, WHO WAS INCREDIBLE. AND WE BROUGHT IN TWO DEAF FOLKS FROM QUEBEC-- SERGE BRIERE AND JOHANNA BOULANGER. JUST INCREDIBLE. AND TERRYLENE ALSO. ALL THESE DIFFERENT NAMES, THESE DIFFERENT PEOPLE CAME TO TOWN, JUST A WHOLE HOST OF THEM. ALL THESE DEAF PERFORMERS WOULD COME TO ROCHESTER AND PERFORM. AND PETER JUST, YOU KNOW, IT SET HIM ON FIRE EVEN MORE. AND HE'S THE ONE WHO GOT IT GOING. WE ALSO WANTED TO ENCOURAGE DEAF PEOPLE IN THE COMMUNITY. COME ON. COME. LOOK AT THIS. SEE ALL THESE DIFFERENT POETS. IT'S NOT JUST US. IT'S NOT JUST DEBBIE OR PATRICK OR US. THERE'S ALL THESE DIFFERENT STYLES OUT THERE, DIFFERENT IDEAS, DIFFERENT WAYS TO GO ABOUT IT TO PUT THIS INFUSION OF ENERGY, SORT OF LIKE A BIG MELTING POT OF ALL KINDS OF DIFFERENT DEAF PEOPLE, STYLES, POETRY, STORYTELLING. AND WE WERE ALL LEARNING FROM EACH OTHER. THE DEAF POETRY CONFERENCE. LET'S SEE, WAS "BRIDGE OF" BEFORE THAT OR AFTER THAT? PETER AND I WERE TRAVELING AROUND AND WE WERE PERFORMING, BUT SOMETIMES DEBBIE WOULD JOIN THESE PERFORMANCES, SOMETIMES NOT. SOMETIMES DEBBIE WOULD PERFORM ON HER OWN WITH DONNA AS HER VOICE. AND THE 4 OF US WOULD OFTEN BE TOGETHER. AND, OF COURSE, INTO THIS MIX YOU HAVE JIM COHN AS WELL. JIM IN AN INCREDIBLY ACCOMPLISHED POET, JUST A WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL POET. AND WATCHING POETRY BEING INTERPRETED AND LISTENING TO HIM WAS INCREDIBLE. THE 5 OF US WERE REALLY GOOD FRIENDS, AND WE THOUGHT, WHY DON'T WE KIND OF FOUND SOME SORT OF PERFORMANCE GROUP? SO SOMETIMES DEBBIE AND PETER AND I WOULD PERFORM, SOMETIMES DONNA WOULD JUST PERFORM. IT WOULD BE DIFFERENT CONFIGURATIONS WITHIN THE GROUP OF US. DONNA COULD INTERPRET FOR JIM'S POETRY, OF COURSE. HE WAS A HEARING POET AND NEEDED AN INTERPRETER, AND DONNA WAS SO GOOD AT CREATING THESE IMAGES, JUST BEAUTIFULLY BLENDED. SO DIFFERENT COMBINATIONS OF US IN THIS GROUP OF 5. AND IT DIDN'T GO FOR A VERY LONG TIME, THIS GROUP, BUT IT WAS REALLY FUN WHILE IT LASTED. WELL, "BRIDGE OF..." THAT'S WHAT WE CALLED THE GROUP WE CAME UP WITH, "BRIDGE OF..." "BRIDGE OF..." THE REASON BEING THAT PETER LOVED, LOVED THE ENGLISH WORDS "LEAN TO." YOU KNOW, BACK IN THE DAY, IF YOU'D GO CAMPING BUT YOU DIDN'T HAPPEN TO HAVE A TENT, YOU WOULD FIND SOME KIND OF SHELTER THAT YOU COULD PUT UP AGAINST A TREE. AND PETER LOVED THAT CONCEPT OF A LEAN-TO. THAT'S HOW IT WAS EXPRESSED IN ENGLISH, THOSE TWO WORDS. AND HE THOUGHT, "WOW, LET'S COME UP WITH A NAME THAT'S SOMETHING LIKE THAT." AND I CAN'T REMEMBER WHO ACTUALLY CAME UP WITH THOSE ACTUAL WORDS, BUT HE WANTED SOMETHING LIKE THAT, SO WE HAD "BRIDGE OF" INSTEAD OF "LEAN TO." ANYWAY... SO THIS GROUP, BRIDGE OF... PERFORMED AT THE CLEARWATER FESTIVAL, WHICH IS A YEARLY FESTIVAL THAT OCCURS NEAR NEW YORK CITY. AND IT'S A GATHERING OF STORYTELLERS, MUSICIANS, POETS, PERFORMANCE ARTISTS ALL OVER. SO WE AS A GROUP WENT AND PERFORMED THERE. WE ALSO WENT TO THE UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT. WE ALSO PERFORMED IN BINGHAMTON. JUST A FEW VENUES, BUT WE WERE ALL BUSY. WE HAD OTHER PROJECTS GOING ON INDIVIDUALLY, SO THE GROUP WAS SHORT-LIVED. WHAT I WAS DOING FULL-TIME WAS TEACHING AT NTID. PETER WAS A STUDENT AT THE TIME. DEBBIE WAS STILL A STUDENT AT THE TIME. DONNA--OH, OK. I SHOULD SAY THIS AGAIN. SO I TAUGHT FULL TIME, NTID. I TAUGHT ENGLISH. THAT WAS MY DAY JOB. PETER WAS A STUDENT. DEBBIE WAS A STUDENT. DONNA WAS AN INTERPRETER. AND JIM...HE WAS--IT'S INTERESTING. I DON'T REALLY REMEMBER WHAT HIS DAY JOB WAS BACK THEN. THE REASON HE EVEN CAME TO ROCHESTER IS THAT HE WAS LOOKING FOR ASL POETRY. HE WAS IN SEARCH OF. HE HIMSELF WAS A HEARING POET, AND HE LOVED THE IDEA OF PLAYING WITH IMAGES AND BEAT POETRY CONSTRUCTS. HE WAS AN IMAGIST. AND HE REALLY WANTED TO SEE WHAT ASL POETRY WOULD LOOK LIKE. HE THOUGHT, "HMM. ASL's A PICTURE LANGUAGE. I WONDER WHAT SIGN LANGUAGE POETRY EVEN MEANS." SO HE DECIDED TO HITCHHIKE ALL THE WAY FROM COLORADO, WHERE HE WAS LIVING AT THE TIME, TO ROCHESTER. HE KNEW THAT NTID WAS HERE. AND HE GOT HERE, AND HE SAW SIGN LANGUAGE ALL OVER THE PLACE, OF COURSE. HE WAS VERY EXCITED. AND HE APPLIED AND WAS ACCEPTED TO THE INTERPRETER TRAINING PROGRAM. NOT TO BECOME AN INTERPRETER. HE NEVER DID BECOME AN INTERPRETER. HE SIMPLY WANTED TO LEARN SIGN LANGUAGE AS FAST AS HE COULD SO HE COULD HUNT DOWN WHAT DEAF POETRY LOOKED LIKE. AND SO, IN HIS SEARCH TO FIND IT, HE FOUND PETER COOK AND HOGTIED HIM AND ROPED HIM IN FOR HIS SCHEME. AND I DON'T KNOW... IF JIM CAME UP WITH THE IDEA-- IT WAS HIS IDEA FOR THE POETRY CONFERENCE. BUT I DON'T REMEMBER EXACTLY WHAT HIS JOB WAS AT THE TIME. HE MIGHT HAVE BEEN A GRAD STUDENT AT U OF R AT THE TIME. I'M NOT SURE. OH, IT WAS A REALLY CRAZY TIME. PETER AND DEBBIE AND I WERE CREATING THINGS TOGETHER. BUT ALSO, YOU KNOW, I FELT KIND OF LIKE, "WHAT'S MY PLACE HERE?" I MEAN, HONESTLY, I DIDN'T KNOW WHO I WAS IN ALL OF THIS. YOU KNOW, THIS CONFERENCE WITH ELLA AND VALLI AND PETER AND DEBBIE AND PATRICK, IT WAS INCREDIBLE. IT WAS AN AMAZING POETRY CONFERENCE WITH ALL THESE ACCOMPLISHED, WELL-KNOWN POETS AND ME. YOU KNOW, I GUESS I WORK WITH A COUPLE OF THEM, BUT, LIKE, WHO AM I AND WHAT AM I DOING HERE? AND MAYBE I SHOULD JUST SHUT UP AND NOT SAY ANYTHING. I MEAN, SHOULD I JOIN IN THE CONVERSATION? I DON'T KNOW. I REALLY WASN'T SURE WHAT MY ROLE WAS IN ALL OF THAT. SO I WAS A LITTLE SCARED. AND I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT MY ROLE WAS. IT'S LIKE LIFE, RIGHT? YOU KNOW, YOU'RE GONNA GET IN A CAR AND SOMETIMES THE CAR'S OUT OF CONTROL AND YOU HAVE TO JUST KIND OF FOLLOW ALONG THE ROAD IN A CAR THAT DOESN'T HAVE ANY BRAKES AND HOPE EVERYTHING GOES FOR THE BEST. AND THAT'S KIND OF WHAT HAPPENED. I JUST DECIDED TO GO WITH THE FLOW. THAT'S WHAT HAPPENED. I HAD TO SEE WHERE IT WOULD LEAD. WHEN I LOOK BACK AT THAT CONFERENCE, MY MEMORY IS ONE OF JUST ABJECT FEAR. I WAS AFRAID I'D MAKE MISTAKES WHEN I VOICED. I HOPED PEOPLE LIKED THE POEMS. I HOPED THAT THEY LIKED WHAT WE CREATED. I HOPED I WOULDN'T GET CRITICIZED TOO MUCH, BECAUSE, HERE I AM, A HEARING PERSON WORKING WITH A DEAF PERSON. ALL THIS CRITICISM I WAS AFRAID OF. YES, I'M NOT AN INTERPRETER. I DON'T VOICE ENOUGH. I SHOULD VOICE MORE. THE INTERPRETER ALWAYS FELT THAT I SHOULD HAVE VOICED MORE THAN I WAS. AND ALSO I JUST HADN'T YET LEARNED HOW TO REALLY VOICE WELL. I MEAN, I KNEW HOW, YOU KNOW, OBVIOUSLY I WAS. I WAS VOICING FOR MY FRIEND, OK. SO I KNEW THE MATERIAL. I'M VOICING FOR POEMS THAT I HELPED CREATE AND WORK ON. IT'S MY OWN WORK, SO THAT'S HELPFUL. BUT I STILL WASN'T REALLY THAT GOOD AT IT, SO I NEEDED TO LEARN MORE. YOU HAVE TO PRACTICE EVERY DAY. YOU HAVE TO REALLY GET INTO IT AND DEDICATE YOURSELF TO IT. SO I WAS OPEN TO A LOT OF CRITICISM, AND I THINK SOMETIMES IT WAS RIGHT. IT WAS WELL-FOUNDED CRITICISM. I DID NEED TO GET BETTER. I DID NEED TO CHOOSE BETTER WORDS SOMETIMES. SOMETIMES I DIDN'T VOICE ENOUGH. THEY WERE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. SO, PEOPLE WHO HAD AN ISSUE WITH ME WERE RIGHT. AND I HAD TO LEARN. BUT AT THE CONFERENCE, IT WAS ALSO SO EXCITING 'CAUSE SO MANY PEOPLE CAME. I JUST SAW SO MANY PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE-- DEAF PEOPLE WHO HAD THAT KIND OF A-HA MOMENT, THE LIGHTS WENT ON THEIR EYES AND WENT, "OH, THAT'S WHAT THIS IS." I ACTUALLY SAW THAT. AND PETER WAS SO OVERJOYED BY IT ALL. DEBBIE WAS SO HAPPY. NERVOUS, TOO, OF COURSE. EVERYBODY WANTED TO GET ACCEPTED, RIGHT? THERE WERE THESE OLDER POETS--VALLI, ELLA, AND PATRICK. YOU KNOW, THEY WERE OLDER, MORE WELL-ESTABLISHED. SO PETER AND DEBBIE WERE VERY SCARED. YOU KNOW, THEY WERE COMING UP WITH A NEW WAY OF DOING THINGS. THEIR POETRY WASN'T THE SAME. AND I DON'T KNOW IF THIS IS TRUE OR NOT, I DON'T KNOW WHAT THESE 3 OLDER POETS THOUGHT, BUT WE WERE WORRIED THEY WERE LOOKING ASKANCE AT THIS NEW FANGLED WAY AND WHETHER THEY WOULD ACCEPT IT AS ASL POETRY. DEBBIE WAS SORT OF THINKING IN HER NAÏVE WAY, "PLEASE, PLEASE, LOVE ME. PLEASE, LIKE MY THINGS. PLEASE, PLEASE, LIKE MY TALENT." BUT I THINK THESE OLDER POETS, ONCE THEY SAW IT AND WRAPPED THEIR HEAD AROUND IT-- OOPS. I THINK THAT THESE OLDER, MORE-ESTABLISHED POETS WERE REALLY TURNED ON BY WHAT THEY SAW, 'CAUSE THE SKILL WAS SO OBVIOUS. I MEAN, THEY--THERE WAS SO MUCH TALENT THAT THEY WERE SEEING WITH DEBBIE AND PETER. AND THE IDEAS WERE REALLY STRONG. AND ALSO, DEBBIE AND PETER WERE MORE FREE, IN A SENSE. FREE FORM, YOU MIGHT SAY, WITH THEIR POETRY. THEY WEREN'T CONSTRAINED BY RHYME OR BY ANY PARTICULAR CONVENTIONS. THEY WERE JUST TRYING TO SHOW IMAGES. AND I THINK, YOU KNOW, AND I'M NOT SURE, I DON'T REALLY KNOW, BUT I THINK THAT THE OTHER 3 REALLY LIKED WHAT THEY SAW AND LIKED WHAT PETER AND DEBBIE WERE DOING. BUT IT DIDN'T MATTER REALLY BECAUSE-- I MEAN, I THINK THERE WAS SO MUCH MUTUAL RESPECT. BUT DEBBIE AND PETER WERE TERRIFIED. WILL THEY RESPECT ME? WILL THEY ACCEPT IT? THEY REALLY WANTED THEIR SUPPORT AND THEIR VALIDATION FROM THESE 3 MORE WELL-ESTABLISHED POETS. PART OF DEBBIE AND PETER'S STYLE WAS VERY MOVEMENT-BASED. THEY NOT ONLY PLAYED WITH ASL AS A LANGUAGE, BUT THEY WERE PLAYING WITH THEIR BODIES AND GESTURES AND DANCE MOVEMENTS. THERE WAS A DANCE TEACHER AT NTID BACK AT THAT TIME NAMED STEFA Z. AND STEFA WAS AMAZING. SHE HAD A BIG INFLUENCE ON DEBBIE AND PETER. THEY TOOK MANY OF HER CLASSES, AND THEY LEARNED SO MUCH ABOUT HOW TO MOVE, HOW TO USE THEIR BODIES. AND IT REALLY IMPROVED THE WORK THAT THEY WERE PUTTING OUT IN ASL POETRY, I THINK. PETER AND I CREATED A POEM CALLED "CHARLIE," AND THERE'S ONE PART ABOUT THIS DOG WHO'S UNDERGOING TRAINING IN THE ARMY. AND HE'S JUST A TOUGH LITTLE DOG, AND HE'S ABLE TO WITHSTAND THIS TERRIBLE TRAINING. PART OF THIS TRAINING EXPERIENCE IS HE'S THROWN INTO A CRATE. THE SCIENTISTS ARE TURNING UP THE TEMPERATURE HOTTER AND HOTTER IN THE CRATE. SO AS THE TEMPERATURE, THE THERMOSTAT, GOES UP, THE SCENE GOES BACK AND FORTH FROM JUST THAT TEMPERATURE GAUGE BEING RAISED-- THE THERMOSTAT BEING RAISED-- AND THE DOG REACTING AND GETTING HOTTER AND HOTTER. AND PETER DOES THIS BY DANCE MOVEMENT, IN A SENSE. IT LOOKS LIKE A DANCE, THIS PARTICULAR PART OF THE POEM. AND THAT YOU CAN TRACE SPECIFICALLY BACK TO STEFA'S INFLUENCE FROM THE DANCE CLASSES AND THE REAL HEAD-TO-TOE BODY MOVEMENT THAT SHE WAS TEACHING THEM. NOW, THE OLDER POETS DID NOT MOVE THAT WAY. THEY DIDN'T DO IT AT ALL. AND MAYBE THEY DIDN'T LIKE IT. I DON'T KNOW. OK, BACK IN THE DAY I THOUGHT THAT ABC STORIES AND NUMBER STORIES WERE KIND OF STUPID. I THOUGHT THEY WERE LIKE SOMETHING THAT KIDS WOULD PLAY IN A GAME BY CREATING THEM. IN THE BEGINNING, I DID NOT LIKE ABC STORIES OR NUMBER STORIES. I JUST DIDN'T. I THOUGHT THEY WERE STUPID, LIKE A KIDS GAME. I NEVER SAW A REALLY SOPHISTICATED RENDERING OF THAT KIND OF POEM OR STORY. SO ONE DAY I WAS KIND OF COMPLAINING ABOUT IT. I WAS IN THE KITCHEN IN MY HOUSE. I WAS KIND OF, YOU KNOW, BITCHING AND MOANING WHILE I WAS WASHING THE DISHES. DEBBIE COMES IN, AND I SAID, "YOU KNOW, ABC STORIES, THEY'RE SO STUPID." KEPT DOING THE DISHES. "IT'S JUST SOMETHING FOR KIDS. IT'S NOT REALLY GOOD. IT'S DUMB." NO, I DIDN'T SAY THAT. I WAS WASHING THE DISHES. MAYBE I DID ACTUALLY SAY IT THAT WAY, TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH. MAYBE I DID. BUT ANYWAY, I'M WASHING THESE DISHES, THROWING THEM IN THE RACK. DEBBIE'S RIGHT THERE, AND I SAID, "ABC STORIES, EH. NOTHING TO 'EM. KIDS CAN DO IT. THEY'RE WORTHLESS." AND I KEPT WASHING THE DISHES. AND DEBBIE'S EYES JUST LIT ON FIRE. AND I SAID, "WHAT? WHAT?" AND SHE SAID, "YOU, YOU ARE DISSING MY CULTURE AND MY LANGUAGE." AND IN A HUFF SHE JUST RUNS OUT OF THE KITCHEN AND CLOSES THE DOOR. I KEEP WASHING THE DISHES, AND I'M LIKE, "WHAT? WHAT GOT HER GOAT?" DISHES FLYING HERE, DISHES FLYING THERE. ABOUT 10 MINUTES LATER--NO, IT WASN'T 10 MINUTES LATER. IT WAS A LOT LATER. BUT ANYWAY, DEBBIE COMES BACK INTO THE KITCHEN AND SHE SAYS, "YOU CAN'T SAY THAT ABOUT MY CULTURE AND MY LANGUAGE. WATCH THIS." AND SHE JUST SPONTANEOUSLY PERFORMED "VEAL BOYCOTT" FOR ME. ALL IN ONE TAKE. AND THEN WITH A SATISFIED SMILE, SHE WENT OUT OF THE KITCHEN, LEAVING ME TO LICK MY WOUNDS. AND THAT WAS THAT. WHAT COULD I SAY? DEBBIE AND I CAME UP WITH THIS OTHER POEM THAT WAS INCREDIBLY INTENSE. WE ONLY PERFORMED IT, I THINK, TWICE, MAYBE 3 TIMES ALTOGETHER. AND IT CAME OUT OF MY EXPERIENCES FROM HAVING WORKED IN PSYCH HOSPITAL WHEN I WAS YOUNGER. THERE WAS THIS ONE PATIENT, THIS HUGE GUY. I MEAN, HUGE GUY. AND HE WAS REALLY INSANE. IF YOU TRIED TO TALK TO HIM, HIS RESPONSES WOULD COME OUT IN KIND OF WORD SALAD, YOU MIGHT CALL IT. HE'D START TALKING ABOUT ONE THING AND THEN IT WOULD LEAD TO SOMETHING COMPLETELY UNRELATED AND JUST CYCLED BACK AND FORTH AMONGST THINGS THAT WERE UNRELATED ALL THE TIME. AND I TOLD DEBBIE ABOUT THIS GUY, AND WE STARTED PLAYING AROUND WITH THE IDEA. AND WE CONFLATED WORLD WAR II WITH NUCLEAR WAR. AND THE GUY I'M TALKING ABOUT IN THE PSYCH HOSPITAL, ONE TIME HE THOUGHT ACTUALLY THAT HE WAS STUCK IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP. AND HE REALLY THOUGHT THAT THE NAZIS WERE GOING TO KILL HIM. SO HE'S THIS BIG GUY, RIGHT? AND HE PICKED UP A CHAIR-- AND I HAD A FRIEND WHO WAS WORKING IN THE ROOM WITH HIM AT THAT TIME WHO RAN OUT OF THE ROOM. HE'S BEING CHASED BY THIS HUGE GUY WITH THE CHAIR. MADE IT OUT JUST IN TIME AND CLOSED THE DOOR AND LOCKED IT JUST AS THE CHAIR WAS BEING SMASHED AGAINST THE DOOR ON THE OTHER SIDE. SO I TOLD THIS WHOLE STORY TO DEBBIE, AND THE TWO OF US CREATED THIS POEM THAT WE CALLED "WILLIE." AND THAT CAME OUT OF THE EXPERIENCE I'D HAD, JUST, YOU KNOW, THINKING ABOUT THE WORLD AND THINKING ABOUT THOSE IDEAS. WELL, IT'S INTERESTING. THIS OTHER POEM THAT DEBBIE AND I CREATED TOGETHER CALLED "MISSING CHILDREN." SHE HAD A REALLY QUICK AND SIMPLE IDEA THAT WAS THE IMPETUS FOR IT. IT USED TO BE THAT YOU WOULD BUY MILK CARTONS, AND ON THE SIDE OF THE CARTON THERE'D BE A PICTURE OF A MISSING CHILD, AND UNDERNEATH IT, IT WOULD SAY, "HAVE YOU SEEN ME?" AND THEN THERE WAS LIKE A PHONE NUMBER OR SOMETHING TO CALL. SO DEBBIE HAD THIS SHORT POEM, MAYBE JUST A 15-SECOND THING THAT WAS BASED OFF OF MILK CARTONS. AND SHE SHOWED THIS TO ME. AND IT PERCOLATED IN MY MIND FOR A WHILE. AND I ENVISIONED 3 DIFFERENT SCENARIOS TO ADD TO IT. ONE WOULD TAKE PLACE IN SOUTH AFRICA BECAUSE THERE WAS A LOT OF UNREST THERE BECAUSE OF THE APARTHEID SITUATION AND THE OPPRESSION OF THE WHITE PEOPLE UPON THE BLACK PEOPLE DOWN THERE. AND THEN ANOTHER SCENE WOULD TAKE PLACE IN IRELAND BECAUSE OF THE ONGOING RELIGIOUS WAR BETWEEN THE PROTESTANTS AND THE CATHOLICS THAT HAD BEEN GOING ON SINCE TIME IMMEMORIAL IN IRELAND. AND THE LAST SCENE WOULD BE IN CENTRAL AMERICA BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY WARS IN CENTRAL AMERICA GOING ON AT THE SAME TIME. AND I LOOKED AT ALL THESE 3 DIFFERENT GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS AND THOUGHT ABOUT THE CHILDREN WHO ARE BORN INTO WAR-TORN AREAS AND THEN ATTAIN THEIR ADULTHOOD IN COUNTRIES THAT ARE STILL AT WAR THE WHOLE TIME THAT THEY GROW UP. SO OPPRESSION AND WAR AND UNREST, THAT WAS ALL GOING ON IN MY MIND. I REMEMBER I WAS IN A BAR AND THEN I HAD THIS BREAKTHROUGH IDEA, AND I WENT HOME AND I TOLD DEBBIE WHAT MY IDEA WAS. AND WE CONFERRED, WENT OUR SEPARATE WAYS. I THOUGHT OF ANOTHER IDEA, AND THEN I GOT A HOLD OF HER AND SAID, "WAIT, WAIT, WAIT. I'VE GOT THIS OTHER IDEA WE CAN ADD TO IT." AND THEN WE JUST SAT DOWN AND WE REALLY HASHED IT OUT AND PUT IT ALL TOGETHER, AND IT BECAME THE POEM, "MISSING CHILDREN." WE DID CHANGE ONE PART. THE PART ABOUT IRELAND SUBSTITUTED FOR ISRAEL. I THINK THAT THE ORIGINAL IDEA WAS ISRAEL. YOU KNOW, IT'S ALWAYS BEEN UNDER SIEGE. THERE'S ALWAYS BEEN A LOT OF UNREST THERE. AND THEN WE CHANGED IT TO IRELAND, AND I CAN'T REMEMBER WHY. I DON'T REMEMBER WHY WE DID IT THAT WAY. BUT DEBBIE IS JUST SO AMAZING IN THIS. I MEAN, I HADN'T SEEN IT FOR A LONG TIME, AND THEN I JUST SAW IT RECENTLY, AND IT GOT TO ME AGAIN. EVEN NOW, IT'S JUST AN AMAZINGLY POIGNANT PIECE OF WORK. PETER AND I STARTED OUT WITH THESE GRANTS. WELL, REALLY IT STARTED BACK WHEN JIM INVITED US TO PERFORM, AND THEN IT KEPT HAPPENING. IT KEPT GOING ON. MAYBE 3 OR 4 TIMES WE WERE PERFORMING, AND JUST SEEMED LIKE IT HAPPENED MORE AND MORE OFTEN HERE IN ROCHESTER, ONE PARTICULAR COFFEEHOUSE SPECIFICALLY, BUT SOMETIMES WE'D GO TO OTHER PLACES. AND THEN ONCE WE GOT THE GRANT, THAT WAS WHAT REALLY GOT THINGS GOING, BECAUSE WE COULD BOP AROUND TO THESE 10 DIFFERENT SMALL TOWNS, NOT BIG CITIES. YOU KNOW, LIKE, WE'D GO THESE SMALL VENUES. AND EACH PLACE THAT WE PERFORMED, THERE'D BE TINY AUDIENCES, REALLY SMALL AUDIENCES. BUT MAYBE ONCE IN A WHILE, SOMEBODY IN ONE OF THESE AUDIENCES WOULD COME UP AFTER AND SAY, "OH, YOU'RE JUST AMAZING. CAN YOU GIVE ME YOUR CARD?" AND I'M LIKE, "CARD?" WELL, I HAVE A PIECE OF PAPER I COULD WRITE MY PHONE NUMBER ON AND TEAR OFF THE EDGE OF IT AND GIVE IT TO YOU. AND THAT'S WHAT WE DID IN LIEU OF CARDS. AND MAYBE LATER WE GET THIS CALL, AND THEY'D SAY, "HEY, YOU WANT TO COME DOWN TO PENNSYLVANIA?" "SURE." AND THIS HAPPENED IN OTHER TOWNS AROUND NEW YORK. YOU'D JUST KIND OF GET A BITE FROM SOMEBODY WHO WAS IN THE AUDIENCE, SAY, "WANT TO COME TO CLEVELAND?" "OK. OH." "WANT TO COME TO CANADA?" "SURE." SO, PETER AND I--PETER AND I WERE GOING MOSTLY LOCALLY OR NOT TOO FAR AFIELD. BUT THEN ONCE IN A WHILE THERE'D BE AN OUTLIER, SOMEPLACE WE'D GET INVITED THAT WAS A LITTLE FURTHER AWAY. AND THEN OUR GEOGRAPHIC SPREAD JUST KEPT GETTING BIGGER AND BIGGER. IT KIND OF HAPPENED ON ITS OWN. WE DIDN'T REALLY PURSUE IT. IN THE BEGINNING, EVERYONE SAID, "PETER COOK! PETER COOK, THE ASL POET," AND UNDERNEATH IT WOULD SAY, "KENNY LERNER, HIS INTERPRETER." WELL, I'M NOT AN INTERPRETER, AND IT'S NOT ONLY HIM. WE COME UP WITH STUFF TOGETHER, AND, AND, AND. SO WE HAD TO THINK OF A WAY THAT WE WOULD AVOID THIS MISUNDERSTANDING. AND WE REALIZED WE NEED TO THINK OF A NAME. I AM NOT REALLY GOOD AT COMING UP WITH NAMES OF THINGS. [CHUCKLES] IT'S PROBABLY THE THING THAT I'M MOST INEPT AT. I AM COLOSSALLY INEPT AT COMING UP WITH NAMES. I AM TALENTED IN MANY OTHER THINGS, BUT THAT IS NOT ONE OF THEM. SO STEFA Z, THE DANCE TEACHER THAT I TOLD YOU ABOUT BEFORE, I THINK SHE'S THE ONE. SHE CALLED ME ONE DAY AND SHE SAID, "OOH"-- AND SHE WAS SO EXCITED-- "I HAVE THIS GREAT NAME FOR YOU GUYS." I SAID "WHAT?" SHE SAID, "FLYING WORDS PROJECT." AND PETER JUST LOVED THIS IDEA. HE WAS CRAZY ABOUT IT. I'M SO BAD WITH NAMES, I'M LIKE, "I DON'T KNOW. SURE, I GUESS." BUT PETER FELL MADLY IN LOVE WITH IT AND GOT ME ON THE TRAIN, TOO, AND THAT BECAME OUR NAME, AND IT'S BEEN EVER SINCE. AND PETER AND I ARE SO FORTUNATE. I'M THE LUCKIEST OF ALL. I GET TO TRAVEL AROUND. AND, YOU KNOW, PETER LIVES IN CHICAGO. I LIVE IN ROCHESTER. BUT WE STILL GET TO TRAVEL. AND WE SEE EACH OTHER AT LEAST EVERY MONTH OR TWO. WE'LL COME SEPARATELY TO A VENUE WE'RE SUPPOSED TO PERFORM AT. WE'LL FLY THERE, AND THEN WE'LL FLY BACK TO OUR RESPECTIVE LOCALES, BUT AM SO--I'M SO FORTUNATE BECAUSE HE'S MY BEST FRIEND, AND WE BOTH REALLY ENJOY WHAT WE DO. AND I GET TO SEE HIM, AND WE GET TO DO WHAT WE LIKE TO DO TOGETHER QUITE OFTEN. WHAT'S BETTER THAN THAT? IN THE BEGINNING, WE HAD A SHOW COMING UP REALLY SOON, AND I HAD TO, LIKE GET TOGETHER WITH HIM. WE HAD TO COME UP WITH IDEAS, AND WE FINALLY DID. AND WE HAVE SO MANY LOUSY POEMS FROM THE VERY BEGINNING, FROM THE FIRST YEAR OR TWO. JUST HORRIBLE. BUT WE WOULD COME UP WITH THE STUFF, AND THEN I'D THINK, "OH, MY GOD. "I'VE GOT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO VOICE THIS. "WHAT AM I GONNA DO? "I'VE GOT A SHOW IN 3 DAYS, "AND I DON'T KNOW THE WORDS THAT I'M GOING TO AFFIX TO WHAT WE JUST CREATED." SO I'D THINK AND THINK, AND I'D FINALLY COME UP WITH SOME WORDS. AND I'D SAY, "PETER, COME ON. WE'VE GOT TO PRACTICE." THERE WAS NO VIDEO BACK THEN. AND IT WAS REALLY NICE. MOST OF THE TIME HE WAS REALLY WILLING, IF I COULD TRACK THE GUY DOWN. SOMETIMES I'D BE LOOKING FOR HIM ALL OVER THE PLACE. IT WASN'T LIKE NOW WHERE YOU HAVE, LIKE, CELL PHONES OR A WAY TO FIND SOMEBODY INSTANTANEOUSLY. I HAD TO TRACK THIS GUY DOWN. WHERE THE HELL'S PETER COOK? I'D ASK PEOPLE AND THEY WOULD JUST KIND OF POINT, "HE WENT THAT-A-WAY." AND I WOULD FIND HIM, AND I'D SAY, "PLEASE, YOU HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN FOR ME. AGAIN AND AGAIN." BECAUSE IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT TO MATCH UP THE TIMING. YOU KNOW, WORDS CAN PUT YOU IN A SITUATION WHERE YOU'RE LAGGING WAY BEHIND, AND THEN THE HEARING PEOPLE AREN'T GONNA UNDERSTAND IT, AND THEN THE INTERPRETERS ARE GONNA CRITICIZE ME, AND THE DEAF PEOPLE WOULD BE BLISSFULLY UNAWARE OF THIS WHOLE SCENARIO, BUT I'LL BE MISERABLE. SO I REALLY HAD TO GET THE TIMING RIGHT AND BE IN SYNC WITH HIM. SO I'D HAVE TO ASK HIM, "PLEASE, DO THIS AGAIN. "DO IT AGAIN. DO IT AGAIN. AND AGAIN. AND AGAIN. "COULD YOU DO THE BEGINNING AGAIN? COULD YOU GO JUST TO THIS PART?" OR "EVERYTHING'S GOOD. OK, KEEP GOING, KEEP GOING. LET ME--LET ME KEEP GOING." SO PRACTICE WAS REALLY JUST CRUCIAL AT THAT TIME. OFTEN THE SIGNS WERE BEAUTIFUL, EVERYTHING WAS PERFECT, BUT BY PERFORMANCE TIME, I WASN'T NECESSARILY READY WITH THE WORDS ON TIME. SO NOW, CURRENTLY, I MEAN, WE HAVE VIDEO. WE HAVE WAYS TO DO IT. SO WE'LL WORK ON THE IDEAS, AND WE'LL GET THEM DOWN ON A VIDEOTAPE. AND WE'VE GOT THEM DOCUMENTED SO THAT I CAN REWIND IT, FAST-FORWARD IT. I CAN PRACTICE IT ON MY OWN, AND I DON'T NEED HIM RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF ME, AND I CAN GET THE VOICING DOWN REALLY WELL. BACK AT THAT TIME, I'D HAVE THIS GREAT IDEA, BUT SOMETIMES IT WOULD JUST GO INTO THE ETHER. WE'D NEVER HAVE IT, YOU KNOW? SO MANY IDEAS HE AND I CAME UP WITH LATE AT NIGHT, THE NEXT MORNING THEY WERE JUST GONE. "WHAT WERE WE THINKING? WHAT WAS THAT IDEA? "I SORT OF REMEMBER THIS ONE PART. "IT HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE SUN COMING UP. OH, RATS." YOU KNOW, WE JUST DIDN'T HAVE IT. MAYBE THE RIGHT SIGN, BUT COULDN'T FIGURE HOW IT HUNG ON TO THE NEXT SIGN OR THE IDEA. FINALLY, WE BOUGHT OURSELVES A VIDEO CAMERA, AND THAT HELPED SO MUCH WITH THIS WHOLE CREATIVE PROCESS BACK THEN 'CAUSE FINALLY WE COULD DOCUMENT IT. WE COULD GO TO BED AT NIGHT. WE COULD WAKE UP IN THE MORNING, WATCH, AND GO, "OH, YEAH, YEAH. THAT'S WHAT WE HAD FOR LAST NIGHT. "EH, IT'S NOT SO GOOD." OR MAYBE IT WAS. ALSO, IT MEANT THAT PETER COULD SEE IT, BECAUSE FOR A FEW YEARS, I WOULD WATCH HIM, AND I WOULD CRITICIZE WHAT HE WAS DOING OR GIVE HIM FEEDBACK, BUT HE COULDN'T SEE HIMSELF, SO HE WAS TRUSTING ME. BUT HE COULD FINALLY WATCH IT HIMSELF, WHICH HELPED SO MUCH. AND SO NOW, OF COURSE, YOU KNOW, PETER'S LIVING IN CHICAGO, AND I'M LIVING HERE. AND IT'S VERY DIFFICULT TO PRACTICE, YOU KNOW, IN THE SAME ROOM. BUT ABOUT 3 OR 4 YEARS AGO, FINALLY COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY ADVANCED TO THE POINT WHERE WE COULD REALLY GET SMOOTH FEEDS AND WE COULD TALK TO EACH OTHER ONLINE. SO NOW WE CAN SEE EACH OTHER. PETER CAN SEE ME, I CAN SEE HIM, HE CAN PRACTICE, I CAN GET THE TIMING RIGHT, EVEN THOUGH HE'S IN CHICAGO AND I'M HERE. IT'S JUST INCREDIBLE THAT THE TECHNOLOGY'S REACHED THIS POINT. WE HAVE CREATED A COUPLE OF POEMS ONLINE. NOT THAT GOOD. 'CAUSE IT'S A REALLY HARD THING TO DO. YES. VIRTUAL POETRY, I GUESS. WHAT WE'D COME UP WITH WASN'T THAT GOOD, THAT WE DID WHEN WE WEREN'T IN THE SAME ROOM, BUT WE'RE GETTING BETTER, AND I THINK IT WILL GET BETTER. IT'S REALLY DIFFICULT, BECAUSE YOU REALLY DO NEED TO BE TOGETHER IN CLOSE PROXIMITY. SO JUST ON A SCREEN WORKING TOGETHER ISN'T THE SAME AS BEING IN THE SAME PHYSICAL LOCATION. YOU KNOW, BEING REALLY ABSOLUTELY TOGETHER IN THE SAME PLACE IS VERY HELPFUL TO THE CREATIVE PROCESS. WE'LL SEE WHAT HAPPENS. JUST PERSONALLY, JUST A PERSONAL COMMENT ABOUT PETER. ONE THING THAT I'VE REALLY LEARNED FROM HIM... WELL, HE LEARNED HISTORY AND POLITICS FROM ME. AND HE LEARNED HOW TO COMPRESS HIS IDEAS AND BE MORE CONCISE. HE'S REALLY GOOD AT THAT NOW. AND I LEARNED SIGN FROM HIM-- MY STYLE, MY SIGNING STYLE-- FROM HANGING OUT WITH PETER FOR SO MANY YEARS. I FEEL LIKE I LEARNED HOW TO SIGN, AND I ALSO LEARNED HOW TO WATCH ASL POETRY, HOW TO REALLY GET THOSE IMAGES. "OH, THAT'S SIGN LANGUAGE." I ACTUALLY LEARNED IT BETTER JUST FROM WATCHING POETRY. ANOTHER THING I LEARNED FROM HIM, HE IS THE MOST HUMBLE PERSON. I MEAN, HERE'S THIS COLOSSALLY TALENTED GUY, BUT HE DOES NOT HAVE AN EGO ABOUT HIMSELF OR HIS WORK. I MEAN, WE'VE TRAVELED ALL OVER, AND PEOPLE COME UP, AND SOMETIMES THEY CRITICIZE US. AND I'M READY TO JUST DUKE IT OUT, MAN. I WANT TO JUST TAKE THEM OUT ON THE STREET AND DECK 'EM. "WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? PETER COOK'S THE MOST AMAZING..." YOU KNOW, I JUST WANT TO, LIKE, GO TO IT. BUT HE IS JUST SO GREAT, HE'S SO CREATIVE. AND HE JUST VERY PATIENTLY, RESPECTFULLY LISTENS TO THEM AND SAID, "OH, SO YOU DON'T LIKE IT. WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST?" HONESTLY, HE'LL SAY, "HERE, GIVE ME A SUGGESTION ON HOW YOU'D IMPROVE THIS." SO WATCHING HIM DEAL WITH IT THAT WAY, I MEAN, HE'S NOT AFRAID OF CRITICISM AT ALL. HE WANTS TO LEARN FROM EVERYBODY, NO MATTER WHO THAT PERSON IS, EVEN IF THEY'RE SOMEBODY WHO DOESN'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT SIGN LANGUAGE, HE VERY SERIOUSLY, RESPECTFULLY CONSIDERS WHAT THEY SAY. AND I LEARNED THAT FROM HIM. AND I TRY. I MEAN, YOU KNOW. IT MAKES ME THINK ABOUT MYSELF AND HOW I APPROACH THINGS. THAT'S A GREAT THING TO LEARN FROM SOMEBODY. YOU HANG AROUND WITH SOMEBODY WHO IS A PERSON LIKE THAT, IT'S BOUND TO RUB OFF AND INFLUENCE YOU. WHEN PETER WAS YOUNGER, YOU KNOW, HE WAS ALWAYS DOING THESE IMITATIONS OF ROCK AND ROLL STARS. HE JUST WANTED TO BE A SHREDDING-- A GUITAR-SHREDDING ROCK AND ROLL GUY. AND NOW HE REALLY IS ONE. HE'S A ROCK STAR FOR DEAF PEOPLE. THERE'S NO MUSIC. THERE'S NO SOUND. BUT HE IS A ROCK STAR. HE'S SO AMAZINGLY TALENTED. HE'S A DEAF ROCK STAR. THAT'S PETER COOK. [NO AUDIO]
Notes: 
"This project is supported by a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation."
Notes: 
Title supplied by cataloger
Other Title: 
Heart of the hydrogen jukebox