When Poetry Goes Silent

During this first month into the semester, I’ve been working to focus more on how sound is used in poetry. In the past, I had a habit of reading poems in my head. I might be able to “hear” the words in my mind, but I’ll notice more of the creativity in sound when I read it out loud.

But this morning, I was reminded of something else. I had studied at Monroe Community College before transferring to SUNY Geneseo. In my time there, I took a couple years of American Sign Language. In one of the later classes, we got to perform ASL in creative forms, and I picked poetry. Now, I’m definitely better at working with words on paper than with my hands when it comes to poetry and storytelling. But it was a fascinating experience because I had never realized ASL can be used that way.

I remember watching the poem “Dandelions” by ASL poet Clayton Valli. Since ASL is a visual language, its poetry sends energy to viewers through sight rather than sound. But it still functions similarly. In order to create/change tone, or “voice,” movement is made graceful, sharp, etc… Repetition, rhythm, and facial expressions are also important tools used in ASL poetry. (And I know there’s a lot more that can be observed.)

I’ve attached a video of “Dandelions” (performed by Valli) for anyone interested. Valli paints a picture of dandelions swaying in the wind and an angry man ripping them out, only to spread seeds. With rain and sun, they grow again, peeking out little by little. In the end, the man rips them out again, but of course, the seeds scatter again too.

I thought this would be interesting to share since it’s very different from the poetry we’re used to. I just love how even without sound, poetry can be made every bit as effective when a person knows how to work the tools they have without it.

2 Replies to “When Poetry Goes Silent”

  1. Emma~
    I LOVE THIS VIDEO! I’m so glad you’ve drawn attention to poetry written in sign language, because it never occured to my ignorant self that it was possible! Poetry as a visual is an interesting concept, mostly because poetry is seen as an oral subject. This proves it wrong.

  2. Reminds me of Amber Galloway Gallego’s work as an ASL translator for musicians. She mixes it up the same way Valli does, in that she adds emphasis through her hand motions, facial expressions, and she way she holds herself. This gives a lot more meaning to the piece than just transcribing the words. Gallego does the impossible- she manages to convey sound to a deaf audience.


    Makes me think about the limits of the written word, and how we could push those to the limits to convey deeper meaning. Our own class did an amazing job conveying more meaning just through line breaks and spacing, I wonder how we could push the written word further, warp it more than we already do to give it more meaning. If Gallego can convey sound to the deaf, then what affect can we inspire by warping letters that we can’t even imagine yet?

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