This post originally appeared on the Library as Incubator Project in April 2012.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re celebrating National Poetry Month in a big way here at the Library as Incubator Project. Throughout the month of April we’ll be posting a couple of times a week about innovative, interesting, and inspiring poetry projects. Some of them take place in or are inspired by libraries, some aren’t – but could be!

I’m taking a class with the wonderful cartoonist/graphic novelist/playwright/educator Lynda Barry. She shared with us the preview for a very cool documentary about young people who participate in deaf poetry jams, also known as deaf poetry slams or American Sign Language (ASL) poetry. It’s a given that poetry comes in spoken (oral) and written forms, but what about forms that are solely based on movement/motion?

From the website:

ASL POETRY is a vibrant three-dimensional art form where body movements convey meaning.

There is no paper or text. Rhymes are measured in hand shapes and meter in movements. Images cut and dissolve as its verses transcend all spoken word. In relation to literary poetry, the similarity of hand-shapes can act as alliteration, and using the same hand-shape repetitively works as rhyme. Visual Vernacular (a term originated by Bernard Bragg) involves cinematic concepts. The technique involves references to close-ups, wide shots, images dissolving into other images as well as “cutting” back and forth between characters to show different points of view on a scene.

The website points out that American Sign Language is not a derivative of English – a point I found out the hard way when I learned my lines for a scene in a play both in spoken English and in ASL. And, because of the nature of the performance/piece – “In ASL poetry the body is the text” – it’s impossible to translate the work faithfully into oral or written form.

Check out the documentary’s preview:

The website includes a fabulous collection of resources, including ASL artists and performances. Have you ever participated in or attended an ASL poetry jam, slam, or other performance? We’d love to connect with you. Send us a note:, find us on Twitter @IArtLibraries, or check us out on Facebook. – Laura

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