Date:         Mon, 10 Jul 1995 08:45:05 PDT
From: Jerry Rothenberg 
To: Multiple recipients of list POETICS 

Regarding Ameslan [American Sign Language] poetry, you might check the
anthology SYMPOSIUM OF THE WHOLE (edited by myself & Diane Rothenberg) for
the article "Poetry without Sound" by Edward S. Klima and Ursual Bellugi.
Bellugi has done terrific work in this area & early contacted me on the
relation of signing poetry to the way in which I and others had been
approaching oral poetry in the course of doing (so called) "total trans-
lation."  Dennis Tedlock and I then published this piece in Alcheringa
(our magazine of ethnopoetics) with my very strong sense that what was
involved touched on a dimension of poetry that made pure oralism inadequate,
however much we had then been (or continued to be) commited to a speech
model.  I made an attempt (around 1976/77) to work out an experimental
approach to a total translation from Ameslan, collaborating with the deaf
poet Joe Castronovo, who was himself a native signer.  But circumstances got
in the way & we never followed through on it, although since then I've come
on the work of performance poets composing in ASL & have been hoping to see
how much further it would go.

I'll print out the headnote I wrote for Bellugi piece, in case it's of

Jerome Rothenberg

POETRY WITHOUT SOUND.   Even in its early, tentative stages, the signing
poetry emerging as an aspect of the "culture of the deaf" challenges some of
our cherished preconceptions about poetry and its relation to human speech.
Ameslan (American Sign Language) represents, literally, a poetry without
sound and, for its practitioners, a poetry without access to that experience
of sound as voice that we've so often taken as the bedrocks of all poetics
and all language.  In the real world of the deaf, then, language exists as a
kind of writing in space and as a primary form of communication without
reference to any more primary form of language for its validation.  It is
in this sense a realization of the ideogrammatic vision of a Fenollosa -- "a
splendid flash of concrete poetry" -- but an ideogrammatic language truly in
motion and, like oral poetry, truly inseparable from its realization in per-
formance.  (Ethnopoetic analogues -- for those who would care to check them
out -- include Hindu and Tantric mudras, Plains Indian and Australian
Aborigine sign languages, and Ejagham [southeastern Nigerian] "action
writing": a history of human gesture languages that would enrich our sense
of poetry and language, should we set our minds to it.) // The reader may
also want to relate this piece to recent discourse about "written-oral
dichotomies, etc., but the revelation of Ameslan, in that sense, isn't a
denial of the powers of oral poetry but the creation of its possible and
equally impermanent companion in performance.


A few additional thoughts.  We had around that time seen an extraordinary
performance of Four Saints in Three Acts by the Theater of the Deaf -- a
startling and revelaing interplay between spoken and signed language.  And
I'm remembering too that in Shaking the Pumpkin -- the Indian assemblage I
did in early 70s -- I included a signing piece (& probably compared it to
something or other, altho I'm not going to bother to check).  Also, the
Klima-Bellugi essay didn't originally appear in Alcheringa, but in the
followup magazine, New Wilderness Letter, that I had started up in 1976.  It
remains, anyway, an area of interest, and I'm hoping someone out there may
have information on more recent happenings, etc.  (And, needless to say, the
Klima-Bellugi essay is of much more interest than my intro to it.)