1987 National ASL Poetry Conference “A Tribe is Deaf” Presentation by Jim Cohn


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 SECRET SHADE OF MEANING AND TO HEAR A MAGIC HARMONY, AT ONCE SINCERE, THAT SOMEHOW NOTES
THE TINKLE OF A BELL, THE COOING OF A DOVE… THE SWISH OF LEAVES… THE RAINDROP’S PITTER-PATTER
ON THE EAVES, THE LOVER’S SIGH,
AND THRUMMING OF GUITAR, AND, IF I CHOOSE,
THE RUSTLE OF A STAR! MAN: THAT’S ME? GINSBERG: THAT’S HIM. BUT HE–HIS–HIS INTEREST
IN POETRY IS FOR THE VISUAL, OR THE IDEA, RATHER THAN THE SOUND– OH, THERE’S NO SOUND
INVOLVED THERE. PURELY PICTURE AND IDEA. WELL, 20TH-CENTURY POETRY IS MOSTLY PICTURE AND IDEA. SO, MODERN POETRY,
ESPECIALLY AFTER EZRA POUND AND WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS, AND THE IMAGIST POETS, SHOULD BE THE BEST OR IS ALMOST
SPECIFICALLY TAILORED FOR THOSE WHO ARE DEAF. POUND POINTED OUT THAT POETRY
HAD 3 DIFFERENT ASPECTS FOR HIM. ONE WAS SOUNDS–MELOPIA. THEN ONE WAS THE DANCE OF
THE INTELLECT AMONG THE WORDS. THE WITTINESS
OR THE SOPHISTICATION OR THE STRANGENESS OF
FUNNY WORDS BEING 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 A PICTURE
ON THE MIND’S EYE. AND EVER SINCE THEIR WORK,
THE REASON WE’VE GONE INTO A LOT OF FREE VERSE, DIFFERENT FROM THE KIND
THAT 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 PICTURES IN IT AND DOES NOT DEPEND
ON THE SOUND AND 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 DOESN’T–WHICH IS
FREE VERSE, THAT IS OPEN VERSE, THAT DOESN’T HAVE
A RECURRENT METER AND DOESN’T HAVE
RECURRENT RHYME, BUT HAS HARDER AND HARDER,
CLEARER AND CLEARER PICTURES. GINSBERG: LINE IN “HOWL” IS… “WHO SAT 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.” [LAUGHTER] SO, WHAT IS A HYDROGEN JUKEBOX
IN SIGN LANGUAGE? A HYDROGEN JUKEBOX. OF COURSE, THAT REFERS
TO A SOUND THING, THE JUKEBOX, ANYWAY. A JUKEBOX IS A RECORD–
A MECHANICAL RECORD MACHINE IN THE BARS. [PEOPLE SPEAKING AT ONCE] GINSBERG: OH, THE HYDROGEN,
THE HYDROGEN BOMB. THE NOISE OF THE JUKEBOX
IS APOCALYPTIC. [LAUGHTER] SO, THE EMERGENCE OF THAT KIND
OF ROCK AND ROLL AND THAT KIND OF HEAVY NOISE IS ALMOST LIKE THE BEGINNING
OF THE EXPLOSION OF THE END OF THE WORLD. [LAUGHTER] HYDROGEN JUKEBOX. BUT IT DOES DEPEND ON–
IT’S A VERY ABSTRACT ONE. IT’S TWO 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. MAN IN AUDIENCE:
YES, BUT IF I HAD TO SIGN WITHOUT THINKING OF
THE ENGLISH WORDS… GINSBERG: YEAH. MAN IN AUDIENCE:
I WOULD MAKE [INDISTINCT] SOME KIND OF
[INDISTINCT] COMPOUND. THERE’D BE SEVERAL SIGNS
THAT YOU COULD USE TO EXPLAIN THE FEATURE THAT I MIGHT GET
FROM THOSE TWO WORDS. GINSBERG: YEAH.
BUT WHAT I’M WONDERING IS, ONCE IT IS EXPLAINED,
DOES ANY KIND OF INTERESTING SPARKLE COME THROUGH
WITH THAT COMBINATION? OR DOES THAT GO DEAD
IN TRANSLATION? AT LEAST IN TRANSLATION– MAN IN AUDIENCE:
[INDISTINCT] LET ME TRY. I DON’T KNOW
IF IT’S WHAT YOU WANT. [LAUGHTER] GINSBERG: THAT LOOKED LIKE IT. WOMAN: THAT WAS GOOD.
[INDISTINCT] GINSBERG: THAT LOOKS LIKE IT.
[LAUGHTER] [LAUGHTER]

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