American Sign Language (ASL), vastly underappreciated in our audio-centric society, is a visually stimulating language that can be exciting and fun to learn. Given its fluidity and exaggerated mannerisms, some in the Deaf community have begun creating poetry done only in sign language as a testament to the language itself as well as an expression of pride in their identity as a Deaf or Hard of Hearing individual.
ASL Slams have popped up all over the country, including here in the Boston area. A poetry slam, for those of you who do not know, are events where many poets go on stage and recite their poetry to the crowd. On Friday, February 9th, an ASL Slam occurred at The Lilypad in Cambridge and the event was as amazing as I thought it would. The fluidity of their movements and the dramatized expressions on the faces of the poets felt less like watching poetry being read and more like the performance of a silent film.
I could see the story being played out in their words, even if you did not know any sign language at all. The undeniable feeling of connecting with the poet and of understanding what they meant, if only through the emotions shown clearly in their body language, brought on a feeling of closeness with the poets and with the other audience members. My friends who went with me remained transfixed on the poet’s movements and, with poet after poet, we all couldn’t get enough of the sign language in its most artistic form.
When we left, we felt a deep appreciation for the poets, their poetry, and sign language itself. If you would like to gain a better appreciation for ASL or begin to learn it, speak to the Regis American Sign Language Club president, Felicia McGinnis, or any of its executive board members.