ASL poetry slams popping up across the country

William Woods ASL

ASL poetry eventsPoetry slams are poetry competitions with elimination rounds. A highly verbal and rhythmic form of expression, poetry slams grew out of ties to hip-hop culture and open-mike jazz clubs.

Poetry Slam, Inc. writes that you will “find a diverse range of work within [a poetry] slam, including heartfelt love poetry, searing social commentary, uproarious comic routines, and bittersweet personal confessional pieces. Poets are free to do work in any style on any subject.”

From this art form, various American Sign Language poets have gotten involved in slams, competing in their own ASL-only poetry slams and ones with hearing competitors as well.

The poetry slam documentary Deaf Jam, directed by Judy Lieff, tells the story of teenager Aneta Brodski, who joins an extracurricular program to learn American Sign Language poetry at her school. She then finds herself working to compete in a slam poetry competition with mostly hearing competitors.

“Aneta, an Israeli immigrant living in the Queens section of New York City, eventually meets Tahani, a hearing Palestinian slam poet. The two women embark on a collaboration/performance duet – creating a new form of slam poetry that speaks to both the hearing and the Deaf.”

ASL SLAM, self-described as “a space for Deaf performing artists to take to the stage and rap, rhapsodize and rehash,” is a monthly ASL poetry and storytelling event in New York City, Boston and Denver curated by poet Douglas Ridloff.

The William Woods University Online B.S in Interpretation Studies in ASL-English students interested in learning about and creating ASL poetry can take ASL430 ASL Literature, as well as English courses in poetry.