Deaf poetry and visual language

William Woods ASL

Deaf Poetry on stage

In a previous post, Look into ASL mentioned poetry slams happening all over the U.S, and a recent BBC story covered the UK’s first BSL slam.

The video follows one competitor, 20-year-old Honesty Willoughby from Bristol, through the process of composing a poem and performing it on the night at the BSL Slam.

While ASL and BSL are not actually as similar as you might guess, Honesty explains poetry in a way that is relevant across all sign languages:

In the video Honesty explains how poetry can become visual in a number of ways, including using handshapes to portray different effects. Or, you can repeat a sign, along with body movement, to create pace and rhythm. Rhythm is created through repetition, or you can use personification, says Honesty.

“One thing I’ve noticed about this type of signing is it takes confidence. You have to stand on stage in front of an audience. Some people might be great at it but have a shy personality when it comes to performance. I think it can be like that for people with a beautiful voice as well. It’s just that some people have beautiful signing.”

Courses at William Woods University such as ASL430 ASL Literature help interpretation studies students to really dive into Class ASL poetry, as well as work to create their own.