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ASL poet performs at Granoff Center

‘Flying Words Project’ performed by Deaf ASL poet Peter Cook, collaborator Kenny Lerner

Words ‘flew’ in the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts auditorium Saturday, weaving together a tapestry of images and senses during the poetic performance “Flying Words Project.” Internationally acclaimed Deaf American Sign Language poet Peter Cook signed his work while his collaborator, Kenny Lerner, accompanied him with a translation in spoken English.

The performance’s multidimensional form of communication created an accessible and intricate performance.

Professor of Literary Arts John Cayley introduced “Flying Words”by speaking on the essential nature of expanding our understanding of how literature occupies space. “In our world, the languages of true writing have new potentialities of new readers,” Cayley said. “I know ‘Flying Words’ will show us more of the language of poetry and … many things we never knew language could do.”

Cook and Lerner have been partners since 1984, when they established the first Deaf poetry series in the United States. Since then, Cook and Lerner have become a globally recognized duo, performing at a multitude of venues including the Poetry Days Festival in Latvia, the 36th International Poetry Festival in Rotterdam and the Theatre Lucernaire in Paris.

Lecturer of Language Studies Tim Riker commented on the notion of literacy as more than just a written form.

“Spoken word plays with sound. ASL plays with handshakes, repetition, motion, location. It’s not about the words; it’s about the blending of the four parameters of the sign language,” Riker signed to the audience.

Riker instructed the estimated 175 attendees to audibly clap above their heads to signify approval or praise during the event, incorporating both spoken English and ASL methods of clapping.

“The poetry that he’s able to produce literally captures the stunning linguistic possibilities that ASL has,” said Siena Rafter ’20. “The poetry is composed first in ASL and then later voiced in English, which even my hearing non-signing friends were able to notice — like the English almost takes away from his signing, because what he’s doing is such strong, pure ASL that English can’t even begin to articulate that.”

The show also incorporated comedy, reenacting a baseball game, bad love poetry and banter. The poetry itself touched on serious geo-political conflicts and social issues.

“To see such a legendary performer given that space last night literally brought me to tears, because we need more Deaf voices in these platforms (and) institutions,” Rafter said.

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