To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Monday, March 9, 2015

Outside & Subterranean Poetry (66): Gilbert Eastman, from “Epic: Gallaudet Protest” (in American Sign Language)

Gilbert Eastman (American Sign Language, 1934-2006)
From epic: Gallaudet protest

universe    earth    u.s.a.    washington, d.c.
lincoln memorial    statue    hands: a & l
looked back    124 years ago
charter    signed    announcing
college for the deaf
face-profile    columns    looked at reflection pool
washington monument    streets    cars
capitol dome    u.s. flag
turned streets    trees    buildings
stop. fence    gate: “gallaudet university
entered    road-curve
chapel hall    tower clock
arches    terrace    steps    streets
statue base    gallaudet and alice
one student came    students one by one came
looked at statue    walked    joined more people
long line of people    football field    bleachers
got button    fade-out “deaf president now”
fade-in    looked at crowd    pickets
speaker with beard came    spoke    clapped
another speaker    spoke    screamed
another speaker    spoke    waving-hands
deaf deaf deaf “d” unity all-over
stood    walked around campus
dark    into    night
week-later    sunday    march 6   time 7:00 p.m.
one by one came crowd waited and waited    became nervous
looked at cop walking toward crowd
papers stacked    passed out
paper announcing new president:
zinser woman hearing hair-curl, scarf
paper crushed, set afire
burn z    anger
“go!” crowd ran    stopped hotel
doorman stopped    cops stood in row
students stood in rows and rows
leader called    spilman
hair-up, ruffles, came-down    stopped
faced students    with interpreter    spoke
“deaf people are not ready to function in a hearing world.”
row-students shocked    fists-up    screamed
cries up in sky    up in darkness
screams disappeared into night    silence               
sunrise    monday   
group    pointed at gate    chain lock
point gate    chain lock    point gate    chain lock
ran to main entrance    stood one by one
rows and rows    closed gate
cars tried entering    couldn’t    left
rows    guard
group discussed    called students    flocked
leader man blond, crew-cut came with red band    stood
followed three persons, blue bands
one tall, thin, glasses, jacket, buttons
one medium, thin face, smoking
one woman, small, strong, hair short, glasses
three joined leader, four faced
first rows    yellow bands
more rows    more rows    looked at leader
explained    “no violence!”
“understand!”    “give up no”
rows hands-rising, waving. stopped
4 demands:    1) deaf president
            2) spilman (hair-up, ruffles) out
            3) board 51% deaf
            4) no reprisal
rows clapped    returned to gate, guarded
spilman arrived with group, meeting doors closed
called students    flocked to building    gym
large room    sat    hands-waving
vips entered    stood-in-line    sat
spilman entered with interpreter
spilman spoke, interpreter signed
suddenly deaf professor interrupted    signed “please leave.”
spilman tried to stop them but couldn’t
students got-up    left gym    stood outside
anger    confused    looked for help
walked to capitol    ran-up steps    doors closed
chaos    looked-up in sky    darkness
stars falling down    disappearing into darkness
sunrise    tuesday
guards    let some people coming in
faculty    staff    students    supporters
uppers (administratives) out
professors asked what? students asked help us! four
people flocked, sat rows. each expressed problems
they listened    formed committees    meetings
fund-raising    how? thermometer with round-line red
money-giving    red-rising
press conference    newspaper reporters plus
tv reporters came    asked questions
deaf felt helpless    looked at group coming
“interpreters!” they helped us!
deaf signed, interpreters spoke to reporters
looked at five deaf leaders coming
national organizations different
leader by leader spoke    clapped    waved hands
reporters wrote down    ran to cars    drove away
stopped at newspaper building    entered    ran into office
typed    computer    line by line
pushed key    came-out paper    took it and ran
to huge room    put on machine    turned on
rolled    pressed    folded    stacked
put-in trucks    doors opened    trucks hurried out
same time    pressed    wired all-over usa
continued through the night    stars faintly twinkled
sunrise    wednesday
guards    rows    rows    tired
blockade    looked at truck    let it in
opened doors    packs of newspapers    came out
headline: “gallaudet protest”
hurrah    returned to gate, guarded
professors    workers met together
discussed    voted.  approved four demands
helped students    hurrah    but
one ran in, stood, breathed, announced
z hair-curled, scarf favorable
looked up, disappointed    heart broken
one by one grab flag    rose high
inspiring    hands waving
over there    building    room    tv camera lens
ted koppel hair, apart, sat, table curve
point blond crew-cut, point z hair-curled, scarf
point california, mm hair-long-curl, glasses
ted looked at watch    lens to camera
frame, down wire to next room
man earphones, microphone, tv sets
1) fix tie    2) fix scarf    3) fix hair
count 5 4 3 2 1 0              push button
line ran down    went through to disk
then, shot up into space    reaching satellite
satellite moved    shot down
china    frame    burn z
india    frame    gate
africa    frame    pickets
italy    frame 4 4 4
france    frame    spilman out
sweden     frame    deaf unity
england    frame    deaf president now
america    frame    blond hair crew-cut signed
zinser spoke, captioned
mm emoted
ted koppel looked at clock    5 4 3 2 1
cut    blackout
sunrise    thursday
gate    guarded    tents    slept
 woke up    clothes dirty    hungry
 got up    joined group
another truck came in    let it in
opened doors    boxes boxes out of truck
looked at boxes    puzzled    opened
food! food! food! grabbed    gave out    shared
truck left    guarded all day
mail trucks entered    doors opened    bags
letters pile
building (ole gym) rails    doors opened
people stood    busy running around
room table round    telephones
interpreters    hearing volunteers
sat around table. rings    rings
answered    hung up    answered
deaf president thumb-up mark thumb-up mark
deaf president thumb-down mark thumb-down mark
thermometer red-line up    up
box    coins    bills    checks    up    up
tap shoulder, looked around    puzzled    noticed
girl little holding dime    put it in box
inspired    tears in eyes
gate guarded    tv trucks    antennas
tv reporters    newspapers reporters
microphone moved, deaf signed, interpereters spoke
all day into night
clouds crept into darkness

Translation from ASL by Gilbert C. Eastman
source: H-Dirksen L. Bauman, Jennifer L. Nelson, & Heidi M. Rose, editors, Signing the Body Poetic: Essays on American Sign Language Literature, University of California Press, 2006.

(1) POETRY WITHOUT SOUND.   Even in its early, tentative stages, the signing poetry emerging as an aspect of the "culture of the deaf" challenges some of our cherished preconceptions about poetry and its relation to human speech.  Ameslan (American Sign Language) represents, literally, a poetry without sound and, for its practitioners, a poetry without access to that experience of sound as voice that we've so often taken as the bedrock of all poetics and all language.  In the real world of the deaf, then, language exists as a kind of writing in space and as a primary form of communication without reference to any more primary form of language for its validation.  It is in this sense a realization of the ideogrammatic vision of a Fenollosa – "a splendid flash of concrete poetry" – but an ideogrammatic language truly in motion and, like oral poetry, truly inseparable from its realization in performance.  (Ethnopoetic analogues – for those who would care to check them out – include Hindu and Tantric mudras, Plains Indian and Australian Aborigine sign languages, and Ejagham [southeastern Nigerian] "action writing": a history of human gesture languages that would enrich our sense of poetry and language, should we set our minds to it.)  The reader may also want to relate this piece to more recent discourse about "written-oral dichotomies, etc., but the revelation of Ameslan, in that sense, isn't a denial of the powers of oral poetry but the creation of its possible and equally impermanent companion in performance. (J.R., from Symposium of the Whole, 1983)

(2)  The “epic” goes back to March 1988 and a massive student strike at Gallaudet University, a federally chartered school for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing located in Washington, D.C., over the failure to appoint a non-hearing university president.  Writes Kristen C. Harmon, in introducing the epic & Gilbert Eastman’s part in it as “creator and omniscient narrator”: “Eastman is not conversing in everyday ASL.  In English, this introduction translates as ‘Within the blackness of space a single planet comes into focus – the earth, in its orbit, rotating on its axis.  The face of the earth comes into view – the United States’; even in translation, this kind of language clearly represents a departure from the conventions of conversational or informal written English.”  The resultant performance work, then, is in a tightly condensed language of its own & at a true remove from what it might have been as spoken.

(3) Quoting W.J.T. Mitchell (“Preface: Utopian Gestures”, in Signing the Body Poetic): “In the world of the Deaf, I am a disabled person, incapable of hearing or seeing or reading or listening to what is being said by the people around me.” Exactly who is the outsider here? 

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