Monday, June 29, 2009

Documentary about ASL Poetry, "The Heart of the Hydrogen Jukebox"

I met Miriam in 2007 when she put together an evening of film to close the CAID Conference. As a movie buff, she shared her insights into the representations of deaf people in film. I introduced myself to her at the end of the presentation knowing that we had much in common and we have been Facebook friends ever since.
When I interviewed her, she said that she was working on a working on a special project making a documentary about ASL Poetry. Her documentary, The Heart of the Hydrogen Jukebox, includes archival footage of performances and video interviews of deaf poets who experimented with poetic devices in American Sign Language in the 1980's. While some may be witness to great events in history, Miriam was an active participant as a voice interpreter/artist.
I had the privilege of seeing The Heart of the Hydrogen Jukebox at the CAID Conference last Wednesday, June 24. While it wasn't a packed auditorium and the viewing was in direct competition with a Washington Nationals vs. Boston Red Sox Baseball game (as well as exhausted conference participants), the crowd included those who truly valued and appreciated this type of rich documentary.
Lerner explained, "the first part of the film deals with the older style of Deaf poets mostly translating written English works into sign, and then with growing pride in the deaf community and ASL, more experimentation with ASL generated pieces. The second half segues into a time in Rochester, NY, the mid-1980s when Deaf and Hearing poets in this community were privy to each others' works because of the local interpreters' attempts to translate and voice the ASL for the hearing audiences, and translate and sign the spoken poetry, the two communities crossed into each others' realms in a fusion that was unprecedented."
Some of the highlighted poets include Eric Malzkuhn (Malz), Robert Panara, Bernard Bragg, Ella Mae Lentz, Dorothy Miles, Patrick Graybill, Peter Cook, and Debbie Rennie.
When it goes on sale, I highly recommend that you purchase a copy! I laughed, cried, and on more than one occasion put my hand to my heart.

For a taste of ASL poetry, below is the poem, "NEED" created by Deaf poet Peter Cook and hearing poet, Kenny Lerner, Miriam's husband.

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