Donna Williams: Expressing myself at Portsmouth Bookfest

Posted on October 26, 2012

I’m nervous.

I’m excited.

Regular readers of my blog may know that I had an amazing time at the Signing Hands Across the Water poetry festival in Philadelphia and was exposed to different styles of Sign Language poetry, including use of interpreters to give a voiceover.

The ASL poets both had interpreters, whilst none of the BSL poets did, and we had many fruitful and interesting discussions that weekend, some of which are still whirling around my head.

Everyone I ask has a different opinion as to whether Sign Language poetry should be translated. Should it have a voiceover? Should it be left ‘pure’? Does it make it easier for hearing people who don’t sign to understand it? Or are we making them lazy and unable to appreciate the beauty of the poetry on its own merit?

By almost sheer luck, I’ve been given the opportunity to explore these questions. I’ve been invited to perform at Portsmouth Bookfest next Monday 29th October, just managed to get hold some final details a few days ago (they’re so busy organising I think they may have forgotten about me slightly – I’d better give them something to remember!) and here is the poster!

Express Yourself BookFest poster

I realise it’s short notice, but I’ll be seeing if we can get a video made of the event! I will be performing with Sam Cox, Portsmouth Poet Laureate and Joe McQuilken, Portsmouth Young Poet Laureate, so will be in exalted company :)  Their poetry will be interpreted into BSL, so it’ll be a fully accessible event!

As you can see, the theme is ‘Express Yourself’ and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to explore different ways of ‘expressing myself’ through my poetry, by performing various poems with a different degree of voiceover.

The first will be fully voiced, the last will have next to nothing, and there’ll be varying degrees in between. I’m hoping to get feedback from the audience as to which they preferred and why. The lucky interpeter is Kyra Pollitt, who is not only a highly experienced terp, she’s into poetry as much as I am, maybe even more, and am hoping we’ll be a poetic force to be reckoned with!

I am really hoping that despite the very short notice, we can get some of the deaf community through the doors, please spread news of the event far and wide and see if any sign language poetry lovers would like to come!

I am really keen to get feedback from as wide a range of people as possible; from deaf to hearing, from signers to non-signers, from the young to old; everyone – which poem works best and why? Does the voiceover help? Does it distract? Or does the strength of the poem determine its impact rather than whether its ‘translated’ or not?

I’m really keen to get some answers to these questions, even if it only leaves me with more questions! I would love to explore this side of poetry – signed / English, and anyone that wants to join me, and is free at 7pm in the area of Menuhin Theatre, Portsmouth on Mon 29th October, is very welcome :)

Donna Williams is a deaf writer and blogger living in Bristol and studying part-time in Cardiff. As well as being a postgraduate student, she’s a BSL poet, freelance writer, NDCS Deaf Role Model presenter, and occasional performer. In dull moments, she blogs  and tweets as Deaf Firefly about what she sees as “a silly world from a deaf perspective!”

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