Saturday, 10 December 2011

Hearing with the Eyes

06:33:00 Posted by Ashley Lister 3 comments

I believe, as the oldest blogger on this team, I’m probably closest to losing my hearing.

The symptoms are already showing – or I’m associating with some consistent mumblers. Either way, I find myself often asking, “Could you please say that again?” or, “Can you speak up?” or admitting, “I didn’t catch that.”

More and more frequently I’m asking people to repeat things three times. And on the third occasion, when I still haven’t heard, I just nod and say either yes or no, depending on the response the mumbler appears to need.

(In fact, a tip for any mumblers who may be reading this: if you often find someone is asking you to repeat what you’ve said, repeat the words with more volume and improved articulation. Just saying the same thing in the same whisper and with the same lack of concern for whether or not it can be understood was part of the problem in the first damned place).

Am I worried about my disappearing hearing? Yes and no. On the negative side, it means I won’t be able to hear many of the young singers who are currently releasing singles after appearing on The X Factor. But, on the positive side, it means I won’t be able to hear many of the young singers who are currently releasing singles after appearing on The X Factor.

(I could have gone on a five page rant here about the lack of articulation evinced by modern singers – and the superior enunciation found in the recordings of artists such as Frank Sinatra and Barry Manilow. But, as soon as I typed the words ‘modern singers’ I realised I was sounding like Grandpa Simpson. And I know, if I go down that route, someone is likely to tell me that I haven’t heard such-and-such an artist, who is renowned for his lyrics and his superb articulation.

And I don’t want to go down that route).

What I want to say instead is, rather than fret about my impending loss of hearing, I’m already taking steps to address the situation when it does arrive. I can understand and communicate with a limited amount of BSL (British Sign Language). I’m trying to learn more. I’m also trying to organise for a sign language interpreter to join us regularly at the Dead Good Poets so we can extend our open mic performances to an audience ordinarily excluded because of the aural nature of spoken word performances.

Obviously this is not going to be easy.

As with any translation of poetry from one language to another, sign language interpretation is not simply a matter of changing a literally defined word from language A to its equivalent in language B.

Sign language has its own grammar, its regional dialects and its own homonyms. In short, sign language interpretation (like any translation) takes phenomenal skill and a considerable amount of sage judgement.

Having discussed the issues with an interpreter I know that poets interested in having their work interpreted at an event would need to get a printed copy of the work with the interpreter at least a day before, so that she has time to gain some understanding of what is being said and so she can best present that information to an audience. Which, to some extent, limits the chances of spontaneity in the performance of a piece.

And, even then, our deaf audience will only be looking at one person’s interpretation of a poem.

However, the road to inclusivity is not a straight path. And I do think it’s exciting that the Dead Good Poets could be one day extending their work to an audience that has previously been excluded from open mic performances.

And, finally, for anyone who’s never seen the synchronicity of spoken word with physical interpretation, there’s a video below that shows ASL, music and lyrics in perfect unity.



Lara Clayton said...

Hi Ash,
A great choice of videos and a thoroughly interesting post.

At Latitude this year Simon Armitage had an interpreter for the length of his set. It was completely fascinating to hear and see Armitage's words, not to mention the fact that poetry was being extended to a wider audience...

Couldn't agree more that it be wonderful if the DGPS could get a few poems interpreted for each event.


Lindsay said...

Loved those videos, and it put me in mind of when you did your teaching module and did it in silence for was it some of it or all of it? I remember Paula was well and truly panicking as she couldn't understand what was going on.

There's a physical rhythm which flows through these performances which gives in an element of dance too. Rhythm can be felt which makes it something eveyone can understand no matter what language they speak. Fascinating post and great videos Ash.

Anonymous said...


I wish I could have seen Armitage being signed. The idea that something so simple can extend our work to a broader audience really does fascinate me.


I do remember Paula's panic. It was hilarious. It was also quite odd that I stayed silent for a full twenty minutes.

Ash (plagued by PC problems today and responding from the BlackBerry)