Poetry Without Borders: Handshape Story-Poem

10.18.17_Features_Jeannie Ake_Poetry Without Borders_Jeannie Ake4

Courtesy of Jeannie Ake

Jeannie Ake
Staff Writer

On Friday the Elliott University Center, UNCG hosted its first “Poetry Without Borders: A Celebration of Words” event. Students learning any language taught in the Languages, Literatures and Cultures department were able to attend from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to learn to create poetry in their respective languages.

Breakfast was provided from 8 to 9 a.m. and then sessions for the variety of languages were held throughout the day, culminating in a reception at 5 p.m. in the Virginia Dare Room of the Alumni House. From 1 to 3 p.m. in the EUC Dogwood room, UNCG American Sign Language students attended the highly anticipated workshop, “Handshape Story-Poem.”

Hosted by ASL faculty and members of the deaf community, workshop leaders, particularly in the deaf community, provided their time to help ASL students of any level learn to create handshape story-poems and practice their signing skills.

“I came because it just sounded really interesting,” said UNCG senior, Emily Mitchell, “I wanted to see how they did the handshape poetry from people who really know how to do it.”

In fact, one of the first things attendants experienced at the event was various interpretations of the unique poetry style from members of the deaf community. Students then broke off into groups and were guided by the deaf guests to create their own unique handshape story-poems and later present them to the room.

Students further along in their ASL courses and students in their first semesters worked in tandem to develop their skills in a challenging creative art form, guided by the patience of members of the deaf community and faculty. Many students already recognized handshape poetry as a valuable aspect of Deaf culture and were excited to learn more.

UNCG sophomore, Karen Adkins, said, “I got involved with ASL back in high school. I know how important storytelling is, and this poetry is such an important part of storytelling to ASL.”

Students participating in the event were given the stipulation that their poems had to be ABC stories, number stories or use one handshape, which ended up being more challenging than one might expect.

Handshape story-poems are defined by handspeak.com as: “One of the forms of art and literature in sign language. ASL storytellers tell a story using handshapes in a particular sequence and a rhyme” and, for example, number stories involve “tell[ing] a story or poem using a handshape-based sequence and a rhyme in numbers.” Students certainly developed an appreciation for this art form as they worked through the creative challenges present, especially for those in the early stages of learning ASL.

After coordinating the poetry in individual groups with the guidance of each group leader, students either presented their own story-poem or relaxed and enjoyed presentations from deaf guests, faculty and other students.

While ASL courses require attendance to a certain number of Deaf events throughout the semester, many students came because they simply wanted to learn more about the ASL community. Patrice Lewis, a sophomore at UNCG, said, “I really got involved in ASL this year, but I kind of grew up with it, being that my brother is speech and hearing impaired. My major is Speech Pathology and Audiology so I just wanted to know more for when I need it. I really enjoyed the event.”

On UNCG’s website, “Poetry Without Borders” is described as intended to “bring together the creative side of all the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures students and faculty.”

While attending events where you are immersed in an unfamiliar language or one you are in the early stages of learning can be intimidating, for this event in particular, it is valuable to see members of the Deaf community interact and challenge your communication skills with people at a higher level of proficiency. However, many attendants came for the other reason outlined on UNCG’s website, which was to develop a “common love and respect for languages.”

There are events for the hearing impaired throughout the semester within in our community, and they are a great resource for students hoping to improve and practice their signing skills. If anyone is interested in attending, they can visit csdhh.org for a list of upcoming events.



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