As with any minority language carrying a raw and recent history of oppression, there are complicated politics in deaf communities. Shunned at school by those whose ability to speak English was prized, older sign language poets may balk at the success of bilinguals, seen as making a prodigal return now that social capital and cachet have been visited upon sign languages. For some, the mainstream poet’s world of blogs, circuits, Twitter accounts and self-publicity conflicts with the old bardic tradition, and with anti-individual, non-hierarchical deaf community values. More recently, Visual Vernacular has seemed to some to offer a refuge from the prying colonialism of the curious, a haven from the terrors of research or translation.

Yet there are some characteristics that are shared all along the continuum; wherever a sign language poet may be placed on the spectrum, theirs is an embodied art. The poet is always, inescapably, in the poem. To cover all three genres, and to recognise the qualities at play, I prefer to use the umbrella term ‘Signart’. At this point you’ll need to understand something more of these qualities, the six main characteristics of Signart: linguistic flair, illumination (as in medieval manuscripts), gesture-dance, the cinematic, rhythmic composition and social sculpture.


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