Life & Deaf was a highly successful poetry project in which deaf children explored their identities through poetry created in English and British Sign Language. They later performed these poems in Greenwich in 2006 and published a book and DVD.
Life & Deaf 2 extended this award-winning project nationwide, through the publication and dissemination of a Life & Deaf 2 Workbook and via the website www.lifeanddeaf.co.uk/ We have led workshops and spoken to many groups of professionals and colleagues over the past few years and have been delighted by the positive reactions that we have received. Penelope Beschizza, teacher of deaf students, BSL and deaf studies, provides some recent feedback, ‘I saw the earlier Life & Deaf events at City Hall with deaf students from Southwark College, who were impressed with the variety and creativity of the signed poems by young deaf people from Greenwich. Fast forward four years and I accompanied colleagues and deaf students from Sedgehill School Hearing Impairment Unit in south east London for the recent Life & Deaf day of workshops in Greenwich. It was a fab day, in wonderful buildings, with various workshop leaders, including BSL deaf poet Richard Carter. The ripple effect from a fully accessible and interactive day with many students from other hearing impairment units and deaf support centres is still happening today. The effect is evident through seeing the gradual unlocking of deaf identity (the “I’m OK, I’m deaf, life goes on… approach”) and creative cognitive skills among some of our deaf students who participated in the workshops. The ripple effect quietly benefits families, friends and the students’ learning too.’ Recently we have heard of groups of students across the country presenting their own Life & Deaf events. This thrills us as we really want the concept to be owned and used by as many people as possible.
Poetry from around 200 students is now displayed on our website. The span of subject matter and emotions portrayed is vast.
The Greenwich workshops
In May and July 2011 70 young deaf poets who had submitted poetry, photos and drawings to our website came to Greenwich to participate in a day of creative workshops. The students rotated around four workstations where art, visual and signed poetry, spoken word and performance were used as media through which the children could explore and share their individual experiences and feelings about their deafness.
Life & Deaf 2 poetry – some examples
‘In the morning all is quiet
As quiet as a deserted island
My world suddenly appears with my wonder of science
My key to a new world.’
‘Peace at last with my two magicians, one on the left one on the right.’
‘Every night I ask myself why am I deaf? Is the answer far in Mars?
Or maybe it is all the way in the stars. Did something go wrong in outer space? The answer might be in a different place.’
‘I hate being deaf. I can’t hear my screaming. This is the worst ever.’
‘And when some people talk I don’t understand them They talk too fast
Like they’re saying ”XEYIDAILYMMOURRDINK” roaring like a car VRRROOOOOM
It’s like I’m in another world.’
‘Soon I’ll get a new implant. I feel excited. Soon I will hear cars go both ways. I will be safe.
The children came prepared with poems and images that had significance for them. One by one they were invited to share these in small groups. Developing the children’s creative output was secondary to exploring and discussing their feelings and experiences, developing their emotional literacy and forming networks and friendships. Each group was facilitated by a creative professional, an interpreter and a Teacher of the Deaf or specialist speech and language therapist.
Themes such as cochlear implants, managing technology, isolation in family and friendship groups, pride in sign language and feeling somehow ‘different’ were raised by the children and explored. It was interesting to see how varied the children’s responses were to similar experiences; the children learnt to lead discussions themselves, to accept the perspectives of others and to present their own views, even when these were painful or contrasting. The atmosphere in each group was supportive, respectful and sensitive.
Throughout the day each child was encouraged to face a number of new challenges. Some had never signed before or worked with an interpreter, others had never thought about the mechanics of voice production or considered what their voice meant to them. To support the group dynamics, children were grouped according to communication mode but there were many opportunities to mix with children and adults with differing communication styles.
Throughout the afternoon each young person was invited to perform some lines of their poetry to camera. We edited and subtitled these performances and have distributed DVDs so that the children can share these moments with their friends and families. The positive and thoughtful feedback collected from the young people is summarised below and shows that the day provided a tremendous and rare opportunity for the students to meet new deaf young people and to explore aspects of their identity together.
The students each gave feedback, including the following quotes: ‘I thought it great learning all the knowledge about being deaf. Also I have learned other people’s expressions and feelings’, ‘It’s really cool, learning new language from different places including Derby and Brighton, I love it!’, ‘It was a great experience. It’s made me feel more confident’. We have been delighted to hear that some of the students are still in contact with each other via social media.
The Life & Deaf team has also worked with Eelyn Lee, a professional filmmaker. In the spring she met the Greenwich deaf students to brainstorm their ideas and to develop a script from the powerful lines of poetry submitted to the website. Over several action-packed days, in unexpected corners of Greenwich, her crew made a short film exploring the world of deaf teenagers. We have seen the first cut of this film and find it beautiful, compelling and moving.
The film, we are delighted to announce, will be launched at the Purcell Room on London’s Southbank Centre on 29 March 2012. This will be a ticketed free event, primarily for the students involved, their families and professionals working with deaf children and young people. If you would like to attend or would like details of how to view the film online following the event please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org During the evening there will also be live performances of poetry in BSL and English by both professionals and students, a visual performance piece by deaf teenagers from London and an audio poem featuring the voices of deaf children reading poetry created by children nationwide. We hope that the evening will further raise deaf awareness and that this will in turn support good mental health for future generations of deaf young people and adults.
If you are unable to attend the creative evening look out for our exhibition showcasing the film and other creative work of Life & Deaf poets. Check out our website for confirmation of venues and dates.
The Life & Deaf association is indebted to many people – the children who so honestly engage with us and each other, the professionals who guide and support them, Greenwich Sensory Service, via Greenwich Children’s Services, and two private donors who provide funding and support.
Our hope for the future is that Life & Deaf will live on, through our website, currently being redesigned to make it more visual, lively and user friendly, and through the work you will all do if, like us, you are inspired to encourage deaf young people to get in touch with their true feelings through creativity and the beauty, power and freedom of language and poetry.