‘Poetry in motion’ is a phrase that's most often used as a cliche, one that’s used to describe fast cars or effortlessly talented dancers. But it’s also an entirely literal description of poet Donna William’s work. Her performance ‘Playing With Poetry’ explores the interplay between English and BSL poetry. Her first poems are spoken in English. Then, she performs them in BSL, her movements bringing tenderness and lyricism
Williams used to perform poems only in BSL, but as she reports, she became frustrated with the way that audience members would praise her poems as “beautiful”, but when she asked them what they thought of the ideas, they’d admit they hadn’t understood a word.
This performance opens with poems performed in BSL, and simultaneously translated into the English language by interpreters. Sometimes, there’s a disjunct between the two, as a hugely expressive stream of movements is interpreted as only a few words of spoken English. And there’s an emotional depth to her BSL poems that translation can’t always convey, either. Her poem about adopting a cat involves a series of hugely expressive movements, as she becomes a series of scared, bold, and sleepy pets at Battersea Dogs Home. When she finally finds her chosen pet - a deaf cat - her caress has a warmth that words can’t convey.
The lyricism of William’s work conveys the closeness of BSL to other physical methods of communication, like dance or mime. Often it's tender, and soothing. But it can also be intensely political.
One of her angriest poems talks about the experience of being shut out of the deaf world, by a family that were desperate for her communicate in spoken English, however much she struggled with it. Her decision to learn BSL at university is experienced as a headrush, an emotionally intense discovery of community she’d needed her whole life.
Her performance communicates the richness of BSL, and by showing its vast expressive potential she illustrates how much she’s gained by becoming bilingual in English and BSL. And her final poem, performed with interpretation, has a beauty that suggests how much is lost by pressuring deaf people to participate in a hearing world. (AS)
Deaffirely: Playing With Poetry was on at Spotlites from 11-12 August. http://www.spotlites.co.uk/edfringe-deaffirefly-16.shtml
Donna Williams' website: https://deaffirefly.com/
Tabith Laksimi on the importance of BSL as a second language: http://limpingchicken.com/2014/10/27/tabitha-laksimi-the-uk-needs-bsl-as-a-second-language-heres-why/