A poem for National Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day and this years’ theme is Water. Since it’s chucking it down outside, that seems very apropos.

Lately, as well as composing BSL poems, I’ve been looking at translation; English to BSL and vice versa. I first became really interested in this when I went to the Signing Hands Across the Water poetry festival in America last year; it really hit me that all the ASL poets had voiceovers, but none of the BSL poets did.

That and a hilarious misinterpretation of one of my poems by a non-signing member of the audience and various discussion panels between the poets made me think about how poems might be translated across languages. I’ve had poems that I’ve written in English published, but struggle to translate them into BSL, and when trying to put English words to my BSL poems, all I can come up with are basic scribbles that do no justice to my meaning (in my mind anyway…)

Thanks to the Deaf Explorer project I had the opportunity to travel to America to meet The Flying Words Project, a poetry duo comprising Peter Cook, a Deaf ASL poet and Kenny Lerner, his hearing interpreter. They work together to create poems using ASL, English, mime and movement, effectively creating a whole new performance art.

They’ve been performing for decades, and they are amazing to watch. Seriously, check out their first poem in the video; they’re so well-rehearsed that Kenny can literally do it blindfolded. Respect. And Peter’s signs… wowee. And the poem about the dog (called Charlie) gets me every time. The show starts at 5.25, but if you watch the speech at the beginning with automatic captions, please do not be alarmed; it is indeed the Flying Words Project being introduced, and not the ‘violence project’. I think YouTube needs to work on their software…

In America, I was able to chat with them about their creative process, a fabulous experience, which only fuelled my interest in bilingual poetry. So can written poetry be translated into sign language and vice versa? Of course they can, but it’s not easy! So many grey areas, literal translation versus meaningful translation; translating whole lines versus just a few words here and there; everyone has a different way of looking at a poem, how to give as many possible versions or just one depending on the poet’s vision? Etc. Etc, etc.

So I thought, in honour of National Poetry Day, I’d have a go at translating a water-related English poem into BSL, and after some thought, the poem I chose was ‘The Rainy Day’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of my favourite poets.

The text of the poem will follow the video; this way people can choose to read it before or after watching the BSL translation; hopefully it will all make sense and I’ve done the poem justice!

Feedback welcome 🙂

And yes, I know this was posted over an hour after National Poetry Day officially ended. Technical issues. Bloody iMovie. Ahem.

Seriously, feedback welcome!

The Rainy Day

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still sad heart! And cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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