This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 423,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Slam Tutorial: Using Sign Language


I saw Rives perform this at the 2004 National Poetry Slam in St. Louis.

Poems specifically about body language or sign language offer the poet another tongue with which to speak. I've been told that my use of my arms greatly enhances my performances. Rives uses sign language overtly in this poem to convey his poem.

The play on words between "deaf poetry" "Def Poetry" (a la Russell Simmons, Mos Def and HBO) is also super-nifty.

Sign Language
By Rives


I work sometimes at a high school for deaf kids.
We put on poetry readings and poetry slams.
We call 'em
deaf poetry jams.

One poets poem goes ...

The night we met,
so many moons, were shining down on us so brightly
I thought
"Hey, maybe those moons have mistaken us for their Gods."

Another poet's poem goes ...

I, I, I, me, me, me, my, my, my
Doesn't anybody tell a story anymore?

And another poet's poem goes ...

Last night I dreamt I was little again.
And i could hear back then,
but the silence in my house
was deafening.

See some of the kids only write about being deaf.
Others make a joke.
Some make a mention.
Some ignore the topic altogether.

Not too different from the choices poets make anywhere else
with gender of skin color.
So you get goofy haiku like:

Homework is bullshit.
And inspires out of me
nothing but vomit.

And poems like

I saw on T.V.
that scientists have taught
a gorilla to speak sign language.
Outstanding!
Why don't they
teach the gorilla
how to wipe
it's ass, assholes?

And the words, the signs themselves
are as wonderful for me to watch
as if they were hummingbirds or butterflies.
Words like goosebumps.
Daydream. Giraffe. Sticky-icky-icky.

These are high school students
who never pass notes in class.
They just sign their shit
behind your back.

And they greet each other
in the hallways lately, going ...

Can you hear me now?
No, well I guess-- that's good! That's all.

And they pester me for the
lyrics to hip-hop songs
which they prefer
because they can
feel the music
throbbing through
the speakers we use for speech therapy
And I tell them
Well, that says
"Everybody put your hands in the air."
And they do
Every month, at our little poetry slams,
where the audience never spreads out,
it spreads back so that everyone can
hear those hands.

And it's damn near silent,
and there's never a microphone.

But sometimes the poets do rock their poems,
and when a deaf poet rocks a poem,
it echoes off the walls for these ears alone, like

i was born as deaf and as quiet as a starfish.
But if I had been born a man,
I would pray to the lord above every night
at the top of my fucking lungs,
just to thank him
for giving me
voice.

My memory my be fuzzy, but remember another ending with a bit more theatrics as right after his last line, Rives actually tipped the mic over.

i was born as deaf and as quiet as a starfish.
But if I had been born a man,
I would pray to the lord above every night
at the top of my fucking lungs,
just to thank him
for giving me
voice.

And when deaf poets don't just rock the mic
they knock it the fuck over

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