Deaf Poets Society | Douglas Ridloff | TEDxVienna


Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven I have two Deaf boys. They’re so rare and so unique. I’m blessed and they are blessed because they can play
with their sign language in their home environment, which is a safe space for them. When I watch them sign, I realize what a treasure
sign language is, and I’ve thought about how to preserve it, and I’ve realized it’s through the arts. My objective is simple: I just want my boys to comprehend their place in the lineage of the language and the richness and the complexity of it. As I was growing up,
in eighth grade, I wrote a story, and the teacher offered me two options – whether to sign that story
to the class or to speak it. And I chose to speak it at that time because through my upbringing
I had been told repeatedly that speech was superior,
while sign language was sidelined. And I had never been taught
to translate from the written word into a signed performance. And growing up, I never
had any Deaf role models until I was 16 years old, and for the first time
I saw a Deaf poet, Peter Cook, and his linguistic expression
just blew my mind sky high, such that when I landed,
I had this realization about what my thoughts were
about sign language being so simple and for communication only. I realized that it had
these other modalities, that it had this depth
and this fiber to it. I became a teacher, and I taught
kindergarten through third grade and taught sign language to Deaf students. But that three times of exposure
per week for 45 minutes was those students’ only safe space
to play with language, to experiment and to build
on their concepts. Can you imagine not having
any time outside of that and returning to their home environment
potentially without communication? As compared to my boys,
who are utterly privileged. But I don’t want to limit them
to the two role models of myself and my wife. I would like their diet of role models
to be varied and full, just as you wouldn’t feed broccoli
consistently every day to the child; you’d want to provide them with
a varied diet of fruit and vegetables because the more nutrition
you’re able to offer them, the healthier their development. Because what happened to me should not happen
to any other Deaf children. That’s why I left the classroom
and came to the world and founded my own Deaf Poets Society – one component of three is ASL SLAM, the mission of which
is to provide a platform, to create a safe space for the Deaf community
to play with their language of signs, and to learn to play
and to have fun with that. And we pull in other talent
and other artists to express themselves on stage so that they can share their work
and inspire that audience because we want to seed
the next generation of talent. And we want to water those seeds
and grow them up so that we can have more Deaf poets
and storytellers and role models. Another component
of that Deaf Poets Society is establishing additional chapters
of ASL SLAM in cities around the country, with the same mission as the home event. And the third component
is touring around the world. I just went to Jamaica, I just went to Cuba and Norway,
and I’m going to Australia next. Regardless of the various
socioeconomic statuses of those places, we are traveling and bringing
that mission to those places. You know, each country around the world
has their own sign language, whether Australia or any
of those other places I mentioned.` So we use International Sign
to communicate, to respect their language. And I have a roster of poems
in a visual vernacular, which makes a more image-based approach, so that we can reach out to those international
Deaf communities around the world. So I’ll show you a poem now, and the interpreter
will not be speaking during this. (Applause) So maybe some of you
could follow that and visualize it, and maybe some of you couldn’t. But this is visual poetry; I feel like it’s a soundless
visual musical composition. And this poem was the first poem
that I crafted in the visual vernacular that had that built-in meter to it, and rhythm, and that allowed me
to begin to collaborate with a variety of different musicians to test out that process,
that collaborative process, so that I felt like it would be important
to correlate sound to that visual poetry. And then I worked
with the MERGE Art Collective. A woman named Mia at that organization
asked me to compose a poem, which I did, gave them the video, and she went through the poem
and composed a score to match up with it, and then we teamed up with four musicians and rehearsed repeatedly
until it was polished. And of course coming here to Vienna, I brought the score
and met two Austrian musicians, so I would like to
welcome them to the stage so that we can show you
that collaboration live here. (Applause) (Low drone) (Tone change) (Second drone) (Changing saxophone tones) (Sharp notes) (Quick notes) (Abrupt stop) (Loud, sharp and sustained notes) (Moving tones) (Notes end) (Pattern repeating
and increasing in intensity) (Notes slowing down) (Sustained note) (Note changes) (Second note enters) (First tone change) (Slow melodic tones) (Tones stop) (Moving melodic tones) (Tones stop) (Tones resume and pick up pace) (Sustained tones) (Out breaths) (Discordant notes) (Out breaths) (Slow tones) (Rapid tones) (Abrupt stop) (Slow, sustained tones) (Abrupt stop) (Applause) That’s a visual poetic composition merged with a musical composition. And the goal of that
is to be able to reach out, not just to international Deaf community but also to the broader hearing community so that you all can see and understand the richness and the complexity
that sign language has within it. It’s badass! (Laughter) So now I want you as you leave
to go seek out your Deaf communities, to collaborate with them
and make the world a safe space, just as I want my boys to continue
the lineage of the language. We want the entire world
to be a safe space for the Deaf community. Today, I stand before you
and I choose to sign. (Laughter)

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