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American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf American Poetry: An Anthology

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Curtis Robbins (1943–     )

The Deaf Pride movement reached its zenith in March 1988 when the students and faculty of Gallaudet University, joined by practically the whole signing community, protested against the board of trustees’ selection of a hearing woman, over two other Deaf finalists, for the school’s next president. The triumph of the Deaf President Now! Revolution inspired many to write celebratory poems, but Curtis Robbins’s “The Rally That Stood the World Still” includes another element, some nagging questions. Though the movement made vital breakthroughs for all Deaf people, it was by no means full reparation for past injustices, certainly not the pain of wrongs done by one’s own family, a classic example of which is masterfully carved in “Solo Dining While Growing Up.” In “The Promised World,” Robbins lists the cultural bargains he has been offered, not only the age-old one to speak and act hearing, but also the new ideal Deaf identity, with which he finds himself at odds, too. Two of his lines—“Every chamber is loaded but one” (“Russian Roulette”) and “I am lost” (“Deaf Poet or What?”)—reveal how stuck some Deaf people can feel when they find employment opportunities still limited, even after the advent of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and when the current lexicon of labels doesn’t fit them. In spite of it all, Robbins’s art is uniquely commanding, clear, and pulls with much strength.

Curtis Robbins became deaf when he was one year old due to the side effects of a drug used to treat his tonsillitis. He attended public schools in New York City and Long Beach. Robbins graduated from Gallaudet College in 1967 and earned his master’s degrees from New York University and the University of Maryland, where he also received his doctorate. He has taught computer applications and American Sign Language for more than thirty-five years. Robbins’s poetry has appeared in the anthologies Beyond Lament: Poets of the World Witness to the Holocaust, No Walls of Stone, The Deaf Way II Anthology, and Blood to Remember.

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