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American Annals of the Deaf

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Moon on the Meadow: Collected Poems

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When I am in a signed conversation, or when watching an ASL poet, or when teaching my students at Gallaudet University, I feel whole, uniquely at home, complete. When I am attending a presentation at which there is an interpreter, I will invariably watch the interpreter. I often volunteer as an interpreter in the deaf community or in the local schools, as a way of remaining connected to my parents, who are no longer alive. When I was teaching at hearing universities, prior to becoming a faculty member at Gallaudet, my “deaf side” felt lonely. This desire to stay involved, to be a part of the deaf community, is a need I cannot forsake. I think this need is also what drives the more visual aspects of my work. Now and then, I have included snippets of signed, ASL conversations in my poems as well.

Describing the shimmer of a calm, glassy lake in the moonlight; the white, fluffy petals of a peony; the way icicles drip — all derive from my visual childhood. The imagist nature of my poems finds a basis in looking, in using my eyes for information about the world, about my loved ones, about myself. This ardent and constant looking shows up in my work, in the visual images I use to contain the emotion behind the poem. The acts of seeing and of illustrating are at the root of my poetry, the words serving as concrete depictions of observation and experience.

I believe that not speaking much, relying instead on sign language and visual cues from the world around me, has given me an advantage. There is entirely too much clatter in the world, and silence is a kind of balm. Yet there remains that human need to connect, to share one’s life, and so I began to write, partly out of boredom, partly out of loving the reactions I got from my second-grade friends, partly, in the eighth grade, out of seeing my name in print in the school newspaper.

Now, I realize, I write to stave off isolation, to reach out for another. When you are the child of deaf parents, it sometimes happens that when you cry, no one comes, at least not immediately. You learn a kind of self-reliance that often makes it difficult to trust another person, something that relationships of a romantic nature later in life teach you about, with varying results. In these pages of poetry, there is a range of emotion expressed; it has been my purpose to describe feelings we all share in ways that are decidedly visual.

One critic has written that my poems are “painterly.” Perhaps it is no coincidence that my favorite artists are the French impressionists and that my favorite poets are the imagists. I dislike enormously poems that are overly abstract, cerebral, or explanatory, or that make vague allusions to things only those living in rarefied academic circles could relate to. My personal snobbery aside, I respond most vigorously to those poems that bring me to a place I can envision or to memorable characters, events, or even to a thimble-sized element that makes me see the entirety of the poet’s point, the way someone once described loneliness as being akin to a spiderweb under lawn furniture in the rain, dripping.

Ezra Pound had this to say about one of his briefest poems, written about an experience he had in Paris:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Three years ago in Paris I got out of a “metro” train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion. . . .

I realized quite vividly that if I were a painter, or if I had, often, that kind of emotion, or even if I had the energy to get paints and brushes and keep at it, I might found a new school of painting, of “non-representative” painting, a painting that would speak only by arrangements in colour. . . . That is to say, my experience in Paris should have gone into paint . . .

(See a republication of this essay in Pound’s Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir [1916; London: New Directions, 1960], 86–89.)

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