As a reader, poetry is easy to recognize. And it’s always such a wonderful experience to hear it read out loud. Poetry is also quite a challenge to translate; not to mention if the target language is extremely different from the original, such as sign language. But does this mean that it’s completely untranslatable? Of course not!
While rhymes and puns, which come from an oral tradition, don’t translate in the same way into a visual language, by its very nature, and as a manifestation of beauty, poetry has the capability to transcend language and touch people the world over. Breathtaking translations of countless works have been achieved, not to mention poetry that was originally created in sign language.
There are those who believe that poetry in sign language even surpasses any of the oral languages, as it adds a three-dimensional nuance. Sign language uses gestures and space to make sense of messages. Poets use not only their hands, but their entire body to recite a poem, and from mere enunciators, they become actors and dancers who give life to a work.
Translating a poem to sign language is hard work; the configuration of the hands, the path of the movements, the facial expressions and the corporal movements are planned in exquisite detail. Additionally, speed, pauses, repetitions and other elements converge so that the poem’s rendering is extremely rich and complex.
Here are two excellent examples:
“Counter Poetry” – interpreted by Mari Klassen
The first half has a certain meaning, and later the poem is reinterpreted backwards to achieve another completely different meaning.
“The Day the Saucers Came” – interpreted by Crom Saunders