The Poem and Performance

  • Rachel Sutton-Spence


So far in our consideration of sign language poems, we have been treating them as though they have a recognisable, abstracted form of text, which contains the content of the poem. However, there are times when it is difficult to distinguish the `text’ of the poem from its ‘performance’. Heidi Rose (1992) considers the performance of sign language poems, and having acknowledged that a ‘text’ may be defined as ‘the original words of an author’, goes on to the idea of a ‘performed text’, which ‘would include all aspects of articulation, gesticulation and mise-en-scène’ (p. 23). Geoffrey Leech (1969) notes in relation to English poetry that performance ‘is clearly extraneous to the poem, for the poem is what is given on the printed page, in abstraction from any special inflections, modulations etc., which a performer might read into it, just as the play Hamlet exists independently of actual performances and actual theatrical productions’ (p. 104). It is less easy to make this distinction in sign language poems, because the abstraction on the printed page is always a translation of the signed poem, and there is less justification for claiming that the sign language poems do exist independently of their performances. In this chapter we will consider the various elements of performance that form an essential part of sign language poetry, and see how signers use their performance of the poem to create an effect on the audience.


Facial Expression Sign Language Deaf Child Deaf People Deaf Community 
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© Rachel Sutton-Spence 2005

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  • Rachel Sutton-Spence

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