Thanks to Write Out Loud for Brilliant Review of ‘What Meets the Eye’

What Meets the Eye? The Deaf Perspective: eds. Lisa Kelly, Sophie Stone, Arachne Press

by Kathy Owston

Saturday 7th May 2022 9:08 am (first posted 6th May 2022)

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This first week of May has been Deaf Awareness Week and this past year has seen Deafness and the Deaf community attract a lot of positive media attention. What a good time to read and reflect on this collection of poems, short fiction and scripts by UK Deaf, deaf, and Hard of Hearing writers. 

The winner of Strictly Come Dancing, profoundly deaf contestant Rose Ayling-Ellis, was seen on our screen, week after week, using BSL (British Sign Language) signs in Sign Supported English (SSE). Some of her performances incorporated the imagery of silence, dancing with no musical background. This captured the imaginations of her British audience and judges. However, as most Deaf and Hard of Hearing people will tell you, they don’t ever actually hear silence; Deafness creates all manner of perceptions of sound, as are reflected in many of the poems in this collection.

And in Hollywood, we saw Troy Kotsur become only the second Deaf person to be nominated for an Oscar. He won! The film CODA – an acronym for “Child of Deaf Adults” – saw deaf actors in deaf roles, getting the recognition that they deserve.

What Meets the Eye?, published in 2021, explores the theme of movement, as perceived by the Deaf. This is interpreted in many different ways, including mobility, stillness, being emotionally moved, movement within and after lockdown, being part of a political movement, and freedom of movement. 

It’s edited by Lisa Kelly, poet and co-editor of Magma 69, The Deaf Issue, and actor and writer Sophie Stone. The preface is by Deaf writer and award-winning poet Raymond Antrobus. He himself has recently published a new poetry collection, All the Names Given, which takes the reader on a journey, like reading a novel. Both collections consider the miscommunications that are experienced by the Deaf/deaf community, sound and silence, and movement, which by Antrobus is interpreted via travel. The writers in What Meets the Eye? have a much broader interpretation of movement.

There are over 50 contributions, by all British writers. Some of the pieces link to BSL videos produced by the authors and translators, making them accessible in both languages, English and BSL. This year also marks the legal recognition of BSL as an official language, after years of Deaf activism.

So many of the contributions met my eye, but to name just a few:

Mary-Jayne Russel de Clifford in ‘Label’, the movement throughout her life of being labelled as Deaf, Girlfriend, Graduated, Mother, Divorced, Vegan:  “I am here/I reject your labels/Life moves and I with it.”

DL Williams, “MAPping a New Landscape”: the majority of profoundly deaf children, and some adults in the UK, now use cochlear implants to enable them to hear the sounds of speech and environmental sounds, through electrical impulses. Their implant speech processors need to be set with programmes, called MAPping. The MAPs are created using hearing tests which are done in an audiology clinic. “A new map is being drawn/with each new sound/another shade appears. / New countries/ entire new continents/ rise from the abyss/ …  This territory of noise/ comfort levels/ and threshold limits/ denote the boundaries/ of acoustic tolerance …  Here be monsters/ Beware of the cackling/crackling crisp packets …”

Lisa Kelly’s ‘A Map Towards Fluency’ describes something completely different, the handshapes needed to learn to use BSL signs, in her weekly signing class. It is beautifully observed and described with humour. Jean the teacher “as a child was forced to sit on her hands”.

Living life as an adult with a cochlear implant is very well described in prose in ‘Neutral’ by Sophie Woolley. This piece is set during lockdown. It uses different formats: plain text for Spoken English, BOLD for BSL, italics for actions. I loved this observation: “They’re both giving me the look that says ‘you’re wearing a facemask in a car with us?!’ There’s a disappointed air – like I’ve brought orange juice to a party instead of a bag of weed …”

This lengthy piece contrasts with the six-line poem of David Callin, ‘Coastal Walking for the Hard of Hearing.’ Pure simplicity, telling the experience and frustration felt by the majority of people with age-induced deafness. Hearing aids are helpful, but they do not restore hearing to normal, and are simply useless in some situations:

“The wind is a bully, in hearing aids/ making itself/ and nothing else heard. /So out they come/ and calm is restored/ the world reduced to a silent film.”

Many of the poems and prose in the collection, although written by Deaf and Hard of Hearing writers, do not allude to their hearing status or lack of sound. Movement is the theme explored. ‘Where is Syria’ by Hala Hashem, the rap ‘Pushing Boundaries’ by Clare-Louise English, and ‘In memory of our Father’ by Ayesha B Gavin, are all of special note.

In summary, a special read. So much explored. Well done Arachne Press.

Kathy Owston is a recently retired teacher of the Deaf of over 40 years. She has worked in the UK at Oak Lodge School for Profoundly Deaf pupils in Wandsworth, London, as an Advisory Teacher of the Deaf in Oxfordshire, in London and in West Sussex, and as an Implant Centre Teacher of the Deaf (ICToD) at St Thomas’ Hospital Auditory Implant Centre, London.  Kathy has also worked with Deaf children as an educational audiologist in Harare, Zimbabwe, and more recently in Jinotega, Esteli and Leon in Nicaragua 

What Meets the Eye? The Deaf Perspective, edited by Lisa Kelly and Sophie Stone, Arachne Press, £9.99

Poets for Ukraine Fundraiser

Please consider donating to the Poem-a-Thon on Sunday 27th March which will raise vital money with the goal of achieving £10,000 for charities Hope and Aid Direct and Goods for Good. Find out more details below and thanks for your support.

A few words from Poets

Poets for Ukraine and JW3* are collaborating on a fundraising, awareness-raising, spirit-raising day and evening of poetry in solidarity with the people of Ukraine at this time of great peril and suffering. 

This will take the form of a day-long, hybrid Poem-a-Thon where sponsored poets each read for up to five minutes in front of both live and virtual audiences.

The Poem-a-Thon will be followed by an evening Gala Event where our special guests will showcase Eastern European and English language poetry. 

PLEASE SPONSOR OUR POETS GENEROUSLY!

…………

VENUE:

  • JW3 & Online (link to be shared soon)
  • 341-351 Finchley Road, London NW3 6ET

DATE:

  • Sunday 27th March

TIME:

  • 11am-5pm: Poem-a-Thon
  • 6:30 – 8pm: Gala Event

Our Poets are raising funds for two separate charities – poets raising funds via this fundraising page will be donating to Hope and Aid Direct.

………..

Hope and Aid Direct are a 100% volunteer led UK based humanitarian aid charity operating mainly in mainland Europe. They are a non political, non religious charity: “We take aid, not sides!”. They have volunteers spread throughout the UK. Nobody takes a salary, so all of the money you donate ends up providing aid to people who really need it.

Hope and Aid Direct stand with the people of Ukraine. We are planning our response to this crisis and details of how we are going to provide assistance will be posted on this page. Whilst some charities are already on the move, at Hope and Aid Direct we aim to ensure that all aid that we take to the people of Ukraine is needed. As such, our operating model is to partner with an aid agency on the ground. They can then provide us with a specific needs list which we can gather, sort, loads on to our trucks and deliver to those most in need.”



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Deaf and hard-of-hearing poetry that meets perfectly eye-to-eye 

December 8, 2021 – by Melissa Mostyn

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What Meets The Eye?, a lyrical anthology edited by Sophie Stone and Lisa Kelly (Arachne Press) left reviewer Melissa Mostyn both pondering and pogo-ing for days.A book cover with a blown up image of an iris

What Meets the Eye: A Deaf Perspective. Book cover

Right now it feels like my community — the Deaf Community — can do no wrong.

This year has witnessed landmark court victories for BSL access to government COVID-19 briefings and stadium pop concerts; two dedicated teachers of Deaf children becoming the UK’s Lockdown Heroes; Raabia Hussein’s Two Deaf Travellers reaching the finals of the Best British Short Film Awards; and of course, Rose Ayling-Ellis’ sparkling promenades on BBC TV’s Strictly Come Dancing, which have fuelled Google searches for British Sign Language (BSL) by 488%.

Imagine my joy, then, upon receiving What Meets The Eye?, a lyrical anthology edited by Sophie Stone and Lisa Kelly (Arachne Press) that left me both pondering and pogo-ing for days.

This is rightly not, the editors stress, a “definitive take on deafness.” Rather, it’s an invitation to “join us venturing in exciting and varied territories where mountains of prejudice must be climbed, emotional currents swum, and landmarks reached that lend breath-taking perspectives on what it means to be Deaf, deaf or hard-of-hearing.”

And what variety! In under 150 pages the book comprises over 50 short forms, mainly verse, and includes a delightful comedy drama by Sophie Woolley, Neutral, which explores what constitutes sexual assault in the soul-baring age of social media.

What Meets the Eye? is a loose response to the anthology theme of Maps and Mapping set by its publisher, the second in a series and the only one by Deaf and hard-of-hearing writers. It uses its own theme of Movement to maximise opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing British writers to flex their creativity and imaginations in a unique landscape where technology, history, language, culture, sentiment and belonging collide like no other.

“Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home,”said Ralph Waldo Emerson. This is especially true of the book, which was written and complied during lockdown. Once Raymond Antrobus sets the tone with his gorgeously meandering foreword, there’s a sense of travelling to the end throughout with ease metaphorically, literally, and poetically.

I sense a dialogue between its two editors – Lisa Kelly and Sophie Stone are both also actors – indicated by their own poetry, that has helped cultivate a profound and well-crafted interaction between BSL and English. Thus I see no conflict between Sahera Khan’s My Glow, as a piece of evocative BSL poetry, and the extraordinary bilingualism present in Kelly’s A Map Towards Fluency. I’m equally pleased that Arachne Press has committed to publishing BSL translation videos of the book on its website, and look forward to seeing more.

Other compositions like Bones Under Their Feet, by Josephine Dickson, tingles my spine with their haunting, esoteric flow:

            “Again, again the swing of light. Everything grows                                                          upwards. Blown by the wind/ in the dark what can I do                                                          to find your shores?/“

Not all the contributions are inspired by the pandemic, but the restrictions become a timely reminder of the aggravated isolation that deaf and hard-of-hearing people face. This can be evidenced in Julie Boden’s Fish and a Blue-Arsed Fly:

“Before this illness grew within                                                                                                I used to travel everywhere.                                                                                                            Now, fish – without gill, tail or fin                                                                                           I’m lost in water; lost in air.”

Movement, of course, can also mean sign language in motion, or the dance of an audiogram. As a cochlear implant user I could relate to MAPping a New Landscape, DL Williams’ witty retelling of their adjustment to new sounds with a new processor.

“Here be monsters,” Williams laments. “Beware the cackling/crackling crisp packets/seeking the last crisp./Forfend the blaring, waffling,/singing, chattering TV adverts.” The ones that are abated by Ayling-Ellis’ signing in Strictly Come Dancing, I hope?

As well as wit, humour and poignancy, there is charm. Charlie Swinbourne’s DeLorean is an adorable imagining of “a real, blue-eyed living boy who couldn’t say his s’s” in the iconic car of the Back to The Future film franchise that “reverses/Past twelve thousand eye rolls and smirks…To now/Where I explain again that I just misheard.”

Meanwhile, Colly Metcalfe’s Coffee Shop transported me back to the everyday palpitations of ordering a cappuccino while baristas “perform their arm choreography” in a scenario surely familiar to deaf consumers in metropolises everywhere. Would you not feel the anxiety rise of needing the only barista face in the shop that you could read?

“Words paused on tip-of-tongue ready. Pink lips looks up, eye                              contact, smiles                                                                                                                          I breathe in, and…                                                                                                      SHE LEAVES!”

This is a world that sidelines its deaf and disabled citizens too quickly in a pandemic. (A prime example, of course, being the Prime Minister’s own flagrant breach of formal court judgement: his briefing on the new COVID-19 variant omitted BSL interpretation altogether.) In such circumstances each new triumph becomes more potent. As a Deaf writer, What Meets The Eye? was a book I badly needed to see.


What Meets The Eye? The Deaf Perspective is out now published by Arachne Press. The publisher is seeking contributions to help fund more BSL translation videos of the anthology. Go to the website for more details.