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

December 8, 2021 – by Melissa Mostyn


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.

‘Mainly Smuts’ in the Carcanet newsletter spreading some spores

In this newsletter…PN Review 260Gladstone’s Residency ShortlistPolari Prize ShortlistJason Allen-Paisant InterviewBook LaunchesCaribbean Reading Room

Red Data List of Threatened British Fungi: Mainly Smuts

Smut, lie down with me in annual meadow grass that tickles
our pelts. Smut, be barley covered and reeking of beer,
a bearberry redleaf prim on each pinkish part. Smut, with your bedstraw hair,
bestow no interloper a bird’s eye view. My promise, a primrose
with its fairy caretaker that no bog asphodel, no bone-breaker
will I brook, smut. As a chick weeds out a worm, I will weed out
all burrowing doubts, all jealousies, all winter green looks
on our love, smut, which would shrivel us, smut. Smut, be not false.
This oat-grass ring, I twine about your finger, smut.
Think of me when a foxtail, smut, lifts to expose a gland,
stinking of March violets, to deceive you, smut.
They’d have you frogbit, smut, back in the pond where you
were spawned, mounted and belly grasped. Glaucus sedge creeps
in damp ditches, smut. Weep for such green hell bore away
with earth’s daughter, smut. Loose your hair. See how sedge flowers in spikelets,
smut, and love always pricks. Lie down with me in meadow grass that tickles
our pelts. Revel in mudwort, smut. I could call you close to Limosella, smut,
cloaked in tiny white stars, a northern bilberry redleaf prim on each pinkish part.
Passion marks us, smut, with a purple small-reed stripe, smut.
My rare spring sedge, smut, tender as fresh shoots.
My reed canary-grass, smut, sensitive to noxious airs. Saxifrage smut,
I cannot help but repeat saxifrage smut, the brassy instrument of you played.
Sing of prickly yuletide, sea holly smut. They are small spored
with their white beaks, sedge smut, poking and prodding and stinking, smut.
They are not sweet – they confuse carnal with vernal, smut.
Damn the white beak-sedge, smut, worn by quacks as if we were plague, smut,
with their aromatic herbs, smut. What rare pathogens we are, smut.
What gall smut, to detest our dark teliospores. Yellow toadflax
on them all, the cowards that croak. Yellow toadflax on them all, smut.

By Lisa Kelly in PN Review 260.

PN Review 260
Edited by Michael Schmidt & John McAuliffe 

The July-August 2021 issue

Major account by Poet of Europe Sinead Morrissey of her experiences in Gdansk, with reflections on the Belfast troubles among which she grew up

Sujata Bhatt breaks a long poetic silence with a suite of new poems

Rory Waterman and Poetry London editor Andre Naffis-Sahely converse, and sparks fly

Caitlion Stobie’s amazing tribute to Tony Harrison’s V, a new poem entitled W, bridges the gap between his politics and ours

New to PN Review this issue: Padraig Regan, Jordi Sarsanedas, and Kare Caoimhe Arthur

and more…
 Read a section of the Editorial from PNR 260 below, and the rest here.On 14 June 1986 – just over a quarter of a century ago – the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges died in Geneva. He is a figure who has haunted PN Review since it took its first steps as Poetry Nation I. He remains with us, his poems and fictions reviving their more than enigmatic ironies.A sonnet from 1964 entitled ‘Un Poeta del Siglo XIII’ (‘A Poet of the Thirteenth Century’) sees the poet looking through the crumpled drafts of his poem. It is about to become the very first, as yet unrecognised, sonnet. In his drafts Borges’ poet has mixed quatrains and tercets, not yet quite regular. He labours on a further draft, then hesitates:‘Acaso le ha llegado
del porvenir y de su horror sagrado

un rumor de remotos ruiseñores.’Perhaps he has sensed, says the poem, radiating from the future, ‘a rumour of far-off nightingales’. Of things to come, a suggestion of a new form and maybe (a step beyond it) of impending clichés.Read PN Review onlineRebecca Watts
Gladstone’s Residency Shortlist

Congratulations to Rebecca Watts, who has been shortlisted for the prestigious Gladstone’s Library Residency next year, with her second collection, Red Gloves!

The award is now in its eleventh year. Final judging will take place on 4th October, and winning authors will be offered a residency extending up to a month at Gladstone’s Library. To see the full shortlist and learn more, visit the library’s website here.
 Learn moreCaroline Bird
Polari Prize Shortlist

Congratulations to Caroline Bird, who has been shortlisted for the Polari Prize, with her wonderful collection, The Air Year!

The Polari Prize was established in 2019 and awards an overall Book of the Year. It is open to writers at any stage of their career (except debuts). The 2019 prize was won by Andrew McMillan (Playtime) and the 2020 prize was won by Kate Davies (In At The Deep End) The Polari Prize is sponsored by D H H Literary Agency, with the winner receiving a cheque for £2,000.

The shortlist will be announced at an event in Heaven on July 28th with special guests Kate Davies, Keith Jarrett, Paul Mende, Golnoosh Nour. Tickets can be booked here.Learn moreJason Allen-Paisant
Interviewed in Spelt Magazine

Jason Allen-Paisant, whose debut collection, Thinking with Trees, was published in June, was recently interviewed by Spelt Magazine, and you can now enjoy the full interview on their website for free!

‘I go into Roundhay park a lot, just because of where I live. I live on the edge of the park. I go into the park and I go into the woods. My favourite part is the woodland sections. Because they remind me of woodlands that I knew growing up. I go into the woods, the woodland because they’re quieter. I’m not hearing engines of cars. It’s a different kind of sound. You hear trees swaying, you hear rippling, the rippling of water, you hear streams, you hear twigs falling, those sounds are nature sounds, birds. That sense of connection is important with the world, you know, with the natural world. It’s a way out of the humdrum of the everyday as well, which can be so stressful. And it can be aggressive as well.’ – Jason Allen-PaisantRead the full interviewUpcoming Book Launches
Register Now!

Thank you for supporting our recent launches – we really enjoyed celebrating Gregory Woods’ Records of an Incitement to Silence on Wednesday.

Do join us for our next launch on August 11th, when we’ll be launching Parwana Fayyaz’s Forty Names with Professor Adrian Poole

And this week we’re delighted to announce another launch, planned for September 1stLorna Goodison’s Mother Muse with Lee M. Jenkins.Go to our events pageCaribbean Poetry Sampler
Exact Editions Reading Room

For the next few weeks you can read three of our Caribbean poetry editions for free on Exact Editions! The books are:

Oracabessa by Lorna Goodison
Skin Can Hold by Vahni Capildeo
New Caribbean Poetry: An Anthology edited by Kei Miller

You can access our full Caribbean backlist here.Go to the Reading Roomand finally… listen to Mimi Khalvati on A Mouthful of Air podcastListen to Mimi Khalvati read the poem ‘Eggs’, from her collection Afterwardness, and discuss the poem with Mark McGuinness, on the podcast A Mouthful of Air.Listen to the podcast
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Poetry Reading : the John Hewitt Society Wednesday 28th July

Poetry Reading: Annemarie Ní Churreáin and Lisa Kelly

Marketplace Theatre, Armagh and Online
28 July 2021
11:15 am
£8 / €9.50

Book Now

Poets Annemarie Ní Churreáin and Lisa Kelly read from their work.


Annemarie Ní Churreáin

Annemarie Ní Churreáin is a bilingual poet from the Donegal Gaeltacht in North-West Ireland.  Her publications include Bloodroot (Doire Press, 2017) and Town (The Salvage Press, 2018).  She is a recipient of Arts Council Ireland’s Next Generation Artist Award, and a co-recipient of The Markievicz Award.  A former literary fellow of the Akademie Schloss Solitude, Ní Churreáin was the 2019-20 Writer in Residence at Maynooth University, Ireland. Her second full-length poetry collection will be published by The Gallery Press later in 2021. 

Lisa Kelly

Lisa Kelly is half Danish and has single-sided deafness. Her first collection, A Map Towards Fluency, was published by Carcanet, 2019.  Shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and longlisted for the National Poetry Competition, she won the 2016 University of Lancaster (MA) ‘Reading’ Prize. 

Her pamphlets are Philip Levine’s Good Ear (Stonewood Press) and Bloodhound (Hearing Eye).  In 2020, Nottingham Trent University and the Science Museum London commissioned her to create a film-poem in collaboration with other poets responding to telephony from a d/Deaf and marginalised perspective. 

Her latest pamphlet is, From The IKEA Back Catalogue, 2021 (New Walk Editions). A regular host of poetry evenings at the Torriano Meeting House, London, she is Co-Chair of Magma Poetry.

From the IKEA Back Catalogue available for delivery!

  • Lisa Kelly, From the IKEA Back Catalogue

These poems are preoccupied with how IKEA, as a global corporation, uses language and marketing terms to create iconic products that will find their way into our homes and are part of a disposable culture opposed to a more sustainable way of living. When the language is freed from its corporate mould and the explicit aim to sell, other worlds and stories suggest themselves. The poems attempt to resist the orbit of the corporation and its intent to subsume language into currency and profit.

“Wandering the claustrophobic and endless aisles of IKEA, Lisa’s imagination delves into language and draws on inspiration from the likes of William Carlos Williams and Anton Chekov.” Briony Bax.

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