Skip to main content

A Tribe is Deaf

 Digital Work
Identifier: ds_0027_tribe_cap_01.mp4


  • Creation: 24 September 1987



“A Tribe is Deaf” Presentation by Jim Cohn 1987 National ASL Poetry Conference Thursday, September 24

ABSTRACT OF PRESENTATION [summarized by Joan Naturale]

Jim Cohn refers to a 1984 February 1 video when Allen Ginsberg visited and presented in a NTID classroom. The captions on this video were typed in teletypewriter (TTY) style. There are excerpts of the historic meeting of the poets Dr. Robert Panara, and Allen Ginsberg. The first excerpt shows Panara performing his most famous poem, “On His Deafness”. Cohn discusses the “Golden Age Poets” from the 1930-1950s Gallaudet era and Ginsberg’s affiliation with the Beat poets.

The next excerpt is Ginsberg discussing Patrick Graybill’s concept of poetry as a picture and idea similar to the work of the 20th century Imagist poets, William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound with an emphasis on imagery in their works. These poets had a lot of influence on free verse. Ginsberg states that the best poems that translates into other languages are those that have pictures, which is also best for Deaf people, as there is less emphasis on sounds and rhymes.

Cohn then discusses how a clear and strong image can be translated between languages and cultures and an excerpt of Ginsberg reciting his favorite lines from the “Howl” poem is shown. Graybill asks why he chose those two words “hydrogen jukebox” and Ginsberg explains its apocalyptic meaning—the noise of the jukebox is like the bomb. Ginsberg asks whether “hydrogen jukebox” could be shown in sign language and in a stunning moment, Graybill translates “hydrogen jukebox”. Ginsberg realized that Graybill had captured the word-image visually.

Cohn ends the presentation by discussing the legitimacy of ASL poetry, and quotes Earl Sollenberger, “you have to know what your tribe is speaking.” He shares the story of a Deaf boy who said, “it’s not NTID, it’s ATID.” When Cohn asked him what he meant, the boy replied, “A tribe is Deaf!”

Sign interpreted by Kip Webster.


97.64 Megabytes (mp4)


Sign Languages


General Note

This material was digitized as part of a CLIR Hidden Collections grant: "Sculptures in the Air: An Accessible Online Video Repository of the American Sign Language (ASL) Poetry and Literature Collections at the RIT/NTID Deaf Studies Archive (RIT/NTID DSA) in Rochester, NY." Original VHS recordings were transferred to mp4 format, captioned, and voiced, by the National Technical Institute for the Deaf Production Services department.

Processing Information

Dr. Joan Naturale, NTID Librarian, provided accurate sign language transcriptions of this video; voicing from ASL into English was provided by Miriam Lerner, performing arts interpreter. Dr. Naturale also prepared the description, abstract, and notes.

Repository Details

Part of the RIT Archives Repository

Rochester NY 14623 USA