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Interview [Bernard Bragg]

 Digital Work
Identifier: ds_0027_bragginterview_cap_01.mp4


  • Creation: 2007



Part of a collection of interviews made for a film on ASL poetry, "The Heart of the Hydrogen Jukebox." In this interview, Deaf poet, actor, and playwright Bernard Bragg discusses his long career. Bragg, asked to define poetry said "Poetry is like trying to capture the wind, but once it is caught, it is no longer the wind." He discusses poetry in his life and the influence of Dr. Robert Panara, the first Deaf teacher he met at the Fanwood School for the Deaf, and his Deaf father, an artistic signer who often performed at Deaf clubs. Their influence led him to write his own poetry. Dr. Robert Panara helped him to understand the English plays and poetry which he would act out and translate into sign. He also discusses the National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD- he was one of the co-founders) and Dorothy Miles's work in poetry which was unique as she incorporated both English and ASL which was understandable in both languages. He encouraged her to join the NTD. They worked together on Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas which was presented as a play. He credits Dorothy Miles with starting ABC stories in the late 1960s which had never been done before. Bragg shares Beluggi's and Stokoe's research about ASL. He had a hard time accepting it as a language at first because of the emphasis on learning English to interact with the hearing world. He realized that it is a language in its own right, which he had been using to express himself artistically. At the NTD, he did some translation work from English to sign language and Dorothy Miles assisted him in looking at the beauty of sign language as well as English. Bragg also talks about his performance that he will do that night, 'Theatre in the Sky'. He wrote a song for they 'eye', not the 'ear', using just signs. That was the first time he wrote a song in sign format, with no words. He talks about the 'Flying Song' in which he incorporates visual rhyme signs for countries, states, and cities. Visual vernacular is a method Bragg developed after studying with Marcel Marceau. This method uses filming editing techniques using signs to show close-ups, zooming, and different shots which is like watching a movie. Stokoe noted this and Dirksen Bauman discussed this further in analyzing poetical works. At the NTD where he worked for over 30 years, he taught some of the emerging poets such as Peter Cook, Clayton Valli, Patrick Graybill, and Ella Mae Lentz. Dr. Robert Panara is not considered an ASL poet like Valli, Cook, and Lentz. Panara did sign transliterations of English poems. Deaf people from hearing and Deaf families produce work that are different in Bragg's opinion. He discusses political poetry that Lentz did about oppression of ASL, and the variety of themes one can explore in ASL poetry. Bragg is puzzled as to why there is not more ASL literature and poetry. He wonders whether Deaf students are being exposed to these works through videotapes, and encouraging them to explore ASL creative expression.


284.55 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