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Interview [Jim Cohn]

 Digital Work
Identifier: ds_0027_cohninterview_cap_01.mp4


  • Creation: 2007



Part of a collection of interviews made for a film on ASL poetry, "The Heart of the Hydrogen Jukebox." Jim Cohn describes how he became involved with poetry as a college student, meeting Allen Ginsberg and other noted poets, and attending the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. As a poetry student, he was interested in the representational aspect of the Chinese written character, and drawn to the visual quality of ASL. In 1982, he joined the two year interpreting program at NTID. He learned about Deaf poetry and poetics from Robert Panara and Patrick Graybill whom he considered his spiritual teachers. Other Deaf poets also influenced him such as Ed Sollenberg and Dorothy Miles. He reflects upon the Deaf Beat Summit he arranged for an interpreting class, inviting Allen Ginsberg to present with Robert Panara. An earth-shattering moment occurred when Patrick Graybill translated the phrase "hydrogen jukebox" from Ginsberg's poem, "Howl". That meeting created an explosion of ASL poetry talent. After the summit, Cohn started the popular BirdBrain Society Poetry Reading Series on campus where ASL poets Peter Cook and Debbie Rennie performed. Jazzberries also became a venue for poetry readings which were interpreted for the Deaf audience. Deaf people could access poetry readings by hearing poets by talented poetics interpreters such as Miriam Lerner, Donna Kachites, and Susan Chapel. When Cohn attended graduate school, he continued his Deaf poetry studies and learned more about Clayton Valli and Ella Mae Lentz, who were ASL poets. He published a paper on the New Visible Poetics in Sign Language Studies and thought about hosting a national Deaf Poetry conference to bring together these talented Deaf poets. The 1987 National ASL Deaf Poetry conference was held at NTID featuring Patrick Graybill, Ella Mae Lentz and Clayton Valli who represented the first ASL school in the modern era (late 20th century). The experimental, spontaneous Deaf poetics embodied by Peter Cook and Debbie Rennie was introduced. Their work involved using interpreters (Kenny Lerner and Donna Kachitas) which exposed them to hearing audiences. Their works had surrealistic qualities and experiments in form which was beyond language. The mix of things was right for Rochester for Deaf the mix of things was right in Paris for the Beats in exile. They were all in exile from something and looking for a way to be themselves as poets in a society that was not and grows less interested in the power of the personal in poetic expression.


426.52 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.

Repository Details

Part of the RIT Archives Repository

Rochester NY 14623 USA