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Interview [Peter Cook]

 Digital Work
Identifier: ds_0027_cookinterview_cap_01.mp4


  • Creation: 2007



Part of a collection of interviews made for a film on ASL poetry, "The Heart of the Hydrogen Jukebox." Peter Cook describes how he became deaf at age 3, the schools he attended (both Deaf oral schools and private high school). In high school, he met Bernard Bragg at the 100th anniversary of the National Association of the Deaf in Ohio where he took a visual vernacular workshop. He selected NTID due to his interest in photography. NTID was a turning point in his life as he joined the theatre and participated in 'The Tempest' play. This experience exposed him to fluent Deaf signers and role models like Patrick Graybill. He became a B-A-D, or a 'Born Again Deaf'. He took classes in translation with both Robert Panara and Patrick Graybill who emphasized different aspects. Panara transliterated English works like 'Spoon River Anthology', and Graybill showed him ASL handshapes and rhythms. Cook loved watching Panara sign poetry, including 'On His Deafness.' He joined a performance group, 'Heavy Maze' and they would adapt perform at The Cellar, a bar at RIT/ NTID. This is how he met Jim Cohn who complimented him on his poetry work, and encouraged him to attend the 1984 Allen Ginsberg presentation with Robert Panara. That experience totally changed his life as Ginsberg opened his mind as to other possibilities of what poetry could be. The translation of 'hydrogen jukebox' by Graybill from the poem 'Howl' captivated him in its use of imagery. Unshackled by the confines of English, Cook used the visual vernacular (VV) with his body becoming the screen with the visual image of the poem on the body, showing different camera angles like close-ups, zooms, and various shots. After this, Jim Cohn gave him the book, 'Bird Brain' and encouraged him to perform out in the hearing community as well. The 'Bird Brain Society' was formed and they met in The Cellar. Another turning point occurred when Jim Cohn introduced him to Kenny Lerner, an interpreter. Cook shared his first poem after the Ginsberg event called 'New Life', a dinosaur poem, and they had a great connection.He did not know how to use an interpreter as he had never used one before, but trusted Kenny. The first time they performed together, people did not know what to make of the performance as it was so different. He describes meeting Debbie Rennie, another Deaf poet and he loved her style different from other poets. Kenny, Debbie, and Peter became roommates and they played daily with poetry ideas. In 1987, Jim Cohn set up the first ASL Poetry conference and there were five Deaf poets: Ella Mae Lentz, Patrick Graybill, Debbie Rennie, Clayton Valli, and Peter Cook. He learned a great deal from these Deaf poets as he was young and still gaining experience. This was a unique time in Rochester's history as Deaf people as well as the larger hearing community enjoyed sign poetry and interpreters also got involved such as Susan Chapel, Miriam Lerner, Bob Barrett, Cindy Barrett, Donna, and Jim Cohn. There were articles in mainstream publications about them and their poetry. At this time, Cook and Lerner received grant monies for Deaf poetry presentations at Writers and Books. For one of the programs there, Serge Bri??re, Johanne Boulanger, Kenny and Peter performed a Holocaust poem, 'Only 13'. He describes Serge's work which fascinated him because of the way he used his hands and eyes. Cook discusses the influence of other Deaf poets' works, like Dorothy Miles, Joseph Castronovo, and Malz (Eric Malzkuhn), all connected with the National Theatre of the Deaf. Although some of these sign artists are gone, their works continue to live on and documentation is so important, so younger Deaf people can learn from them.


624.06 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